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The Photograph

1 hour, 15 minutes
First broadcast:
Sunday 14 August 2011

Geraldine James and Robert Powell read poetry and prose inspired by photographs and photography - real and imagined - from the time of the earliest Victorian pioneers to the photojournalists and artists of today. Texts include extracts from the writings of British pioneer Fox Talbot and American transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson, the novels of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Paul Auster, and poetry spanning 150 years from Thomas Hardy and Walt Whitman to Leonard Cohen and Carol Ann Duffy. Music includes orchestral works by Charles Ives and Leos Janacek, an electronic fragment from Tod Dockstader and a pictorial song from Tom Waits, plus environmental sound recordings by Chris Watson and Peter Cusack.

Music Played

57 items
Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes
  • Image for Art Tatum (piano)

    Art Tatum (piano) Have You Met Miss Jones?

    Composer: Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart

    Art Tatum: the Complete Pablo Group Masterpieces, Pablo 6PACD-44012(6)

  • Christopher Isherwood

    Goodbye to Berlin (excerpt), reader Robert Powell

  • Image for Uri Caine Orchestra

    Uri Caine Orchestra Sidewalk Story: Daisy Bell

    The Sidewalks of New York, Winter and Winter 910-038 2

  • Image for Richard Chartier and Taylor Deupree

    Richard Chartier and Taylor Deupree Specification.Fifteen

    Composer: Richard Chartier and Taylor Deupree

    Line 027

  • Image for The Matthew Herbert Big Band

    The Matthew Herbert Big Band Turning Pages

    Goodbye Swingtime, Accidentales 05CD-AC

  • Image for György Ligeti

    György Ligeti Artikulation for 4-track tape

    Warner 2564-696735

  • Robin Robertson

    Four Views from the Camera Obscura, reader Robert Powell

  • Image for Johann Sebastian Bach

    Johann Sebastian Bach Sonata No. 1 in G minor BWV 1001 for violin solo

    Artist: Thomas Zehetmair (violin)

    APEX 2564-64375-2

  • Margaret Atwood

    Daguerrotype taken in old age, reader Geraldine James

  • Image for Otto Clarence Luening

    Otto Clarence Luening Low Speed

    Artist: Otto Clarence Luening

    Ellipsis Arts ELLICD 3670 A-C

  • Nathaniel Hawthorne

    The House of the Seven Gables (excerpt), reader Robert Powell

  • Image for Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev

    Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev Visions fugitives Op.22, arr. Walter Susskind

    Artist: Borodin String Quartet

    Teldec 945-72

  • Image for Charles Koechlin

    Charles Koechlin Les Heures persanes for piano 16 pieces, after Loti

    Artist: Rheinland-Pfalz State Philharmonic Orchestra, Leif Segerstam (conductor)

    Naxos 8.-223504

  • Walt Whitman

    Out from Behind this Mask (To Confront a Portrait), reader Geraldine James

  • Image for Philip Glass

    Philip Glass North star - music for the film

    Artist: Philip Glass Ensemble

    Nonesuch 7559-799469

  • Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Essays and Lectures (excerpt), reader Robert Powell

  • Image for Richard Chartier and Taylor Deupree

    Richard Chartier and Taylor Deupree Specification.Fifteen

    Composer: Richard Chartier and Taylor Deupree

    Line 027

  • Fox Talbot

    The Pencil of Nature, reader Geraldine James

  • Henry David Thoreau

    Journal (excerpts)

  • Image for Matmos

    Matmos Schluss recording

    Matador Records OLE-380-2

  • Paul Auster

    Leviathan (excerpt), reader Robert Powell

  • Image for Max Nagl

    Max Nagl Horen

    Super 8, Rude Noises 002CD

  • Image for Charles Ives

    Charles Ives 2 Contemplations K.V.23 for chamber orchestra

    Artist: Boston Symphony Orchestra, Seiji Ozawa (conductor)

