‘Rural’ and ‘home’ both have positive connotations, making us think of comfort, belonging, and natural order. The oxymoron in the phrase ‘ordinary pain’ is shocking, begging the question how something extreme like ‘pain’ can be ordinary. The contrast between ‘home’ and the places he photographs is striking, where pain and ‘suffering’ are ordinary. The second stanza carries the reader seamlessly from the banal (everyday/boring) to the
horrors of war in a slow slide that is doubly disturbing. Duffy uses negatives ‘do not tremble’ and ‘don’t explode’ to contrast the ordinary and extraordinary – why should hands tremble, fields explode, and yet they do. She focuses on ‘feet’ to zoom in on specific sensory detail then on the next line says ‘running children’, which intensifies our horror that innocent children are the victims. The word ‘nightmare’ darkens the mood.

The next stanza shifts quickly to the present with a short statement ‘Something is happening.’ It’s unclear whether we’re still in the war zone as ‘something’ is vague, perhaps disturbing. In fact, the thing that’s happenign is that an image is becoming clearer. Almost like seeing the static, dead image is an event. It’s as if the images are more real to him than the events, where his hands ‘do not tremble’ and fields ‘don’t exlplode’ as if it never felt quite real then, but now it is starting to – as if it’s a delayed shock. This idea of distance continues in ‘stranger’ and ‘ghost’ – which both convey the sense of things at a remove – and even the ghost is only ‘half-formed’. A ‘half-formed ghost’ could refer to the misty, partly developed image but also to a man half dead – half a ghost. It’s as if the war isn’t quire real. His memory of ‘cries’ and vivid picture of the ‘dust’ gives the sense that he can’t quite focus on the main event, as if it’s too traumatic. The final image of ‘must’ rhymed with ‘dust’ evokes death as in the words of the Christian funeral service ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’. The photographer sees taking the photograph as something that he ‘must’ do: stressing the imperative through its position at the end of the line in the rhyming couplet.

The phrase ‘a hundred agonies’ connotes extreme suffering, and the idea they can be captured and pressed in ‘black and white’ is disturbing – as if they can be neutralised. What’s worse is that from the ‘hundred’, his editor will only choose ‘five’ or ‘six’, as if suffering can be reduced to numbers, then reduced again – diminishing the true horror of it. The very mundane Englishness of ‘Sunday’s supplement’ suggest an afterthought – added in – denying the core importance of the suffering. ‘Tears’ dissolve in the very prosaic, plosive sounds of ‘bath’ and ‘beers’. This almost has the effect of bathos – a catastrophic let down from the initial sympathy that ‘pricks’ in the reader’s eyes – suggesting also the pricking of conscience. In the end, the mood is dead, null. The photographer is suspended in the aeroplane, staring ‘impassively’, barely identified as a person himself. he looks down, god like on the place where ‘they do not care’. But it is also, Duffy suggests, just a job – where ‘he earns his living’.
The author, Melanie Kendry, is an Oxford graduate, outstanding-rated English Language and Literature teacher and of ages 10-18 in the British education system. In 2012, she was nominated for Pearson’s Teaching Awards. As a private tutor, she raises grades often from C to A. Her writing is also featured in The Huffington Post. She offers private tuition in the Haywards Heath area, West Sussex.