On Saturday I ran the first of my new Photo Walks in Digbeth that used sound as framing device. I’ve been running photo walks walks for over a year now and really wanted to try something new to see how they might be improved, so I decided to work with a couple of musicians from SOUNDkitchen, Iain Armstrong and Annie Mahtani. I met them on a walk they did for Still Walking in September which reminded me a lot of my photo walks, only they got people to listen with their ears rather than see with their eyes. We had a chat and decided it would be fun and interesting to merge our walks and see what happened.
The walk started outside Curzon St Station on a crisp November morning with Ian leading the group into the middle of the large expanse of grass there. It’s an unusual sort of space to find in the middle of a city providing large vistas with few barriers to sight and sound. Iain talked about listening and being aware of sounds in the distance, seeing if we could hear things as they vanished from sight or if they merged with the ambient roar of the city. After five minutes of aural concentration I asked everyone to pick up their cameras and just start taking photos, mindful of the sounds they’d been hearing.
We then moved on to a bridge on Fazeley Street over which trains constantly rumble to New St Station while cars (and the occasional skateboarder) head into Digbeth. Here the conditions were quite different – claustrophobic, echoey and dark. Again with the listening and the looking.
Next we went up the hill to where the Birmingham Dogs Home backs on to the Latifs car park. Here we wanted to people to think about the strangeness of hearing lots of dogs without seeing them. We asked people to really listen to the dogs and try and count the individual voices while looking at the people and cars we could see.
Finally we went into the Bull Ring car park under the massive railway arches on Allison Street, where the sounds of cars mixed with the hum of industrial ventilation and echoed off the cathedral-like walls.
Then a casual walk down to the noisy bustle of the Custard Factory, listening and viewing what we might hear and see, before a pint or two in the Old Crown. During all this Annie was quietly recording the ambient sounds so we can use them to create something with everyone’s photos later on.
I was, frankly, pretty nervous about this walk. While both Iain and myself were bringing our professional skills to bear this was new territory for us both. But I can honestly say it worked better than we expected. We kept the theory and jargon in check and really focussed on helping people to experience the city in some new ways.
If you’re annoyed you missed the walk, fear not, we hope to run it again next year. And this Saturday sees a very similar, if completely different, sound walk with Sam Underwood, another musician who does a lot of urban listening. We’ll be using stethoscopes and microphones to pick up the tiny sounds of the city and use these to frame our photographs. Sam has an infectious enthusiasm and this should be a lot of fun!
And then on Sunday Annie from SOUNDkitchen has prepared a 60 minute soundtrack which we’ll be listening to simultaneously as we walk through Digbeth taking photos. We’re hoping the soundtrack will subtly affect your perception so you take photos you otherwise wouldn’t, and we’re planning on stitching the audio and everyone’s photos together to see what patterns emerge.
If you’d like to come on either on these walks, please book here.
Andrew Dubber’s photos from the walk are in this photo set. Hard to believe he was on our Beginners Course a few month ago!