Meatyard: Motion-Sound

Discussion in 'Discussing a ****** Photograph' started by Michel Hardy-Vallée, Aug 10, 2007.

  1. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    Well, the "Discuss a ... photograph" forum has been rather quiet lately, so I'd like to rekindle it with photographs from a series that's been ticking in my head lately, Ralph Eugene Meatyard's "Motion-Sound" pictures.

    The intent behind the series is just that: visually, represent sound through the impression of motion. It's quite a departure from the "Lulubelle" work he is usually known for, and to me it avoids (though sometimes narrowly) the sheer gimmick or novelty. I couldn't find the one that I wanted (I swear I literally heard a hissing sound by watching it), but those are the two best I could find.


    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]
     
  2. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Meatyard is a favorite of mine. One thing that to learn from him is the idea of having 5 or 6 long term projects to work on. When he ran out of creative energy in one project...he would work on one of the others.

    I have to say the motion-sound work isn't as interesting to me as some of his other work; I love his kids in the abandoned structures, but that first motion sound certainly achieves what he seemed set out to do. You can almost hear the buzz cicadas in that image. The second one you post isn't quite as successful... maybe that big tree trunk is to heavy a presence in the image. To me at least.

    Another portfolio that is a departure from what he is known for, Zen Twigs, are delicate studies of branches and water. Really interesting, and I think this more contemplative work the Zen Twigs and the Motion Sound probably informed his other work profoundly, if not very obviously.

    I'm a fan... thanks for resurrecting this forum!
     
  3. catem

    catem Member

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    Yes, indeed, on both counts. I had also been thinking this forum had gone far too quiet and have been considering some photographers - let's hope these discussions get resurrected a little.

    Like Suzanne, I very much like the Zen Twigs portfolio, though these are also expressive in a way I would expect of Meatyard. I do find them an interesting change from the work he's best known for (which I very much like). I do get a sense of the sound particularly in the first, but I'm not sure that it is sound above all that comes across to me from these photographs, particularly the second - (and I do have a sense of some others I've seen that are more convincing in this way also)...
     
  4. Will S

    Will S Member

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    Suzanne, your comment about the buzzing of cicadas is brilliant! I've often wondered what he was driving at with these pictures. My initial reaction was that he was using the pictures to show an abstract depiction of what sound might look like if given visual form, but I wonder if I only thought that because of the visual representations of sound I got as a child from Fantasia or from later exposure to oscilliscopes. The idea that the picture can show not only a visual record of the scene but also the sound of the scene through visual manipulation is really interesting.

    I don't recall reading anything where he talks about these photos. Does anyone know of a source?

    Thanks,

    Will
     
  5. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    There is a good writeup about Meatyard's various projects, including this one, in

    Ralph Eugene Meatyard : an American visionary
    Meatyard, Ralph Eugene, 1925-1972
    [Akron] : Akron Art Museum, Ohio ; New York : Rizzoli, 1991
     
  6. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Will... there was a pretty definitive book published of Meatyard's work in 2005 called, simply, Ralph Eugene Meatyard by Guy Davenport published by ICP and Steidl press. I have it, I'm sure your local library could get a copy for you to see if the price is too steep, but I think it's well worth it. There are some very good essays in it, including one by Meatyard himself.
     
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  7. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    I have never heard of this series of images, but very interesting. I like the reference to cicadas for the first. Here in the Great Plains they are at their height of sound right now.

    If the first is close to a buzz or a high frequency, the second reminds me of something a little more on the lower end, more of a bass sound. A deeper resonance of a few beats.
     
  8. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    I hope there are some MTF geeks reading this thread, because Meatyard's photos just reminded me of the concept of "spatial frequency" !
     
  9. Struan Gray

    Struan Gray Member

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    I am a big fan of Meatyard, and his landscapes in particular. I do like the sound and motion photos, and my own photography involves a lot of photographs of tangled undergrowth, but my training as a physicist makes it very hard to just look at and enjoy this particular series.

