James Blake

Music of our Minds

How do you describe or evoke an emotion in music? This question has of course occupied musicians around the world for hundreds of years. My images have always been heavily influenced by music, largely because I’m always listening to it and so most of my thinking and feeling occurs to some sort of soundtrack. In widening my efforts to engage with others and their own experiences of solitude, I chose to invite respondents to suggest songs that they felt were relevant to the theme for whatever reason. 

I’ve been really touched so far by how willing people have been to provide what is in some ways a more personal insight into their own emotional world than just responding to a questionnaire. The variety in responses, some of which are included on this page, has been a real eye-opener and again validates the decision to elicit responses to the theme in as varied a manner as possible.

It’s also been incredible how multiple respondents have chosen the same songs in some cases, confirming how powerful music can be both in short-circuiting and universalizing our emotional responses. The insight and resultant inspiration and moods that the songs have triggered exceeds what could have been expected by conducting interviews alone and for that I’m so grateful. 

Having attended an exhibition earlier this year where the work of the late Malick Sadibé was accompanied by a curated soundtrack evoking joyous parties in backstreet Bamako bars, I thought that I’d one day love to be able to present my own work in some way augmented or accompanied by music. This seems like a natural consequence of a practice that is already so heavily dependent on music for its fuel and its energy. 

For the forthcoming work in progress exhibition ‘Searching for Meaning’ I've compiled an exhibition playlist comprised of songs submitted by my kind respondents as well as songs that have directly influenced my own images. This playlist will be accessible from the exhibition webpage and will continue to evolve with the project moving forward.

Positions and Practice: Week 2 Reflection

This week’s focus has been on the interdisciplinary nature of photography. It only takes a moment to be overwhelmed by the many areas of personal, professional and intellectual life that are in some way influenced or interacted with by the photographic image or some derivation of it. Photography in an obviously recognisable form is ubiquitous of course, but this week challenged me to consider how it has also seeped into the core of so many other areas of life, and been changed, misrepresented or exploited in both positive and more questionable applications. From medical imaging and its central role in diagnostic and subsequent clinical care, to photo-composites aiming to arrive at a visual mean or archetype of a proclivity or ethnicity, the image has been unwittingly recruited into many roles.
The challenge this week was to consider where these links might particularly relate to one’s own practice. I have been intrigued by the link between photography and memory for some time. I have often felt a subconscious impulse to shoot a particular scene that then seems to gently tug at a thread deep in my memory, unravelling it enough for me to realise that something has been disturbed, without being able to grasp it solidly enough to recall details. Images suggest emotions and imply connections that are sometimes quite unsettling. This link with our psychology is something I want to explore further and is likely to be an ongoing component of my research on this MA.
Some introductory reading in this area threw up some interesting introductory ideas. For example, in Point-and-Shoot Memories: The Influence of Taking Photos on Memory for a Museum Tour, Linda Henkel (Psychological Science 2014, Vol. 25(2) 396–402) was able to demonstrate that the act of taking photographs on a museum visit impaired the ability to be able to recall details of the exhibits seen, compared to those who simply observed the exhibits without taking photographs. While Schacter et al. (Psychology and Aging 1997, Vol. 12, No. 2, 203-215) demonstrated that review of photographs could induce false recollections in older people. In Looking at Pictures but Remembering Scenes (Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition 1992. Vol 18. No 1. 180-191), Intraub et al. discuss how ‘boundary extension’ occurs when we recollect images, leading us to perceive and recollect ‘more’ of a scene than was actually presented in a photograph.
All of these ideas challenged my original notion of photographs triggering memories for me. I’m forced to acknowledge that photographs are not always ‘truthful’ either intrinsically, or in our recollection of them, and the idea that images can induce false memories, which can then become incorporated into our personal histories is intriguing. Another unavoidable conclusion is that the idea of the photograph as ‘evidence’, as being by definition an accurate representation of what was seen, or was present, is not as indisputable as it may first appear. This is an interesting way to consider some recent controversies such as the furore surrounding President Trump’s inauguration photographs.
Another strong interdisciplinary connection for me is with photography and music. Music often triggers my ideas, it helps to clear my mind, inspire a creative attitude and helps me connect with the mood of the places I photograph.

An example - This song:

Inspired this image, that I shot back in 2015:

Our Love Comes Back In The Middle Of The Night

Our Love Comes Back In The Middle Of The Night

There’s a continuum between memory, emotion, imagery and music for me that I aim to understand more as the course progresses, and this week feels like the first step on that journey.
This week I've also learnt that photography has so many potential applications beyond the immediately obvious. There are endless opportunities for collaboration with non-photographic practitioners and across photographic disciplines as long as one is open enough to see the possible connections.