The works in a new show at A Gallery for Fine Photography in the French Quarter this month might be the best photographs you’ll hear all year.
Of course, they might be the only photographs you’ll hear all year.
Occupying a place where two of our senses intersect, “Resonantia” is a series of photographic objects by New Orleans-based artists Vanessa Brown and Jeff Louviere (aka Louviere+Vanessa) in which 12 musical tones created through a handmade tone generator were translated into abstract images via a combination of physics and art.
Simply put, “The photographs capture sounds with photography,” said gallery director Edward Hébert.
No strangers to combining materials from different sources, the artists describe their work as “effectively combin(ing) the mediums and nuances of film, photography, painting and printmaking.” As such, it’s expanded the boundaries of what constitutes a photograph, particularly when it comes to the media used to produce them.
Gold leaf, gesso and resin are frequent materials in much of their work, and one series of prints used wax and blood. And their image-making process also has incorporated tools like destroyed film negatives, plastic Holga cameras and Super 8 film stock.
For “Resonantia,” the artists constructed a custom apparatus to create the images. An audio speaker was turned on its side and converted into a type of platform upon which a container of tinted water was placed, and a camera fitted with a ring flash was then used to photograph the water from above when sound from the speaker caused its surface to erupt in a riot of patterns and textures.
All of this might amount to little more than a glorified science fair experiment if the end results weren’t so visually engaging. Printed with gold leaf on Japanese kozo paper, the objects have a strong tactile presence, which serves as a counterpoint for their abstract quality.
On the surface, the project is about objectively translating sound into image. But there’s a strong subjective element to the work, as well.
Like fine art Rorschach blots, the images that result from Louviere+Vanessa’s transmutation of sound into image often resolve themselves into recognizable objects. Many of them resemble faces, while others look like flowers, starbursts or guitar picks. Another one of the images was nicknamed “the blowfish” by the artists themselves.
It’s related to a psychological phenomenon called paradoilea, in which our minds seek to create recognizable patterns and order through chaotic or random stimuli: Think of seeing shapes and figures in clouds, or the face we see when we look at a full moon. Every viewer will have a different visual experience.
The photographs are accompanied by a limited edition vinyl album that include samples of the sounds used to generate the images, along with remixes created from aural translations of the images themselves. They won’t be replacing Rihanna on the charts anytime soon, but they’re a fascinating accompaniment.
The sounds will be playing in the gallery as an “ambient soundscape” during the exhibition, and visitors to the show also will be able to queue up the sound files on the artists’ website and listen along while viewing the photographs for an enhanced multimedia experience.
Should you be inspired to visit the show and create that experience for yourself, keep in mind the artists’ own words while you’re looking and listening:
“Everything you see is a sound. Everything you hear is a photograph.”
John D’Addario writes about art. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.