Translating The World: The Work of Margot Krebs Neale

My father was an officer in the French Army. I was brought up with my five siblings in Germany, Poland, France, Belgium and Russia. In Poland, I had a nanny named Cenia Mietelska. I believe we shared a taste for colors, dressing up, sharing stories and looking at images. This was how ideas and words were translated into the physical world. Yellow was the sun, in as much as the sun was yellow. So, I could wear yellow and become the sun.

When I went to French schools, stories were replaced with poetry. Poetry is also rich in layers of meanings. It creates and uses imagery. Associating photography, or pictures with poems became a favorite pastime of mine. Later in life, I was inspired to return to this poem-image association after reading Malcolm Guite’s poetry.

I won a camera when I was eight years old. Then at 19, I bought a Contax 139 Quartz. Photography gave me way of throwing in colors and a setting to words and ideas. But studying photography was not even a question. I studied languages, and here too, I found that there was nothing set in stone about meaning and the associations made by the letters and words. The French education system was always difficult for me with its insistence on order and organization of thoughts, especially when I went to study political sciences. Of all the subjects, I struggled with Law the most.

My photographic training has been 30 years of looking at everything in my life through a Carl Zeiss lens. My Contax was poetically described by my son, as my “Alethiometer,” from the Greek words aletheia (truth) and ometer (measuring device). An alethiometer is the compass-like device made famous in Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials.” This fictional device helps some holders find truthful answers to their questions.

These words from the French poet Paul Verlaine have been like a mantra for me: “Cache et montre au cœur qui s’étonne La vérité comme une étoile.” In English, it would read something like this: “Unto the astounded heart shows, Truth’s star now hidden, now revealed.” That’s poetry. That’s photography.

With a photograph, I try to create a vision, an expression of gratitude, of surprise, a sense of  mystery, and if I am lucky, the outline of a story.

A poem by MKN


Difficult to share a poem

Intended for another


What is my desire?

Showing what my eyes can see

Or being seen

For who I am:

The love of colour

The love of other

A yellow sport’s car

A modest flower

A surprising stranger

You can see what caught my attention

My everyday

And sometimes

My emotions

Some would guess

More about me

Than I can.