Music to My Eyes

 American bumble bee on goldenrod blooms; Florida, USA.  Copyright Audrey R. Smith, 2013.

Who else relies on audio stimulation while they work?  Whether in the studio or in your car on the way to a shooting location, what do you listen to?  How do you think it affects your image-making; or does it?  I firmly believe it does, or at least, it can.  I have been my own guinea pig in this regard, though involuntarily.  It’s why restaurants worth their salt (pun!) spend so much money and effort on the ambience.  Surroundings are important, including audio surroundings.Here’s what happened (anyone else watch “Monk?”  I feel like that right now.):  I grew up in Brevard County, and spent thousands of hours on the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge taking photographs since it was only five minutes from my home.  I usually had some sort of African instrumental music playing while in the car, and it would keep playing between stops or trails.  That style of music was very inspirational to me, not only the beats and rhythms involved, but the instruments included, namely flutes, shakers (like rainsticks), and drums.  It kept me focused, and I felt better connected to my subjects and nature in general.

Fast-forward to our move to South Florida:  the Everglades and Big Cypress were both approximately an hour away, and I found myself making day trips, beginning about 4 a.m.  To keep myself awake and keep me occupied when out of radio range, I began borrowing audio books from the local library and playing them instead, specifically Carl Hiaasen books.  On its face, it was a great idea.  I already own the Hiaasen novels, and have read them several times.  He is one of my favorite authors; entertaining, witty, and eloquent.

**If you are not familiar with Carl Hiaasen’s work, he writes satire set in the state of Florida, writes a column for the Miami Herald, and is a native Floridian himself.  (If you have never read his work, you are missing out.  I suggest starting with Skinny Dip or Basket Case.)** 

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However, as much as I love Mr. Hiaasen’s writing, I found it put me in the wrong frame of mind to accomplish my objective.  I tend toward cynicism anyway, and found myself unmotivated to look for beauty in the wild places surrounding me.  Maybe not “unmotivated”–maybe there is no right word–but I had a difficult time finding it.  I had a darker view of the world, a more negative outlook.  And my images reflected this.  (I’m not blaming you, Carl Hiaasen!  It’s just me!)

So I compromised with myself: up to and during shooting times, I would either listen to my instrumentals or go without music.  I would have gone with the windows down to allow the local natural sounds in (not Miami gunfire, but noises of the swamp), but even in the cooler months, Everglades mosquitos are like a locust swarm of zombie vampire bats.  The ride home could then consist of my borrowed audio books, as it would likely take decades to break through the daily Miami traffic hell and therefore I could listen to the vast majority of a nine-hour book.

Now back in Central Florida, I have had to stay closer to home for awhile.  Luckily, some changes to my ancestral area have been made, and there are more locations to go to for nature photography that are twenty minutes away, or less. I am a huge fan of Jimmy Buffett and Bob Marley, so my CD collection and Pandora both come in handy on these short trips.  If I’m not listening to the instrumentals mentioned before, the island groove always helps me relax into my mission.  (Does anyone else hum “Caribbean Amphibian” to the frogs they find…just me?)  I still enjoy the Hiaasen audios, but I save those for when I am home and working on projects.

Audio motivators are interesting things.  They come in many forms, and can affect your work.  What do YOU listen to when making images?  Where do you make them (studio, outdoors, street, etc.), and how do you think your work would change if you altered your auditory influences?

We could do a whole study on this:  who’s up for the Olfactory Experiment?


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