    Deutsche Grammophon 423-243-2

  • Image for Tom Waits

    Tom Waits Watch Her Disappear

    Alice, Anti 6632-2

  • Thomas Hardy

    The Photograph, reader Robert Powell

  • Image for Frédéric Chopin

    Frédéric Chopin 3 Waltzes Op.34 for piano

    Artist: Alice Sara Ott (piano)

    Deutsche Grammophon 477-8095

  • Image for Charles Amirkhanian

    Charles Amirkhanian Walking Tune (A Room Music for Percy Grainger)

    Artist: Charles Amirkhanian

    Walking Tune, Starkkland ST-206

  • Seamus Heaney

    The Walk, reader Geraldine James

  • Image for Ali Farka Toure & Toumani Diabate

    Ali Farka Toure & Toumani Diabate Kala

    In the Heart of the Moon, World Circuit WCD-072

  • Philip Larkin

    Lines on a Young Lady's Photograph Album, read by the author

  • Image for Art Tatum (piano)

    Art Tatum (piano) Sweet Lorraine

    Composer: Burwell and Parish

    Art Tatum 1934 - 1940, CLASSICS, CLASSICS-560

  • sound recording by Peter Cusack

    Cuckoo and Radiometer

  • Henry David Thoreau

    Journal (excerpts)

  • Image for Mouse on Mars

    Mouse on Mars Auto Orchestra

    Instrumentals, Domino WIGCD88P

  • Leonard Cohen

    The Photograph, reader Robert Powell

  • Image for György Ligeti

    György Ligeti Artikulation for 4-track tape

    Warner 2564-696735

  • W. H. Auden

    I Am Not a Camera, reader Geraldine James

  • Raymond Carver

    Photograph of My Father in His Twenty-Second Year, reader Robert Powell

  • Image for Bill Frisell

    Bill Frisell Lonely Man

    Composer: Bill Frisell

    Disfarmer, Nonesuch 7559-799308

  • William Carlos Williams

    The Red Wheelbarrow, reader Geraldine James

  • John Updike

    Camera, reader Robert Powell

  • Image for Robert Schumann

    Robert Schumann Quartet in E flat major Op.47 for piano and strings

    Artist: Samuel Rhodes (piano), Beaux Arts Trio

    Philips 420-791 2

  • Image for Tod Dockstader

    Tod Dockstader Two Fragments from Apocalypse: First Fragment

    Artist: Tod Dockstader

    Apocalypse, Starkland ST-202

  • Philip Gross

    Bead, reader Geraldine James

  • Image for Tod Dockstader

    Tod Dockstader Traveling Music

    Artist: Tod Dockstader

    Apocalypse, Starkland ST-202

  • Herman Melville

    On the Photograph of an American Corps Commander, reader Robert Powell

  • Image for Leos Janacek

    Leos Janacek Sinfonietta

    Artist: Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Charles Mackerras (conductor)

    Decca 448-255-2

  • Image for John Levack Drever (sound engineeer)

    John Levack Drever (sound engineeer) Manaton, early morning, April 2002

    Sounding Dartmoor, I-DAT SPACEX

  • Friedrich Nietsche

    quotation, reader Geraldine James

  • Carol Ann Duffy

    War Photographer, reader Geraldine James

  • Image for Richard Chartier and Taylor Deupree

    Richard Chartier and Taylor Deupree Specification.Fifteen

    Composer: Richard Chartier and Taylor Deupree

    Line 027

  • Image for Field Recording by Chris Watson

    Field Recording by Chris Watson Vatnajokull

    Weather Report, Touch TO-47

  • Image for Matmos

    Matmos Schluss recording

    Matador Records OLE-380-2

  • Ted Hughes

    Remains of Elmet, reader Geraldine James

  • Marcel Proust

    The Remembrance of Things Past - Swann's Way (excerpt), reader Robert Powell

  • Image for Howard Skempton

    Howard Skempton Quavers 5 for piano [1984]

    Artist: John Tilbury (piano)

