Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Sound, Word and Landscape: "All sound is memory; a repetition of an event that has already occurred"


Regular posts on Sound, Word and Landscape have been on this blog for the last few months. The day of talks took place on Saturday and it was wonderful: a mix of speakers, perspectives and approaches that combined to form something that was greater than the whole.

In the first section, Angus Carlyle talked about sound, memory and images in a talk that has really transformed the way I think about images, Beth and Thom Atkinson talked about the myths of the city and photographing what is and isn't there, while Max Houghton talked about the written word and landscape and how it defines what we see.

In the second session, Jem Southam talked about walking; long walks, short walks and how they affect our seeing and our being. Walking was also a major theme in Paul Gaffney's talk which also featured his latest work, Stray and how this became an immersive exhibition.

The final session featured Ester Vonplon's beautiful image and music film, Gletscherfahrt, and the idea of the earth as a living being, while the fantastic Susan Derges talked about her changing relationship to water and place and how photography expresses this.

The beautiful thing was in every talk you could see resonances of other speakers, so there was a communication across the day.

I was asked if I would write a review of the day and I said no, because well, I co-organised it with Max Houghton so it would be a bit biased.

But instead I had the delight of live-tweeting during the day (something I look forward to doing again in 2017 or 2018 maybe). So here, more or less, with the Samsung Swype typos corrected, are the live tweets of the day.


Angus Carlyle



"All sound is memory; a repetition of an event that has already occurred"

"Our ears have evolved from the bones and breathing tubes of reptiles and river creatures."

Angus Carlyle talked about different kinds of listening, and the different conventions they have. A whole list, including dirty listening.

Angus Carlyle referenced Michael Taussig: 'Writing is inadequate to the experience it records' And sound too.

Angus Carlyle: He spoke about the difference between word, image and sound memories.

Buy Angus Carlyle's In the Field: The Art of Field Recording here.

Buy Angus Carlyle's On Listening here.

Beth and Thom Atkinso

TA628-Cv2.jpg

They describe their book, Missing Buildings, as a book made by walking, about buildings that are no longer there

Thom Atkinson: "If the past is still in the present, how do you photograph that?"

Beth Atkinson: "We're really influenced by Thin places - where the gap between the physical and the spiritual world is thinnest."

Beth Atkinson: "You need some buildings remaining to be able to call it ruins. If all is destroyed, it's not ruins."

Beth Atkinson: She likens the lack of domestic ruins from the Blitz to a form of historical repression, referencing Rebecca Solnit

Beth Atkinson: "We can only understand what was lost through what remains."

Thom Atkinson: "The myth of the Blitz was formed through films, photography and family legend."

Thom Atkinson: "Joseph Campbell ( a mythologist) describes myth as being like a group dream."

Thom Atkinson: "Myth gets layered all the time. London is the symbolic focus for the Blitz  It's the landscape of the Blitz."

Thom Atkinson: "The Keep Calm and Carry On poster was never used in the second world war. It was seen as too patronising."

Thom Atkinson: "The myths of the Blitz are removed in contemporary news, sport and soap operas."

Buy Missing Buildings here.

Max Houghton



"Towns and cities grew out of the land, from the materials it is built out of and beyond."

"I find solace in nature writing. You don't need to go anywhere to read it. It's perfect!"

She talked about the contradictions and polarities in contemporary Britain and how the need to merge those polarities.

"In Walden there is a chapter on sound. On the birdsong  but also the railroads that disturbed Thoreau's peace."

Emerson: the true test of civilisation is to be found in the city.

She talked about WG Sebald and Solly Zuckerman and when language fails and image text succeeds.

"We can transmit images and sound but we  can't transmit touch or smell."

"Walking can be a pilgrimage, but in it has also brought us some of the greatest works of poetry, music and art."

She talked about Rebecca Solnit.  'The narrative or temporal element has made writing and walking resemble each other...'

Talked about Robert Macfarlane - Walking enables thinking and seeing

"Does something happen to our way of seeing when we lose ourselves in nature, landscape, walking?"

Read Max Houghton on 1,000 words here. 

Jem Southam



Liz Nicol's Rubber Bands

"Forty years ago I had a job, I had a flat, I had friends but I didn't have a photograph practice.. So I gave up my job, I gave up my flat and I gave up my friends. And I walked the length of the country. And I still didn't have a photographic practice."

He talked about Auerbach, painting and walking, and the connection between. walking to work, walking for work, walking to make work.

He talked about shadows Van Gogh's walker and the series of paintings Francis Bacon did off it. The walk can be an alter-ego

"Whenever I'm out walking I know I'm walking in land that people have been walking on for 800,000 years"

The simplicity of walking as exemplified by Robert Adams' Summer Nights. "You close the back door and you walk."

