In my own little world of noise and photographs :) Photo by Fiona Cullinan (via Flickr).
It’s not very often you hear silence. I remember experiencing it once when I was alone photographing a snowy loch in the middle of Scotland and I was quite astonished by it. It was such a contrast to the constant sound that I’m used to in the city: a mixture of traffic, people, construction, industry, and everything else that comes with urban living. Yet having lived in the Birmingham for over ten years now, it was only yesterday that I realised that I even though I hear the noise, I rarely actually listen to it.
Camera at the ready, yesterday afternoon I set off on one of a series of four sonic photo walks led by Pete Ashton and Sam Underwood. Pete and Sam had a variety of devices to help us listen to the small sounds of Birmingham and we all soon found ourselves holding stethoscopes to the walls and looking generally quite strange cupping our ears around the streets of Digbeth :) The aim was to photograph the detail and create abstracts based on what we could see and hear around us.
As I was strolling around and leaning against various walls, doors and fences, I realised there was an underlying noise to Birmingham that I hadn’t heard before, almost like I was hearing the heart of the city beating for the first time. It had become a living and breathing thing and was no longer just a collection of concrete and metal.
It’s a little hard to explain what made me photograph the things below as it was such a subjective experience based on the sounds I heard, but I’ll give it a go nevertheless.
The first photos I took related to the sound I was picking up through the stethoscope from vehicles: a train over the archways, the circular noise of trolley wheels, and cars passing us on the road. Using a longer shutter speed, I moved my camera in the direction of the noises I was listening to. Other photos related to the volumes of sounds that I heard; some were initially loud and decreased in volume, others were constant with varying background noise. There were also single noises that stood out just that bit louder than the others. Sometimes it was about putting yourself in place of the noise. I wondered what it may sound like to be working behind these locked gates, or what a smoking break might sound like to the depot workers. As we walked along the canal paths, I used a different listening device (pictured below – though I can’t remember what these things are called…oops!). Kitted out with headphones, I found different textures to stroke the sensor on and listened to the varying sounds they made. The mass of cobwebs (no spiders, thankfully) on the green wall was lovely and soft in contrast to the scratchy textures of the pink wall. And finally it was sometimes just about listening to your surroundings. My favourite sounds were the drops of water hitting the canal (which, it turns out, are ridiculously difficult to capture).So there you have it…I suppose it all looks a bit bonkers :) I enjoyed being a micro-listener and experiencing Digbeth in a totally different way than I had before. I reckon I’ll be generally more aware of the sounds around me when I’m out taking photos around the city in future.