Sounds: A Photo Essay

Background

A photo essay is a collection of photos surrounding a theme or story. This week, I created a photo essay based off of sound.

Introduction

The day is broken up in eight sounds. From the sheets flying off the bed to the first sip of coffee to the faint audio of the tv at night. These sounds represent a completed step in the day. Wake up, coffee, go to work, come home, made dinner, do homework, relax, and go to bed. Repeat.

The Story

The official start of the day is when the chilly air hits the warm body. The crisp sound of the sheets remind her that it is the start of a new day.
The taste of warm coffee quickly melts the chill away. It also gives time for reflection and planning.
Time to go to work. She is about to hear these squeaky doors open and close countless times before she leaves to go home at the end of the day.
For eight hours, the phone rings, the customers ask questions, the cash register beeps, and books are slammed on tables and shelves.
After clocking out, she picks out a new book to read later tonight. There is nothing better than cracking the spine of a brand new book.
By the time she gets home, she is starving. After preheating the oven, the clash of the cookie sheet against the stove signifies that its almost time to eat.
After eating and relaxing, she will make her way to her desk. The only sound in the room for the next few hours will be the faint clicking of computer keys.
Her homework is done and the day is complete. The soft light and faint audio of the tv will slowly help her fall asleep.

Her day is nothing special, but it works. It’s simple. Just like some of the sounds in her day. She is going through life. Day by day. Moment by moment. Sound by sound.

Part 2

I never really paid attention to the sounds around me until I started this essay. At first, I wanted to focus on an average day. But as I was thinking about it, it wasn’t an essay and more of a photo story (following one person in one place). I wanted this essay to go beyond following my average day. My goal was to create an image where you could almost hear the sound when looking at the image. 

I took a lot of practice photos to capture these images. At first, I debated if I should be in them at all, or if they should be of other people. Due to COVID-19, I didn’t want to do any street photography because I wanted to be respectful of space and avoid as many people as possible. So, I settled on capturing a personal story that focuses on sound.

I’d categorize these photos as authentic, simple, casual, and convey a pleasant composition. In terms of composition and design, I wanted clean lines and balanced images. I tried to follow the rule of thirds or focus on symmetry. I also used several different angles. From straight on shots to putting my camera on the floor, I wanted to give a wide range of different perspectives. Lastly, I am a big fan of white space. When used correctly, it does a great job of emphasizing the subject matter, and that was what I was trying to do in most of my photos. 

In order to create a cohesive collection, each photo needed to fit the theme, but it also needed to succeed on its own. They each needed to convey their own visual story

For the first photo, I wanted to capture the movement of the sheet to get a better feel of the sound they make. I also believe that this photo is the strongest in the whole collection. 

I believe the second photo is also strong. I really like the composition and framing, but it also shows a quiet moment. When I’m drinking my coffee, I am always planning my day. Do I need to run to the grocery store? What time am I working until? Where did I park my car? How much time to I have to get ready? 

Looking back, the next one isn’t as strong as I originally thought. I knew I wanted to focus on the lines and shapes to create an artistic image, but I think I lost the sound’s story in this one. If I could reshoot, I would probably do a close up of the door’s hinges because that is where the sound is coming from. 

The next image shows an endcap of books and customer service in the background. This is another photo that I wish I could reshoot. This is the only image that emphasizes more than one sound, so I wanted to get a wider shot of the store, while still making it artistic. 

Since I work in a bookstore, I have a terrible habit of buying books after my shift. For the fifth photo, I wanted to do a close up of a book because they are a massive part of my life. For me, one of the best feelings and sounds is opening up a book for the first time and hearing the faint cracking of a brand new spine. 

Initially, I was going to take a similar photo of my morning cup of coffee. I liked the idea of showing the viewer that I was right back where I started this morning, but I couldn’t get the framing to look right. The refrigerator is blocking the stove from view, so it looked like I was just standing facing a wall, not ideal. So, how can I make this work? Well, I had the crazy idea to put the camera in the oven and give the viewer a perspective that no one sees but is incredibly close to the loud clanging noise of metal against metal. 

At first, I was not too fond of the clutter in the seventh photo. At one point in the process, I cropped out all of the distracting elements on the side, but then it didn’t look as real or authentic. In truth, this room is the office/ storage room, and that is just how the space is. I also originally had a photo of myself typing. I didn’t think it was as strong because it didn’t really tell a story. Yes, it showed that I was typing, but it didn’t convey any emotion or show anything about my life. This photo shows a quiet moment of my life as I complete my homework. 

The last photo is another one of my favorites. I took it from the hallway, looking into the bedroom. I wanted the faint glow of the tv to illuminate the room and show someone holding the tv remote (the hand positioning looks awkward because my hand model was very reluctant to work with me at 1 in the morning.) 

In conclusion, I took all of these photos myself. Between my tripod and self-timer, I spent many hours taking these photos. I had a lot of fun completing this project, and I look forward to creating another one in the future. 

References

Bonner, C. (2019, March 23). Using Gestalt Principles for Natural Interactions. Retrieved September 19, 2020, from https://thoughtbot.com/blog/gestalt-principles

Bushe, L. (n.d.). Simplicity, symmetry and more: Gestalt theory and the design principles it gave birth to. Retrieved from https://www.canva.com/learn/gestalt-theory/

Foundation, T. (2020, September 11). 7 Photojournalism Tips by Reuters Photographer Damir Sagolj. Retrieved September 19, 2020, from https://vimeo.com/48815231

Lien, J. (2020, March 04). Worth 1,000 Words: The 4 Principles of Visual Storytelling. Retrieved September 19, 2020, from https://actiongraphicsnj.com/blog/4-principles-visual-storytelling/

McCandless, D. (2020, July 30). What Makes A Good Data Visualization? Retrieved September 19, 2020, from https://informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/what-makes-a-good-data-visualization/

Nachtwey, J. (n.d.). My wish: Let my photographs bear witness. Retrieved September 19, 2020, from https://www.ted.com/talks/james_nachtwey_my_wish_let_my_photographs_bear_witness?language=en

Shurbaji, E. (2014, December 17). Photo narratives. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from https://medium.com/learning-journalism-tech/photo-narratives-d77b812f99dd

These are the standards of our journalism. (2019, February 11). Retrieved September 19, 2020, from https://www.npr.org/ethics

3 thoughts on “Sounds: A Photo Essay

  1. Hey Jen, I thoroughly enjoyed this piece. When you set out to capture sounds through images, I thought it was going to be impossible. Gladly, I was proven wrong, especially in the image of your hand turning on the tv to let in some background noise to sleep. It was such a relatable moment, and something I too am going to be doing soon. Your usage of the frame within a frame technique really sold the whole image too, as it is very visually appealing to look at.

    Something else I admired is how you mentioned enjoying white space. This to me is risky, since if not done correctly could create an unbalanced image or even bore/distract an audience. However, you pulled it off quite effectively in my opinion. A photo that doesn’t have as much going on is the one of the floor focused on the sound of the doors closing, but because of the unique angle you chose, I was still impressed and drawn in. Centering the crack between the doors was a wise move, and I can almost picture a montage of feet coming in and out as well beyond the noise of the door.

    My only “critique” (if it even is one with how strong this piece was) would be to have more confidence in the finished product. There were some elements that you were unhappy with that I did not even consider simply looking at the photos, and I think you could benefit from a positive spin instead of a regretful one. What I mean by this is, for example, with the door photo, spin it in such a way that instead of focusing on just the door hinges, you also were able to capture additional “noises.” You could expand to say the footsteps like I mentioned, or you could even say something like there is the sudden howl of the gusts of wind that sneak on through the cracks underneath the door. The audience doesn’t necessarily have to know if something doesn’t go according to plan, especially if it still produces a strong visual.

    PS: is this Barnes and Noble in North Haven? It reminded me of their setup haha

    Like

  2. I loved this!! What an interesting idea to do a photo essay on sounds! First, I thought your photos were beautiful. They all offered an interesting perspective and I was able to hear the sounds you were describing. My favorite was the one where you talk about cracking open a new book.

    I agree with Ryan… be more confident in yourself! You clearly have a great eye for composition and your overall idea was really cool.

    Like

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