Image: from the series Mercures © Joséphine Michel
Year end is almost here, and it’s time for a brisk walk in the park. The wind plays with leaves and hats, ruffling the surface of a small lake in smooth ripples, interrupted by ducks and geese. I am reminded of an image from Joséphine Michel’s recent photographic series, Mercures, and asked her a couple of questions as to the origins of this image:
CM: Here we are immersed in the visual but also limited sensual landscape of an online blog, and I’m thinking of this image of yours which speaks to the experience of seeing, but also of taking in other frequencies and trying to make sense of their patterns. Could you tell me what interested you in making this image?
JM: Although the photograph may appear premeditated, it was discovered through an improvised process, in which I tend to embrace all visual accidents, during a walk across Regent’s Park in London in September 2015. This was in the very early days of a photographic ensemble now titled Mercures, which revolves around the multiple modes of our relationship with birds.
At the time, this on-going project was anything but conceptualized, thought through. Still I had interiorized, in an engrammatic way, what has been at the core of my experiments and research for years, the photographic’s relationship to the sonic. The project arose on a summer dawn the month before as I noticed the gulf between the generic, coarse mental image I had of birds and the splendid subtlety of a seabird song, which I was not then able to identify.
This photograph reveals a visual echo in which an actual acoustic experience eventuates at its core. Whilst editing, I suddenly remembered the visual patterns of Cymatics, where the incidences of sound on water initiated by Hans Jenny created a renewed visualisation of the acoustic experience. Here, the bird’s movements create a plethora of sonic matters materialized by the multiple aquatic patterns, from micro-sounds to larger noises. This image crystallises several recurring obsessions: the textural encounter of the visible and the acoustic realms, the coexistence of multiple states of matter (here, solidity, and liquidity) and the encounter of inertia and liveliness.
Although the bird occupies only a proportionately small area of the image, it is the vector of the photograph. It sizes it between the orthodox and the chaotic characters of grids and their reflections. Its vibrations animate the field and graphically undermine its own enclosure. This fugal trajectory stimulates thoughts about the boundaries we constantly try to impose to these frontier-less creatures.
CM: Where is this enquiry taking you, and what are you looking for in the images you are making, to add to this series?
JM: The project is gradually coming into focus. It gravitates around an exploration of the impact on birds of their habitats, which may be artificial, degraded or reduced by humankind, and the explicit tension and interplay this generates between bird and photographer.
If each new photograph should be able to take the project along an unforeseen path, I feel that the photographic experience intensifies when I record the ire of gazes, the pressure of gestures, the oddities of details.
In Mercures, birds are mostly represented without their surroundings, and there is not any clear sign of deforestation or agricultural clearance to be found. However, habitats affect and sometimes contaminate the images as hors-champs, generating undertones and shadows in these encounters with birds.
I am also interested in digital noise, by the manner in which digital code and compression, on one side, and the fineness of detail of the subject on the other, generate unpredictable textures, which defy a definitive reading of the photographs. In most of the images, a tension imposes itself between the photographic form, its implications of stasis and fixity, and the bird as a process, durational.
For further reading:
Joséphine Michel is a French Photographer, who has recently collaborated with the Finnish electroacoustic composer Mika Vainio to produce the book and audio CD, Halfway to White. An essay about this project, written by Justin Coombes, was published on Photomonitor in 2015.