Twist: Observed Eating Oranges

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Eating oranges requires care, especially when they’re juicy and you’ve stopped to rest, and are sitting perched on the top of the battlements of the castle you are visiting. You don’t want to fall and end up fifty feet below in the moat, but you don’t want to drip orange juice all down your clean linen shirt so you twist, and lean over, and spit the pips over the edge when you think no one is looking. Except of course you don’t realise it, but in fact you are being observed, and not captured on camera but recorded nevertheless.

It’s strange how often people are oblivious to being drawn, either because they assume they’re not the subject of the drawing or perhaps because they simply don’t notice, being much more conscious of a camera. I’ve sketched people in all sorts of public places, including playgrounds with children accompanied by adults, where if you took out a camera and started to take pictures you’d cause a commotion. I’ve learnt to be very careful about this and to respect people’s concerns, but it saddens me more than I can say, that taking photographs can feel dangerous and threatening.

But in general nobody seems to mind being drawn, even if they notice, which very often they don’t. Perhaps drawing is still understood in a different way. Perhaps the interest being shown feels more respectful, that nothing is stolen, that no harm is intended. Or perhaps it’s simply a question of identity and anonymity; drawings are not like snapshot identifications. It’s not like being caught on a cctv camera. There’s no real sense of violation of privacy. I don’t know.

However fast you draw, it’s a lot slower than pressing the camera shutter. Drawing is like a gentle exploration, a process of getting acquainted. The very best photographers are able to do this too, but for me it’s never quite the same – which is why I carry a sketchbook as well as a camera. Given the chance, and giving myself enough time, I’d rather look a bit more closely, understand more, and get acquainted.

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Work Of Art

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The world is full of the most amazing things that sit waiting to be seen, to be discovered, to be known and wondered at. How many times have I walked by and missed something special by not paying attention? 

To see something and to do more than just notice it  –  to let it fill your whole consciousness for a moment and then to know with a kind of urgency that this just has to be recorded, expressed, shared – this is making a work of art.

Instructions For Living A Life:

Pay Attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

Mary Oliver

Voices

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Years ago, long before mobile phones with digital voice recorders, I used to carry a dictaphone around with me, the kind that uses mini-cassettes. My awareness of the world is probably about 95% visual – looking and seeing is how I learn and think and understand – but when it comes to listening, I’ve always known that that voices are something special.

I’m fascinated by accents and dialects. Hearing English spoken in all its global and regional variations it never ceases to amaze me how different it can sound, and I love listening to languages of all kinds. I’ve been known to follow people in the street just to carry on listening to the strange and wonderful sound of their unintelligible conversation, and whenever I hear something unfamiliar I can’t resist trying it out, getting my mouth to form deliciously unexpected vowel sounds. (Consonants defeat me; the subtleties of Urdu seem to be beyond the capabilities of my tongue and hard palate, but given a chance I can make a convicing imitation of the vowel sounds of Ireland, Australia, South Africa and various parts of the United States and I speak Spanish with an accent that is unfortunately far too plausible so that people think I’m fluent when sadly I’m absolutely not. I can’t seem to help it – I’m like a parrot, compelled to imitate strange sounds as accurately as I can for the sheer fun of it.)

When I was learning Spanish twenty years ago I used to record myself reading from the newspaper or from children’s books, and listen critically to hear where I was going wrong. I still have these tapes and they are a vivid reminder of what I was doing at the time, but here and there amongst the stories and articles are other recordings that I made on the spur of the moment for different reasons entirely, and some of these have captured a moment in time with such clarity it feels like magic.

Going through these tapes the other day I found a fragment of conversation that took place in the house of an old friend who has since died. I don’t know what prompted me to start recording; we are all laughing so much that at times it’s hard to work out what’s going on but the voices are so clear, so real, that I’m suddenly and completely transported in time. Nobody knew I was recording, so everyone is talking naturally and hearing his voice with all his idiosyncrasies of expression, his accent (american, and his spanish uniquely awful even after half a lifetime in Spain), his interjection as he suddenly thinks of the word we’re all looking for and above all, his laughter – I’m instantly there again, in that moment, filled with the same sense of fun and happiness that we all shared that lunchtime in his kitchen.

Memories of friends who have died are always poignant but this feels like something more than memory, and it’s something that I will always treasure. What is it about a voice that can have this power? Does sound, like smell, reach deeper into memory and touch emotion the way no image can? Probably. No photograph could do this. Much as I’d like to think that some of the pictures I take might one day remind me of who I was with and exactly how it all felt, I know this isn’t true.

I need to do more listening.