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FROM THE PHOTOGRAGH TO THE WRITER: Keeping Pace with the Challenges of Picture Essays. (BY JOSHUA AKEMECHA)

FROM THE PHOTOGRAGH TO THE WRITER: Keeping Pace with the Challenges of Picture Essays. (BY JOSHUA AKEMECHA)


From the cradle of mankind, great artists have emerged from various civilizations to express their imaginations, thoughts, perception and feelings about the cosmos. These are expressed in various art forms such as: fine art (paintings, drawings, sculpture and architecture); liberal art (thought and expression through music or literature); and, plastic art and ceramics that have to do with melting things and changing forms to have things like clay pots and artificial flowers.

Is there any correlation among these art forms? When we teach English and Literature do we make them inter-dependent or teach them as two distinct subjects? Can pictures, photographs, paintings, sculptures etc. inspire us to produce great essays and literary pieces as classic essays, the lyric, the epic, the short story, the novel?

This article will demonstrate that various types of essays can be written with inspiration drawn from visual art forms, and that beyond the classroom, great literary pieces can surface from other forms of art.


In your various groups study the following pictures and state briefly what you would be writing about if you were to write a composition on each of them or what you would expect your learners to write about drawing inspiration from the pictures . Give as many alternatives as you can find.




What is picture composition or Essay?

This is when we have to draw inspiration from a picture, photograph, painting etc to write a composition. There must be some clear connection between the picture and our composition. The composition may be based directly on the subject of the picture or on something which the picture suggests very strongly.     Some other person may look at the same picture from a different perspective. “The Blind Men from Hindustan and the Elephant’’ are a good example that different people may view the same object from different angles and draw their conclusions. Each of the blind men who wanted to find out what an elephant was like drew his conclusion e.g. that an elephant was like a tree, a wall, a nail, a fan, a rope etc depending on the part of the elephant that he touched.

Observe this drawing critically, then rotate it or turn it upside-down and then take a look of it again. Do you notice any difference? What conclusion can we draw from this?

When something is written on the picture, it helps to guide our interpretation so that we should not wander from what the artist perceived.  When nothing is written on the picture, the artist gives room for any kind of imagination.

We discover that there is a correlation between these art forms because the writer can be inspired by a painting, photograph, portrait etc. while the artist can draw inspiration from an essay, a story, etc and produce a wonderful painting. We should make our learners see not only the inter-dependence of language and literature but also the various art forms.

The ability to write a good essay is already a milestone to creating compelling literature; after all, the essay is in itself a literary form by which great writers like Samuel Johnson and Francis Bacon made a name in the 18th century.

The picture composition is a real headache to many students (candidates at the CGCE) although it is really easy. This is because many students try to describe what they can see in the picture instead of thinking of what the picture suggests or reminds them of. The picture is only a kind of prompter that should trigger off the imagination. It can remind us of an event, a place, an incident, a topical issue, and many others which we can then write on.

 What kind of composition can we write from a picture?

We can write almost any type of essay, depending on our inspiration and mastery of the technique. You could write a narrative, descriptive, argumentative, expository or any other form of essay. Once you have decided on the type of essay you want to write, give your essay a heading or topic which acts as a pointer to your theme.

. Narratives: if you choose to write a narrative, the story must be clearly suggested by what you see in the picture. Write your essay as you choose with the introduction or exposition, developing paragraphs or complications, climax or crises and then conclusion or resolution.

A descriptive Essay can be written if you see the picture as an event, a place, a situation, a person or thing e.g. A wedding ceremony, a traditional celebration, etc.

Don’t keep saying: “In this picture, I can see…”rather, the writer could say ‘this picture brings to my mind… or reminds me of…’

When we try to describe the picture per se, our essay will be short due to lack of material; there will be a lot of repetition as we struggle to increase the length; our essay will have no theme, no focus and there can’t be any coherence. Rather, we should find a theme linked to the picture and then write on it. e.g.

Picture A)–The Importance of Computers;

– Advantages and Disadvantages of Computers;

-Modern Communication Technologies / ICT;

– How to down-load data/music/pictures from the internet;

-Types of computers;

Picture B) -The Preservation of endangered Animal species in my country;

-An Adventure to a Forest (stress the animals you saw including elephants);

-A Visit/ An Excursion to a game reserve/park/zoo;

-The Blind Men and the Elephant.

Picture C)–An annual Traditional ceremony I witnessed/ in my area;

-The enthronement of a new chief in my village;

-Traditional musical instruments in my area;

-How to make royal dance costumes;

-The Akati Dance in Momo Division;

You could coin your topic to be explanatory or argumentative, expository or describing a process etc e.g. How to down-load games and music from a computer to your mobile phone (expository); The Internet: a problem or a solution? (Argumentative)  etc.

In conclusion, whatever essay type you choose to write, follow the mechanics of composition; that is, find a theme, plan, look for a good method to start and end. Don’t completely forget about your picture as you write, even from the start you may say what the picture suggests to you or what it reminds you of which ties in with your theme. You may still mention it in the middle and, why not in the conclusion?


  • Chattopadhyay, Rathindranath. ‘’The Role of Literature in the Study of Language’’. English Teaching Forum XXI,2 (April 1983): 36 – 37
  • Gombrich, E.A. ‘’Meditations on a Hobby Horse’’. Classic Essays. Ed. Josephine Miles. Boston: Little Brown and Company 1961: 408-422.
  • Barnes, Bernadine. Encarta Encyclopaedia, Standard Edition (2004)
  • Anu, Fualefeh et al. Graded English for Colleges (Revised GCE edition). ANUCAM .

                                       By Joshua AKEMECHA

President CAMELTA West; V.P GBHS Bchua-Babadjo


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