[Sonographers are technically medial professionals who do ultrasounds and the like, and while it would be fascinating to work with that sort of image-making equipment they won’t be collaborating with me on the walks. I just liked how it sounded a bit like “Photographers” and I’ve been told you should never let the truth get in the way of a good pun.]
The walks are really starting to come together now. The methodological framework is in place and I’m getting a clearer sense of what’s actually going to happen on the days themselves.
An important part of this was the decision to get some collaborators. This might seem counter-intuitive given this is my project to produce my art, but collaboration has always been part of what I do. Even when I’m writing stuff like this I see it as a collaboration with whoever is reading it. Your presence as a reader forces me to explain myself and in doing so work through my ideas more thoroughly than I would in my notebook. In my social media days I called it “social processing” and it relates to the idea that the person who gets the most from a classroom situation is the teacher because they have to really understand what they’re trying to explain. (See also my obsession with the fundamentals of cameras which emerged from explaining the fundamentals of cameras every month.)
Collaborating creates a Venn diagram between the people involved, forcing you into the intersection. Given I have too many ideas and notions buzzing around my head, anything that helps me focus on a few of them for a while can only be a good thing. And while the collaborator might not directly reference their ideas and notions that don’t cross over with mine, their influence will be felt, pushing me out of any comfort zones I might have fallen into.
As I said in the last post, I’ve decided my collaborators should be sound artists and musicians - people who have an acute and creative aural awareness of their environment. The hope is that their practice will run in parallel with what we’re trying to achieve as photographers, while different enough to push us in new directions.
In essence, how does listening relate to and inform seeing in a city?
The seed of this was a photo walk workshop I ran at Ikon. After a nice walk around Brindley Place we crossed over Broad St to get to Gas St Basin. Broad St, even on a Saturday afternoon, is a pretty hellish place with traffic and people and noise. The photos people took there were claustrophobic and rushed. Gas St Basin, just a few metres away, is a calm, contemplative place and the photos also reflected that.
With that in mind I’ve devised a couple of approaches. The first is to use the sounds around us as an influencer. A simple example might be to ask the walkers to stop and close their eyes for 5 minutes and really listen, creating an impression of the environment in their minds. Then, at a given signal, they should open their eyes and take a photo. My theory is they’ll see in a way they wouldn’t have.
The second approach is to replace the environmental sounds with pre-recorded audio. Think about how the music you listen to with headphones while walking around influences how you see the city, how rhythms in the music match up with movements in your vision. I want to see how a soundtrack can subconsciously affect the creation of photographs by getting lots of people to shoot while under the influence of the same audio.
SOUNDkitchen will be providing these two approaches on the weekend of November 16/17 with a series of listening exercises for specific locations for one walk and a 90 minute prepared audio track to listen to on the other. (They’ll be confirming which will happen on which day very soon). I had a walk around Digbeth with Annie from SK today and we’re definitely on the same wavelengths. Just hers are soundwaves and mine lightwaves. Ha! (Sorry.)
Sam Underwood is the other collaborator. I’ve known Sam for many years and his 2011 dive into being a mad artist has been very inspirational. Readers of my blog will know his If Wet meetups have informed my thinking tremendously so once I’d decided to work with sound I really wanted him on board. Sam will be with me for at least one of the walks on the second weekend (to be confirmed) and it looks like we’ll be doing some macro listening and photographing starting with using stethoscopes to see what tiny sounds the city makes before shooting the tiny details, perhaps with magnifying glasses. Ooh, the possibilities.
If Sam can only do one day then the final walk is still up in the air, but I’m not worried. Most everything is in place now. Confidence is high.