    In physics, if you see a repetition like the doubling that Meatyard uses in these images you immediately start to assign significance to the spacing and direction of the doubling. I need to be tired or otherwise intellectually decoupled to prevent what has become an instinctive reaction from kicking in. I admire the way that Meatyard has used a simple technique to excellent artistic effect, but like a Kabbalist confronted with a run of sixes on the dice, I can't help but look for over-complex or inappropriate hidden meaning.

    mhv, the photograph is made up of two superimposed copies of the same picture. Mathematically, (i.e. if you wanted to achieve the same effect in d*g*t*l post-processing) the process is a convolution with a kernal consisting of two spikes - delta functions - whose seperation encodes the size and direction of the image doubling. MTFs are not really affected, but are used to actually perform such convolutions as the calculations are much faster in Fourier space.

    Despite the above, my own response to Meatyard's work is largely a felt, poetic one. I love the way he combines high seriousness with wit and affection, and I find it inspiring that he managed so successfully to connect with artists and thinkers outside of the rather narrow world of photography.
     
  10. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    Thanks for the technical context Struan, I fear my comparison of the pictures with spatial frequencies was more metaphorical than accurate!
     
  11. Struan Gray

    Struan Gray Member

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    "Spatial frequencies" isn't wrong, but can be a false friend and lead you astray.

    The 'problem' with doubled images like these is that you can all too easily over-emphasize a particular direction. Branches running parallel to the doubling direction don't look doubled, while those perpendicular are doubled most strongly. It is easy to end up with a dull bunch of stripes. One of the things I admire in these photos is the way that Meatyard has avoided that, and has retained an interesting formal scheme in the midst of what looks like chaos.
     
  12. catem

    catem Member

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    Thinking of these pictures and reading the comments I've now got a word going round in my head I can't get rid of that seems to fit here ...... susseration .....no complaints, it's a great word.... (quite loud, though, I'll let you know if it keeps me awake..)
     
  13. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I had to look that one up... a soft whisper of murmur, but it seems it you've misspelled it, according to "dictionary.com. (ok.. not the OED!) Should be suserration.

    Yes.. great word, Cate, and an excellent one for Meatyard's work!! Hope it won't keep you awake, but it's one of those words that rolls right off the tongue!!
     
  14. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    Probably from French (and thence from Latin, etc): sussurer. The kind of tone you assume when you are pouring intimate words into the ear of someone you love.
     
  15. catem

    catem Member

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    Oops.. I just checked and in fact we're both wrong it should be susurration (might differ English/US spellings though). I keep thinking of ....the susurration of the grasses.... Seems like it should have two 's' s doesn't it? Nightmare to spell but the sound is nice...
     
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  16. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Indeed... I first noticed one s and two r's, and didn't see the U!! D'oh!! :surprised: Well, I know this word, now!! :tongue:
     
  17. Struan Gray

    Struan Gray Member

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    This thread seems to be bringing out my mental blocks. There must be a term to describe the way lovely words irreversibly narrow their focus because of their association with particular memories or experiences. Thanks to Terry Pratchett, I cannot help but associate "susurration" with tiny blue warriors and bad poetry.
     
  18. catem

    catem Member

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    Awww....what a shame! I'm now going to try to forget the associations you mention (not hard as I don't read either!) .. and stick with Meatyard, and especially that first photograph which is really growing on me....
     
  19. Struan Gray

    Struan Gray Member

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    I try too. I have my own small continuing series of susurration photos, although mine tend to be the result of a howling gale rather than a gentle eddy. I tend towards less complex scenes and more complex motions than Meatyard, but I have been inspired and encouraged by his example. No Pictsies as yet...

    [​IMG]

    Marram Grass, and a big gust. Achnahaird Beach.
     
  20. catem

    catem Member

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    I like this, Struan. I also have a 'whispering grasses' photo in my gallery. I have taken a lot more 'grasses' pictures this summer, I love them, only mostly this year in colour, a bit of a departure for me. Or more accurately, quite a lot of 'reeds' pictures, although that is a kind of grass, I think. Not really like Meatyard, though!
     
  21. Struan Gray

    Struan Gray Member

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    One of the things I most like about Meatyard is the way he photographs the natural world without sentimentality. Most of the western world is wrapped up in an sickly mix of the Romantic sublime and Disneyfied anthropomorphism. Meatyard was one of the photographers who showed me that there are alternative approaches. Woodlands and forests, for example, are only truly frightening when infested with hostile humans, and to swoon in safely-cocooned terror at the awe-inspiring vistas seems somehow insincere and self-deluding.