Exclamating, Still! 
On the Noise of Images

Why use the sonic and the haptic, the temporal or the grammatical to understand the affects of photos, particularly photos that can neither speak for themselves nor be seen on their own outside of the visual or discursive lexicon of the state? Why engage the touch of images never meant to be touched and never intended to have an affective life? Or the sonic frequencies of images of intentionally muted subjects?

Tina Campt

On the occasion of the 12th edition of the Rencontres de Bamako, one of the most important biennials of photography and moving images worldwide, SAVVY Contemporary is invoking streams of consciousness with and through the sonic of images. Throughout an afternoon of encounters – in the midst of the well-rehearsed multilayered format of SAVVY Contemporary INVOCATIONS – artists, scholars, musicians, critics, viewers and listeners from Mali, the African continent and beyond will tune in to the indistinguishable sonic affordances of the visual. Activating listening as a form of conscious, cognitive and synesthetic engagement with images, we intend to ponder the tones and sonic scores of images, the noise and the overdose, the moral obligations and screams of consciousness flashing from the visual inputs we are exposed to in our visual culture.

In this spotlight, listening intervenes as an emphasized form of attention: when we listen, we don't speak, we let in. Whereas, when we look, we can speak, risking to stop or interrupt what could have come to us. Tina Campt describes her practice of listening to images as “a practice of lingering and attending to photographs in all their complexity and trying not necessarily to hear something in them, and not necessarily to see something in them but to look beyond what we see to be able to engage that which we have to inhabit in order to understand them.” And elsewhere she explains that “the choice to ‘listen to’ rather than simply ‘look at’ images is a conscious decision to challenge the equation of vision with knowledge by engaging photography through a sensory register that is critical to Black Atlantic cultural formations: sound.” [1] In developing this critical and simultaneously tender framework to understand political and social uses of photography, Tina Campt allows the images to tell her something: “Instead of just ‘looking at’ these quiet documentary photographs, she ‘listens to’ them, detecting in them the hum of refusal in small gestures of anticolonialist defiance and difference.” [2] In response to these reflections, Deborah Thomas states that “listening to images is a love letter – an extended profession of tenderness for the material evidence of black life”.[3]

On a further note, bringing sound and image together is pointing on the time the still transports with it – sound being embedded in time, in what we don't see, don't grasp, and which still flows on acoustic waves in and around us.


Time is a continuous stream of stills…
Time as a continuous element is perceived by human senses as infinite captured moments, infinite stills. Photography concretizes the stream of time into a still: a seizable, micro-sized, graphic form of the continuous, ungraspable element of time.

… calling on our consciousness, speaking to our conscious…
In its artistic form, photography can bring to surface a conscious reflection of a social time: a reminder, a call, an urgency, a resistance, a visualized act on where to look at, on what not to forget. While photos visualize, they create and at the same time position themselves and the viewer towards moments of a time. They are calling on our consciousness, while speaking to our conscious, our moral responsibilities. By doing so, photographers are creating resonating images. Looking at their photographs also comes with a plea for responsibility. Describing the criminality that lies in mass publication of photographs of extreme suffering, Teju Cole asks: “What sort of person needs to see such photographs in order to know what they should already know? Who are we if we need to look at ever more brutal images in order to feel something? What will be brutal enough?” and he continues: “These photographs are mirrors, not windows. We look into them, and what they reflect back to us is something monstrous and hard to reconcile with our notion of ourselves. We look, and look, and then — sated with looking, secure in our reactions, perennially missing the point — we put them away.” [4]

… questioning oblivion…
Evoking 1994 as the year when the Rencontres de Bamako were founded, this edition proposes a retrospective of the biennial which will also be a retrospective of time through resonating images. 1994 – the year in which Nelson Mandela was elected in South Africa was also the year in which the Genocide against the Tutsi occurred in Rwanda. This crucial time zoomed in stills, was confronted with a world looking away, not reacting for a long time to the atrocity addressed, not listening to the many oppressed screams of consciousness.
The Invocations will include this historicity in its programme, reflecting on how photos touch the conscious of humans and make visible what is hard to look at: a view questioning human ethics, human sense, common sense. At the same time, the programme will address the ethics of photographers themselves, while capturing moments of violence and suffering. Is capturing such moments making the viewers more or less empathetic towards them?

… bridging time and spaces...
A bridge in many ways: One being a bridge between then and now, crossing times. Embedded in the 12th edition of the Rencontres de Bamako which is also looking ahead, we will look at the bridges worldwide between African spaces of our contemporary time: the various communities on the African continent and its diaspora. However, the topic of barriers is inescapably still connected to the violent forces that many Africans have to face if they want to bridge geographical borders on the continent and between continents, while their consciousness is calling for a change.

.… and spaces of formation...
“Photography is quite banalised over here”, explains photographer Fatoumata Diabaté 2011 in an interview [5]. She explains how photography is commercialised, with many Malians creating a studio to develop identity cards. Photographing in order to make a living, not to reflect on lives. “People begin to lose respect for photographers because we lack of any formation.” How can one build up and preserve their identity if the formation of professional photography is linked to (infra)structural dependency?

As Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung remarks, this year’s edition of the Rencontres de Bamako will experience an organisational turn, as the Malian state “will steadily take over the organisation of this biennial from the Institut Français”. Embedded in a digital time, the Invocations will turn to past and future encounters in images, reflecting on independent image creating, focusing on technical, financial, and artistic methodologies.


Tina Campt, Listening to Images (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017), 6.




Deborah Thomas in her contribution to “Listening to Images: A Salon in Honor of Tina Campt”, at Barnard College, September 14, 2017: