Tina Campt: Listening to Images

On that indelible night in the basement of our home, my father hummed in the face of the unsayability of words (1:4).

Fascinated by the notion of listening to images I decided to read Tina Campt’s book entitled ‘Listening to images’.

In the quotation above Campt is describing how her father, mourning the loss of his wife, hummed his wife’s favourite Roberta Flack song while his 11 and 13-year-old daughters sang the words. Campt describes how, to this day, the memory of her father’s quiet hum provokes in her a ‘simultaneously overwhelming and unspeakable response’. So perhaps, as a result of her experience, Campt has a heightened awareness of the audible senses. She maybe thinks more in terms of audibility. Particularly quiet which she distinguishes from silence.

Campt also seems to have been influenced by Arellia Azoulay’s ‘evocative proposal’ (1:6) to ‘watch’ photographs. In the introduction to her book ‘The Civil Contract of Photography’, Azoulay states ‘One needs to stop looking at the photograph and instead start watching it.’ (2)

Still rather confused by exactly what was being put forward I watched an interview with Campt on the Ideas on Fire website. In it she describes the idea of listening to photographs as follows:

So what I’m saying when I say listening to images is what happens if we don’t necessarily focus only on what we are looking at but how an image affects us through other registers of touch, of other registers of impressions, impressions that images leave upon us where we don’t obsess about the details that we are seeing and we think about how they are moving us. (3)

Finally, one particular sentence struck me as interesting in view of the horrendous global situation. Campt says:

Attending to the infra-ordinary and the quotidien reveals why the trivial, the mundane, or the banal are in fact essential to the lives of the dispossessed. (1:8)


(1) Campt, T., 2017. Listening To Images. 1st ed. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press.

(2) Azoulay, A., 2008. The Civil Contract Of Photography. 1st ed. New York: Zone Books, p.14.

(3) Campt, T., 2018. Imagine Otherwise: Tina Campt On Listening To Images. [online] Ideas on Fire. Available at: <https://ideasonfire.net/63-tina-campt/> [Accessed 7 March 2020].

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