978-0-8223-6270-8_601.pdf

The lower frequencies of these images register as

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The lower frequencies of these images register as what I describe as “felt sound”—sound that, like a hum, resonates in and as vibration. Audiolo- gists refer to such frequencies as infrasound: ultra-low frequencies emit- ted by or audible only to certain animals, such as elephants, rhinoceroses, and whales. While the ear is the primary organ for perceiving sound, at lower frequencies, infrasound is often only felt in the form of vibrations through contact with parts of the body. Yet all sound consists of more than what we hear. It is an inherently embodied modality constituted by vibration and contact. Listening to Images explores the lower frequencies of transfiguration en- acted at the level of the quotidian, in the everyday traffic of black folks with objects that are both mundane and special: photographs. What are the “lower frequencies” of these quotidian practices, and how do we en- gage their transfigurative potential? As a vernacular practice mobilized by black people in diaspora, photography is an everyday strategy of affirma- tion and a confrontational practice of visibility. Vernacular photographs are banal as well as singular; they articulate both the ordinary and the ex-
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8 IntroductIon ceptional texture of black life. My approach to these images, archives, and the image-making practices that produced them revalues the quotidian as a site of cultural formation that Georges Perec designates as “infra- ordinary”4—everyday practices we don’t always notice and whose seem- ing insignificance requires excessive attention. Attending to the infra- ordinary and the quotidian reveals why the trivial, the mundane, or the banal are in fact essential to the lives of the dispossessed and the possi- bility of black futurity. This book proposes a haptic mode of engaging the sonic frequencies of photographs. It offers an alternate take on “watching” photos that materi- alizes their transfigurations, albeit not in the form of statements of fact or as narratives of transit or mobility. They are accessible instead at the hap- tic frequency of vibration, like the vibrato of a hum felt more in the throat than in the ear. Each chapter explores a selection of photos that I define as “quiet” to the extent that, before they are analyzed, they must be attended to by way of the unspoken relations that structure them. I do so by setting them in a kind of “sensorial” relief that juxtaposes the sonic, haptic, his- torical, and affective backgrounds and foregrounds through and against which we view photographs. As we will see, it is an archival interrogation of the multiple temporalities of visual archives grounded in a black femi- nist mode of analysis that is profoundly grammatical in nature. Listening to Images theorizes the anterior sensibilities of a series of photo- graphic archives of the African Diaspora by unpacking the forms of photo- graphic accounting and capture that these images enact, and how these forms of capture and accounting affect their viewers. Engaging these
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