Let’s face it.
Sometimes some things are just too cool for words. I’m holding in my lap a book called Shadow’s Praise by David Nissen. The book is a collection of moody, noirish, street images. Some are in color, though most are in black and white. And they are evocations more than documentation. The images have the overall feel of loneliness and isolation, of the urban impersonal.
“The Sounds of Shadows” by David Nissen
Published by IIKKI, 2023
review by W. Scott Olsen
If I say they are dark, however, I do not mean they are menacing. These are the shadows we look into more deeply. An isolated group of shopping cards under a parking lot streetlamp at night, for example. Solitary people walking in parking garages or standing at empty intersections. An outdoor booth at a closed restaurant. Shadows at the edges of buildings.
By themselves the images are quite good. Each one is an invitation to wonder about the story being held in this capture.
But that’s not what this book is about at all.
In the beginning of the book, opposite the title page, there is a note.
“Shadow’s Praise is the result of the dialogue between the photographic works by David NIssen and the music artist Akira Sano, initiated by IKKY, between September 2022 and February 2023. The complete project works in two physical imprints: the book and the disk [vinyl/cd]. It should be experienced in different ways: the book read alone, the disk listened to alone, and the book and the disk read and listened to together.”
In other words, the book is meant as a duet. Both parts work by themselves. But put them together and, well, oh my.
There is, of course, nothing new about listening to music while doing something else. I am, myself, one of those people who is always listening to music. It’s on the background (sometimes too loud) in my office. It’s on in my car. It’s what I listen to late at night and first thing in the morning. And while the selections are usually some form of piano jazz or blues, my tastes range widely. More importantly, the music I choose is an expression of my mood on any given day. While I certainly did not write or perform the music, its selection comes from outside whatever I may be doing or considering.
Also, just about every movie has a soundtrack, a musical score to influence and guide how we receive the storytelling. The music scores of films often go on to a popular life of their own – think Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean and Harry Potter – but they begin their lives as accompaniments. They are there to serve the film. It’s not a co-equal relationship.
In the film world, sometimes a live orchestra performs while the movie plays. Starting with the silent films of the Lumiere family in 1895 and moving up through West Side Story, Jaws, Polar Express, then Harry Potter and more, a live concert with film is an entirely different experience. While the orchestra may play a score written to support the visual, the actual event is a co-creation. The live performance of the orchestra is as much a unique artistic creation as the film on the screen. The visual and the performance do not serve each other as much as compliment each other, both making the audience experience of the other richer and more profound.
Shadow’s Praise is very much a co-creation. A physical disk or downloadable file is sold with the book. The music does not explain the images. The images are not a storyboard for the music. The two arts reveal themselves side by side, influencing and suggesting ways to think about the other.
The result – and I go back to a bit of technical jargon here – is very cool.
The music is not a series of songs. Instead, the music is a series of tone poems, synthesizers and bells and percussion. Ethereal and moody. They are more explorations than structures, in very much the same way the images are more emotions than scenes.
And this is where another bit of genius comes in. The book begins with what is called Side A. The first chapter is called A1, and it’s given a time stamp: 4: 56. That’s a duration marker, which is approximately the duration of the song, “I Remember the Place, The Colors,” that accompanies this section of images. And the cool thing is if I am told the duration of this section of the book is 4 minutes and 56 seconds, it radically changes the speed with which I consider not only the section, but the individual images within it. I slow down. I slow way down. And with the accompanying music, I am given an emotional direction, an audible lens through which to consider the work of the visual lens. With the images, I am given a fresh way to hear the music.
To me, this is thrilling. It is not over-directive. The music is not a music I would normally imagine, so to hear it while looking at the images is an expansive experience.
Nissen is a French cinematographer and photographer. His website says he “ takes us on an atmospheric journey through fog, rain and fading lights… photographing through impurities or raindrops, his search for materiality gives a thickness that we encounter in painting, his approach to photography is deliberately pictorial and emotional.” He is also the author of four previous books: Seen-Unseen, Out of Darkness, Shapes of Light, and Deep Night.
Nissen’s photographs are moody whispers that something deep is in the air. Joined with the music, and the way it reshapes the whole encounter with a photobook, the images strike a deeper chord. Shadow’s Praise is a wonderful book.
A note from FRAMES: if you have a forthcoming or recently published book of photography, please let us know.
Every year we release four quarterly printed editions of FRAMES Magazine. Each issue contains 112 pages printed on the highest quality 140g uncoated paper. You receive the magazine delivered straight to your doorstep. We feature both established and emerging photographers of different genres. We pay very close attention to new, visually striking, thought-provoking imagery, while respecting the long-lasting tradition of photography in its purest incarnation. Learn more >>>