THE SONIC PHOTOGRAPH
‘because sounds go into all the body pores and cells directly – not just through the ears – everywhere’ - Karlheinz Stockhausen
“There is shuteye, but no shutear” – David Toop
Photography is often understood as being an exclusively visual art. Indeed many theories of visual culture are based on the gaze attributed to, variously, the photographer’s eye, the camera’s optics, or the photograph’s viewer. When approached in correlation with other arts, it is its relationship with painting, and more recently, film, that has been mostly emphasized. When engaged in correspondence with arts outside the visual realm, there exists a long tradition of underlining its affinities and analogies with literature and poetry. As Jan Baetens subtly remarks, ‘As in Orwell’s tale (i.e. Animal Farm), one might say that in discussions about interdisciplinarity, all disciplines are equal, but some are more equal than others’.
If sound (as differing from music) is a relatively recent area of investigation, the number of research projects in anthropology, psychology and even archaeology which underline its importance has abundantly increased in the last decades, leading to what is commonly called a sonic turn. Sound and photography have often been thought of as strictly opposed, as parallel but separate and irreconcilable realms, the distinction between the aural and the visual being only one of many disjunctions. To the former belonged invisibility, immateriality, movement, and the abstract and ungraspable physical nature, while the latter was conceived of as relying on silence, stasis, concreteness, and representation. In contrast, and seemingly counter-intuitively, my research is concerned with a practice and an understanding of photography that is inflected, or even structured by sonic phenomena.
The underexplored relationship of photography and sound has therefore become the impetus for an investigation of their mutual porosity in terms of indexicality and reverberation, the concept and the processing of white, and of data and experience in the digital age. The project goes hand-in-hand with an expansion of sonic thinking and impact on many areas of the arts not previously thus thought about, and my attempt here is to explore the implications of sound for my own practice in a field - photography - that up to now has been considered one of the most silent visual arts.
The foregoing statement is derived from my MPhil project, completed in 2012 at the Royal College of Art, the full text of which is available on request.