Instructions for Seeing through Listening 23/10/10 posted by Irene Mensah


The objective in my first workshop interacting with the public, was to explore whether or not it was possible to find a new and enhanced relationship with the exhibition, or specific images, by responding to a short set of instructions and imagining that they could listen to a soundtrack of their choice. The responses from a busy and already engaged audience were richly varied, and almost all of the different people I approached with this invitation, were willing to include this extra activity. Even the few individuals who found the idea unappealing, then defined why they didn’t need any other stimulus to engaging with the work.

To help with finding an appropriate track, a laptop with headphones was made available. One couple were very happy to use their own iPod and enjoyed making a long list of tracks to accompany all the different photographers. The dramatic quality of Susan Lipper’s work was a good starting point for many, with the ambiguity of being both attracted and repelled by her subject matter proving to be a common response, and also stimulated ideas of sounds related to details present in an image, as a background rather than music.

Conversations therefore moved in many different directions, evoking a father’s memory of his own father singing a favourite track, “Hang down your head Tom Dooley…” responding to two of Susan Lipper’s photographs, to themes of unconscious prejudice and preconceptions. A more thoughtful choice in music was found to challenge one’s own stereotypical associations with the American South.
It was a pleasure to see people opening up further to more personal discussions revealing their interest in the exhibition, because of this different way of “tuning” into seeing images. The feedback was that it added a new dimension to connecting with the exhibition and encouraged a more focused and personal relationship with individual photographs. For some it was a poignancy of the gaze, the subtlety of what might be taking place out of sight of the framed moment. For others, the very fact that despite trying they couldn’t think of a natural soundtrack, stimulated an analysis of their preferred photographer’s personal themes.
I had great discussions with a photography teacher, a local musician, families, groups of friends, and they themselves were encouraged to debate their choices of music and what they found of interest in their favourite images. I really enjoyed the process and the generosity of people willing to think more laterally.
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