I started noticing how some sounds became dominant and some receded into the background almost becoming supporting players in an operatic production. I began to stop my work and just listen. Doug came out and we would sometimes just take a break and listen.
The train came by at 12:30 and once we knew the schedule, we would call for each other to come out and listen as it rambled by each day. The sound of the train, coming closer and then fading away, became like a marker for each day we were working.
Doug began recording these sounds in the back yard of the studio. He also recorded the ambient sound from landmark areas in town like the Edmund Pettus Bridge. He gathered unexpected sounds as well as expected sounds and I began interweaving them with the interviews from participants.
These ambient sounds seemed as much a part of Selma as the people I interviewed and photographed.
This video shows the view from behind my makeshift studio in Selma. It’s a scene I saw every day as I set up to clean plates or eat a quick bite in between sitters.. Every now and then, a guy in a truck would drive down the road you can see to the left—I never really knew where that guy was going, but we developed a relationship while I was there and began nodding to each other as he passed by almost daily.
As you listen, you will hear the wind as it makes its way through the trees and cane. It will be hard to see, but the trees gently sway in time with the wind. It’s almost imperceptible. You can clearly hear the birds singing their daily songs to each other and you may hear the crickets chirping their winsome songs to each other.
The beauty is there, but I sometimes didn’t notice it until I took a moment to become quiet, and just be silent in my space. Once I did, the overwhelming magic of my surroundings revealed themselves to me in ways that I could have ever comprehended before.
Upon first glance, it’s an ordinary scene…a scene displaying nature’s symphony of birds, crickets and gently blowing wind. In all of the expected sounds, you may not be able to hear the unexpected sounds. Sounds like my own heart beating or my breathing. It’s there, but undetectable to the ear (or my gear).
When I stop to think about Selma and what lies in Selma’s future, I think of this scene behind my studio. In a lot of ways, Selma and her people are like this scene that took place before my eyes every day. There are the many expected sounds…but the unexpected sounds are what make it so great. The heartbeats, if you will…
As I spoke to more and more people about their experiences in Selma, a colorful tapestry began to take shape and reveal itself…each person began to fit into a metaphorical puzzle and I began to see just how much everyone I talked to cares about Selma and values its place in history as well as today’s world. Most people wanted the same things for Selma—unity, a greater understanding of each other and a chance to talk to each other without an agenda.
The finished audio can be heard at the exhibition in Tuscaloosa and if you can’t make it to the exhibition, you can hear it on my website here: Selma Portrait Project Audio