Photography: In Silence

by Beauchamp Art

For this series of photographs, I wanted to represent digital communication and the inherent failings and ambiguity therein by focusing on a found hearing aid, positioned and illuminated by my computer screen.

In Silence – Approaching the Void

Lens based experimentation focusing on the atmospheric silence and background noise of the isolated computer.

In Silence - Approaching the Void - VI

In Silence – Approaching the Void – VI

In Silence – Edge of Darkness

[Ibid.] […] Using an inverted zoom lens and a magnifying glass to focusing on a hearing aid illuminated by a computer screen displaying Facebook.

In Silence - Edge of Darkness - XX

In Silence – Edge of Darkness – XX

In Silence – Heart of Darkness

[Ibid.]

In Silence - Heart of Darkness - IV

In Silence – Heart of Darkness – IV

In Silence – Pale

[Ibid.] […] Focusing on a hearing aid illuminated by a blank, white computer screen.

In Silence - Pale - X

In Silence – Pale – X

In Silence – Severed Connection

[Ibid.] […] Focusing on a hearing aid illuminated by blank white screen, with the lens reversed and held aware from the camera, letting light directly from the screen to bleed in, creating the flare effect.

In Silence - Severed Connection - V

In Silence – Severed Connection – V

In Silence – Artificial Interaction

[Ibid.] […] Focusing on a computer screen displaying Facebook, and other sections of the screen.

In Silence - Artificial Interaction - VII

In Silence – Artificial Interaction – VII

In the majority of these images I used a combination of techniques to take the pictures, this included positioning a magnifying glass between the camera and the lens, reversing the zoom lens, as well as reversing the lens and using a magnifying glass simultaneously, which meant having to use an incredibly short shutter speed so as not for the images to blur in the slightest movement, but having a high ISO to compensate for the darkness (both necessary for the aesthetic of the images, and to protect the sensor of the exposed camera).

Let it be noted that this hearing aid was a found object; one that has a very intimate relationship with a person, both physically and symbolically – it both is inside the person’s ear, as well as being a tool that enables one to communicate with other people and experience the world around oneself more effectively.

However, there is a history in this object I will never know, culminating in its loss, and my finding. A hearing aid is usually firmly attached the person, and quite how it fell or was removed from the original owner’s ear is perplexing. I did ignore it for the first few days I passed by it, but I realised that it was going to remain unclaimed, and in its broken state would now be useless for its original purpose anyway.

The hearing aid had also clearly been used for some time, as their was a build of wax and dirt around the translucent section of the earpiece that rests beside the eardrum to pass on the amplified audio signal, this abject element resulted in a number of the more interesting images. Whereas the severed component loosely held on by a final wire represented the electronic and physical failings of the device, but seemed equally alien at such close proximity.

The abstract qualities of the majority of the photos rendered by the overly proximity of the camera to the object not only served as part of the process, but also had more metaphorical implications, such as if one was to compare the incomprehensibility of the visual dynamic with inaudibility of the deafened phantom figure. The closeness and up scaling of the small object could be seen as a parallel to the increased volume one would be expected to hear whilst using the hearing aid. One could also see a comment on the ‘cybernetic’ element to the subjects, both the hearing aid and the social network (barely visible but for a few non-descript pixels and cells) as example of the fusion of man and machine; the machine as an extension of the self, the internet as an extension of the mind, and the collective of online thought, as well as the implications for privacy of the individual within this context of constant exchange. With regards to this element, Herbert Marcuse’s ‘One Dimension Man’ has been most informative and provocative, in his works;

“Today [the] private space has been invaded and whittled down by technological reality. Mass production and mass distribution claim the entire individual, and industrial psychology has long since cease to be confined to the factory. The manifold processes of interject seem to be ossified in almost mechanical reactions. The result is, not adjustment by mimesis: an immediate identification of the individual with his society, and through it, with society as a whole.”

– Herbert Marcuse, 1991. One-Dimensional Man. Routledge.

The removal of a technological device fitted for social integration is symbolic of a rejection of this idea of mass homogenises, and the acceptance of necessary solitude to sustain any semblance of the self in society – one needs to be able to choose to disconnect to be able to be consciously aware of their relationships with one another; to be constantly listening, constantly speaking, constantly exchanging information involuntarily is anathema to human functionality – when the option to remain ignorant is overruled, one cannot protest false information if one is endlessly submerged in it.

This is furthered in this photo series by the comparison of the unheard and the unresponsive: as sound falls on deaf ears, comments fall on unread online messages– in a number of the photos, the device is positioned on top of my Facebook Inbox, which featured the outline of various half-read communications. But these communications are, to a certain extent, false conversations; proofread, potentially redrafted and edited after-the-fact, much as the sound through the device would be altered as another form of technologically enhanced/distorted communications.

There is also another parallel to be found in these works; between the hearing aid and the camera itself, which was dismantled and reassembled in order to take the images, but in doing so exposed the fragility of the camera lens, and the electronic device as a whole, much as the removal and breaking of the hearing aid exposed its delicacy and the failure of the human body, as well as the inability of more than a minute section of the images to be in focus if any at all (they have an incredibly low depth of field of just a few millimetres), which expose the flaws in this photographic process as well as myself as the photographer and documenter of observations (I did spend some time just looking through the lens, enjoying the microscopic aesthetic of the subject; this act of looking I would like to translate into further works, and not just the images themselves) – the whole process and pieces produced were rife with imperfections, and in this there was an existentialist quality that I would not want to be overlooked. These photos are of a broken object, which are not clearly illuminated, nor clear in their content – they could be seen ‘bad’ photographs done well; the dark ambiguity deliberate, and hopefully poetic.

This focus on the hearing aid is a continuation and effective sequel to the ‘Spectacles’ set as part of the ‘In Isolation’ series, as they focus on a means of enhance/correcting the senses. This parallels with the focusing on the keyboard and the interactive elements of the computer interface, juxtaposing the touching of a keyboard to the contact one has [or lacks] with other people.

I did struggle with keeping the camera steady with the ultra close up photos, and completely failed to get a number of the shots I wanted to. Such as one involving taking a photo of the found hearing aid on my computer screen reflecting in the lens of my glasses, through the standard zoom lens backwards with a magnifying glass, freehand. This particular set up was overly complicated and if I am to attempt it again, I shall remove some of the problematic factors, such as my shaky hands (I would have used a tripod, but as the shot required the camera to be almost in physical contact with the subject, it would have been extraordinarily difficult to position – it was anyway, but there would have been other challenges. Indeed, the problem solving aspect of this sort of experimental photography is highly appealing and rewarding when a photo goes well.)

The title, ‘In Silence’, is a continuation of the previous macro series (In Absentia, In Isolation), triggered by the use of the hearing aid as a subject matter; I wanted to reflect silence as an aspect of solitude, and hinting to the content of the photographs as they are particularly obscured be the intimacy and closeness of the camera – a relationship counter to the social distancing of not being able to hear another person speak, whether through deafness/hearing loss, or by other means of digital communication, especially via a computer – hence my use of the screen as a light source (whilst displaying a black white screen [the light of which filled the void of the dark room, but in doing so highlight the isolation of the computer, and by extension the computer user] then my background image [Can You Ever Switch Off] and finally Facebook).

The title also slightly refers to a Joy Division lyric in the song ‘Atmosphere’, which goes “Walk in silence, / Don’t walk away, in silence. […] Don’t walk away in silence, Don’t walk away.” – relating subtly to an exploration of isolationism.

Overall I believe this to be another relatively successful series, though I will have to address the issue of the steady camera and exposure settings when I next return to this ultra-macro format.

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