Silence

August 02, 2021
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What do you hear in the silence? The gaps in the music. The still pages of a book.

When the last car has screeched its way around the bend and hacked off in a plume of oil smoke. When the last stragglers and drunken revellers finally collapse in a quiet moan somewhere. What do you hear?

Books

I have a new book. Well, I call it new I have had it a few months but still, go back to it. The title is Nordisk Stilhed by a Danish photographer Morten Hilmer. I love this book, not least because it is one of the most expensive photography books I have. But, because of the silence inside it. In English, the title is The Silence of The North.

So, what do I see when I look at the images? Obviously, the subject but also what has been left out or kept in. In particular, I feel the vast emptiness of the snowfields. How the wind would sweep across it and the feel of the wind-driven ice on my cheeks. Above all the silence.

The images from the snowfields all bring a quiet solitude, a fierce struggle for survival. Against the odds Musk Oxen find grass under the snow and foxes huddle up against the cold.

I want to say desolation but that would be wrong in the same way that you could not call them bleak. This is because they are not either of those things. There is a simple beauty in the vast plains of snow.

The silence pervades the images of the snow. In the same way that fog mutes’ noises so does the snow. But then there are the different noises that come from it. You walk on hard icy snow it has one sound fresh powder sounds different. And when the storm stops, and the wind drops away there is a deafening silence and calmness that comes. You are left with the gaps. Spaces to be filled, or not.

Ben Horne

Between the Wind is by one of my favourite landscape photographers, Ben Horne. The title represents the need for the wind to drop before he takes an image. Using a 10x 8 large format camera is an issue enough but the wind will cause it to shake compromising sharpness. Ben is a very slow and patient photographer. Far more than I am, but his work speaks volumes. I particularly like his Death Valley shots.

For snow, we have sand and sand dunes. The constantly moving and shifting mounds of fine grains of silica. The wind again picks up small particles and blows them off the top of the dunes and imperceptibly they move. Once again though we have the silence, and the dessert shots bring this to the fore. Having never been to Death Valley this might not be the case but in the images, it is there. I can feel it inside. The vast expanse and the sense of being truly alone.

In these days of rapid consumption, no one seems to have time to fill in the gaps. Look at the spaces and fill them in. People want it spelt out for them in an easily consumable bite. No one seems to want to feel the image, let it grow inside of them, look at the narrative. Be moved by the image.

Should we

No time for the gaps, just move on. We as photographers fill this need by filling them in with more elaborate and complicated methods of post-processing with little work done on the camera more and more done behind the computer screen as we focus stack and blend to get the perfect image ready for consumption. To be thrown away in a millisecond when the next best thing comes along. I would far rather see a slightly imperfect image that moves me than a perfect image that is, well, Nah. Not that I have an issue with blending and photoshop, it’s more a case of, as Jeff Goldblum said in Jurrasic Park. “You have spent so much time in saying we can but not considering if you should”. (something like that).

Is it possible to process the emotion and feeling out of an image?

Stories

What do you see in the gaps in the image? Can you fill in the back story and understand why the image was made at this time in this way. Can you see the whole story? Do you hear the silence of the snowfields? Can you hear the soft hiss of the moving sand, how does it make you feel?

That is what a good image should do. Tell you just enough story to capture you then you, the viewer, fills in the rest. Why? How? What happened next. It should engender some emotional response.

The silence should be screaming at you.

 

Thank you for reading this far. If I could ask you to go one stage further and take a look at my Instagram feed which can be found HERE

One final thought on this. When you look at a photograph how does it make you feel? What emotions course through your mind? Does it take you back to a past time when things were better, worse? Does evoke memories? What does it make you think of?

Or, do you just think, that’s nice and move on?

 

 

Please check out both Morten and Ben’s books they are well worth the money.

The Silence of the North Morten’s Prints can be found HERE. Sorry the book has sold out

Between the Wind. This is Ben’s site for some really cool images

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