Ekphrasis goes back as far as Homer’s Iliad when the poet devoted a long passage to Achilles’ shield. This reference was used centuries later in WH Auden’s poem, “The Shield of Achilles.”
An ekphrastic poem can work in different ways. Certainly, one approach is for the words of the poem to explain or analyze what is happening in the painting, either in the overall painting or in one or two of the details. Another method is to use the painting/photo/print/sculpture as a stepping stone and to go your own way into a poem, that is, to transcend the original idea of the artwork and move in a different direction so your poem becomes its own entity.
There are several possible avenues to take when writing more than merely a descriptive poem about a particular artwork.
1. Enter the painting’s setting and make its spirit and space your own.
2. Explore the life or essence of the artist.
3. Give your emotional response to the artwork (Does it remind you about something in your life, past or present?)
4. Speak the poem as someone or something in the art object (possibly have them address the artist.
5. Speak the poem as the artist.
6. Address the poem to the artist and ask questions.
7. Write about what happened just before (or just after) the event in the photograph or painting.