    Sony Classical SK-66482

  • Margaret Atwood

    This is a Photograph of Me, reader Geraldine James

  • Geraldine James

    Geraldine James

  • Robert Powell

    Robert Powell

  • Producer's Note

    Towards the end of his life, Walt Whitman became increasingly obsessed with photographs of himself. He spent hours sitting for photographers, experimenting with different poses, editing the results, burning the ones he didn't like. His poem Out From Behind This Mask is subtitled To Confront a Portrait, the portrait in question being an engraving by William J.Linton based on a photograph of Whitman taken by George C. Potter in 1871, and which was used as the frontispiece for Leaves of Grass. The author memorably describes the image of his own face as "This heart's geography's map", a kind of paper guide to the internal character.

    The fictional daguerreotype image of the outwardly benevolent Judge Pyncheon in Nathaniel Hawthorne's gothic novel The House of Seven Gables was also intended to be engraved for publication but on close inspection reveals a "sly man", "imperious" and "as cold as ice." The merits of photographic portraiture are questioned later in poems by Philip Larkin and W. H. Auden.

    Christopher Isherwood becomes the camera itself in the opening lines of his semi-autobiographical story observing life in 1930s Berlin, one of several places evoked in these texts. The boulevards of 19th-century Paris are described by English chemist and photographic pioneer Fox Talbot in The Pencil of Nature. The decaying post-industrial landscape of the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire is the subject for Remains of Elmet, from a book of poems by Ted Hughes with black and white photographs by Fay Godwin. And we are given an rooftop view of present-day Edinburgh in an extract from Robin Robertson's Camera Obscura cycle.

    Some of the music I've used has a direct link to existing photographs. Guitarist and composer Bill Frisell recorded an album inspired by the portraits of early 20th-century American photographer Mike Meyers aka Disfarmer, who lived and worked in the small town of Heber Springs, Arkansas, and whose imposing presence, dark clothes and gruff manner scared the local kids and made his subjects feel distinctly uncomfortable. "Everybody was afraid of him" said the local funeral director. You'll also hear parts of Specification.Fifteen, the work of electronic musicians Taylor Dupree and Richard Chartier who in 2006 were invited by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington DC to create a work in response to the Seascapes series of Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto.

    Other music reflects the mood of the texts: Herman Melville's poem is followed by a movement from Leos Janacek's Sinfonietta, which the composer intended to express "contemporary free man, his spiritual beauty and joy, his strength, courage and determination to fight for victory". The idea of companionship suggested by Seamus Heaney's poem is echoed in the recording of Kala by Toumani Diabate and Ali Farka Toure. Some of the pieces have a pictorial quality: Tom Waits' Watch Her Disappear, a voyeuristic dream in the "black summer heat", and Charles Ives' Central Park in the Dark, "a picture-in-sounds" said the composer in 1906, "that men would hear some thirty or so years ago when sitting on a bench in Central Park on a hot summer night."

    The relationship between photography and sound recording in documenting place can be heard in the work of Chris Watson and Peter Cusack whose evocative recordings convey sometimes surprising information through the positioning and choice of microphones. In Cusack’s Cuckoo and Radiometer - Pripyat, a small handheld radiometer bleeps beside the Ferris wheel in a playground near to the Chernobyl power plant, while a cuckoo calls in the background - “an ironic juxtaposition of sounds” says the artist, “as both allude to sudden eviction. Cuckoos pirate other birds’ nests ejecting the eggs and chicks and radiation forced the evacuation of all Pripyat residents.” Chris Watson's Vatnajokull, recording the movement of glacial ice in the Norwegian sea, can be heard towards the end of the programme.

    The sound recordist's spirit of documentation and observation has something in common with the American transendentalists Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson whose journals are quoted here to highlight the difference between looking and seeing. And like photography, the musique concrete of Tod Dockstader has the ability to take a fragment of the everyday and transform it into something new and intriguing.

    Producer: Felix Carey


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