He talked about Liz Nicol's Rubber Bands - a series of cyanotypes featuring the rubber bands picked up on walks to her school

"I've done walks with David Chandler. He doesn't like the rockfall walks where rocks are crashing down."



He talked about Richard Gregory's cafe illusion. Based on a simple walk past a tile pattern on a St Michaels Hill cafe in Bristol. A pattern discovered by walking.

"What are we missing by not walking, by not doing those everyday short walks."

"I love using the iPad camera. It's a but like using a 10x8. You compose and you take a picture."

"When you photograph with a 10 x 8 camera you say I'm not going to photograph that, I'm not going to photograph that, I'm not going to photograph that..."

He talked about landscape, plant life, the passage of time and how that is contained in the image. And the joy of the ipad, Instagram and the ability to make small observations on life.

He photographed Conchie's Way. A road to nowhere built on Dartmoor by conscientious objectors during and after the First World War.



Jem Southam: Conchie's Way

Paul Gaffney 



"I seemed to be an expert at making life complicated for myself... that's why I started meditation"

 Paul Gaffney: "Long distance walking is like meditation. You slow down, you are stripped back to your body and your thought processes."

"I became very precious about the edit for We make the path. I wanted it to flow, so the images wouldn't jar."

"I was slowing down, waiting for the images to come rather than searching them out as part of a preconceived idea."

"The edit for the  book comes first and the edit for the exhibition comes after."

"The project was as much an excuse to go walking for five months as to make photography."

"The title We Make the Path by Walking came from Antonio Machado - 'there is no path, the path is made by walking.' "

The times he's let other people curate his work, it's been "a disaster."

His new book Stray started when he got lost in a pine forest and took high iso pictures to find his way out .

"The Belfast Exhibition of Stray was an experiment in how to communicate this idea of being immersed in a forest"

The exhibition developed from a series of pictures on the wall to eight projectors in a darkened room projecting the night images. Only one in four of the carousel slides was an image so it mirrored the darkness of the forest at night and the struggle to see.

Buy Stray here. 

Ester Vonplon




I didn't get to tweet about Ester. I was in conversation with her instead. It was a short session. She showed her Gletscherfahrt film and we talked about the sounds she recorded, the words that came with it, and the requiem that accompanies it. So there's sound, words, landscape and music. It's a beautiful piece of work. You can buy the book here - it comes with a white vinyl recording so you can recreate the slideshow in your own home.

Ester didn't talk about her other work. Which is a shame because it is brilliant. She doesn't think of herself as a landscape artist. Maybe because like all the rest of the people who talked on the day, she's more than that.

This is what some other people tweeted about her.

Seeing Ester Vonplon’s ‘Gletscherfahrt’ with the requiem composed to accompany it was the day’s great revelation.

Now battery is alive again I can say, Ester Vonplon's image & requiem piece was STUNNING. 4.00 a.m. words not enough

The most talented photographer of her generation? Ester Vonplon.


Buy Gletscherfahrt here.



 Susan Derges

Tide Pool 38, 2015

Susan Derges: from Tidepools

 "Most of the work we have seen today is  a form of biography."

"The accident of photography helped make the Observer and the Observed."

"Everything is always unfolding. It's either dying Orr coming into being. And your own reaction to it changes."

"There's a sense of self in Anna Atkin's cyanotypes."

 "You are always a participant in a photographic event because of the photographic choices you make."

"I could regard the river as a long piece of photographic paper or transparency."


"I couldn't explain why some pictures were coming out blue or dark"

"Then I built up a sense of the cycles of the moon and the effect of streetlights bouncing off the clouds."

"The tidepool pictures were made digitally; Ilfochrome stopped producing the paper and I became allergic to the chemicals."

"These tidepools are strongly related too my childhood memories."

See Tidepools at Purdy Hicks Gallery in London, opening 20th November

And then the kid's party started!

Thank you to all the speakers: Max Houghton, Beth and Thom Atkinson, Ester Vonplon, Angus Carlyle, Susan Derges, Paul Gaffney and Jem Southam.

 And from Max and me, a big thank you to ICVL, Photobook Bristol, the Southbank and RRB, as well as to all the volunteers who made it possible: Chris Hoare, John, Nathan Woodman, Hester Brodie, Scott Klang, Josie, Amak Mahmoodian, Onny Thomson, Alejandro Acin & Rudi Thoemmes (who made it possible in the first place).

And thank you to everyone who attended and for all the kind words and encouragement. You make the next one possible by coming!

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