William Eggleston, Untitled, 1969-1970
As quoted by Walter Hopps in an essay titled Eggleston’s World, when asked what he was trying to accomplish with his photographs, William Eggleston said “I think of them as parts of a novel I’m doing.”
I wish I could read that novel.
I discovered a deep love for reading long before I first held a camera. My life has been shaped by Berger and Solnit, less so by Crewdson and Cartier-Bresson. I don’t identify as a Photographer with a capital ‘P’ (I’m no William Eggleston) –– I’m a writer and visual thinker. I’m also an introvert who enjoys using cameras to create portals into other lives. When I happen across an unrepeatable moment in the street or at the grocery store, I often imagine what led to that moment and what will come next.
I’m moved by the marriage of imagery and ideas. Whether the thing exists in book form or on a small screen or in the cinema or at a museum, I crave the careful combination of voice and visuals. I have no trouble visualizing a piece of good writing (so books hold plenty of sway in my heart and mind) but for me it’s not a two-way street. Strictly visual experiences, even the best ones, tend to bore me. A feed of naked images leaves me desperate for context. I don’t subscribe to the view held by many artists and visually-inclined folk that an image must speak for itself. An image is certainly capable of speaking for itself, but some images are bettered by the text woven around them, and vice versa.
This project is simply a way of exploring my own inclincations on the matter while sharing the output with visually-inclined readers of like mind. Meanwhile, I get to indulge two of my healthiest habits: writing & street photography.
As for the name, Now They Hear Nothing, some friends and kind visitors have asked about its meaning. I’m endlessly fascinated, inspired and disturbed by the tumultuous relationship between people and technology. There’s a very palpable tension in that relationship which permeates nearly every experience and interaction in modern life. I’m not just talking about people (strangers, colleagues, lovers) staring into their smartphones, although that’s part of it. I’m talking about technological progress writ large (transportation, communication, climate adaptation, food systems, digital publishing, virtual reality, unfettered global capitalism in the digital age, etc.) measured against our most basic needs and desires as human beings.
A few years ago, I began to imagine a near-future in which our technology is so slick that the world becomes silent: electric motors humming and neutrinos colliding and remote workers clocking in virtually while we swipe quietly at thinner and thinner screens until nothing is left but air. And virtual reality sex. That notion, of the silence not the sex, became the first few chapters of a novel and then became this project. There’s an intangible feeling or mood that I’m looking for in my images and stories. At the end of the day, it’s about isolation and longing.
The technologist in me is also interested in publishing things independently to cut against the grain of common internet consumption patterns. I’m curious about the now ubiquitous phenomenon whereby some strange thing simply blinks into existence for an audience of one (the author), everyone (the global internet audience) or no one (the silent reception of a well-intentioned creative misfire).
As for my chosen format for the photo-stories (image follows text), I think of the image as an arrival point or a kind of unlocking for each story. As a reader, I prefer to experience the writing unadorned and then encounter the photo, keeping in mind whatever I’ve collected along the way. If you aren’t a screen-reader (or if you’re just trying to catch a quick glimpse) then you might not like the format. That’s ok. For what it’s worth, I recommend exploring this project during a quiet part of your day when you won’t feel rushed.
Last but not least, if the stories and images found here seem darkly tinted, please know that I’m a somber optimist. After all, as Jaron Lanier writes, “the most important thing about a technology is how it changes people.” And it’s all in our own hands.