To recap: for Assignment 2 I want to capture the act of remembering via a series of portraits of elderly people singing songs from their youth. Additionally, I want to be able to visually represent the musicality of what it is they are remembering (or another way of looking at it: the musical trigger for whatever memories they are privately reliving). So far I’m doing this using sound waveforms.

The first mockups are here and the feedback I got is here.

Following the peer feedback my initial next step was to work on alternative ways of incorporating the waveform into the image.

The first attempt, as included in the mockups linked above, split a wave to form the top and bottom borders of the portrait:

Gilbert wave
1 (top and bottom)

I then tried different placements and opacity levels of overlaying the wave directly on the image. First, a 70% opacity wave down low:

Gilbert wave 70
2 (70% opacity)

Then, a full white wave in the same position:

Gilbert wave 100
3 (100% opacity)

Then I moved it towards the middle:

Gilbert wave middle
4 (middle)

I’m not quite sure about the shape of the wave as it tends to look a little to harsh and jagged (I’ve been using software called Audacity to create the waveforms and it only outputs in one style) and so I looked for something that make a more stylised or simplified waveform. I found an excellent free online tool called Waveformer that produces more aesthetically-pleasing shapes:

Gilbert wave lines
5 (lines)

A slight diversion into memory theory

As noted elsewhere recently, I’m trying to maintain a focus on a particular aspect of, or angle on, the subject of memory. I’m fascinated by how memory works – what is happening in our brains when we remember, or when we forget.

I’m partway through a very enlightening book, Memory: the New Critical Idiom (2009) by Anne Whitehead, which discusses an idea that set off a lightbulb above my head. She closes the introduction with this (my emphasis):

“Although this volume is titled Memory, I am therefore also preoccupied with the question of forgetting. This concept not only forms the shadowy underside of memory but, more precisely, shapes and defines the very contours of what is recalled and preserved.”
(Whitehead 2009: 14)

So forgetting, often dismissed as a flaw of memory, is necessary for memory to work. If we forgot nothing, how could we remember anything important? An operational memory is a filtering system; what we discard gives shape and significance to what we retain.

A couple of analogies to illustrate how I’m looking at this:

  • Forgetting is to memory what…
    • Silence is to music
    • Background is to foreground

With this notion in mind I started looking at the idea of using negative space in the images, to give greater prominence to the remembrance:

Gilbert neg space portrait
6 (negative space)

This introduced rather a lot of negative space, although I think there’s a justifiable rationale to keeping the portrait ratio (which in itself is a signifier that the person is the subject rather than the waveform).

I did however try an alternative version in landscape ratio, which gives more prominence to the waveform as subject:

Gilbert neg space landscape
7 (negative space landscape)

Next steps

I have another Musical Memories singalong session shoot on Monday so will be capturing more portraits then. However, I’d ideally like to have narrowed down these stylistic choices before then, in case it drives exactly what shots I look for (angle, ratio, framing, backgrounds etc).

My current preferences are for no. 5 (lines) and 6 and 7 (the two negative space images).

I might throw this out for a bit more peer feedback before next week’s shoot…


Whitehead, A. (2009) Memory: the New Critical Idiom. Abingdon: Routledge