Boston-based architectural and fine art photographer Bruce T. Martin uses photography to document, explore, and question. In one of his most recent projects, he does all this and more while viewing and presenting various Boston neighborhoods. Titled “Down The Street, Random Views of Boston Neighborhoods,” the project combines both Bruce’s imagery and culled audio from each unique street.
It explores how photographic imagery can be collected and presented to give greater context to the typology of streetscapes. This approach is part of my ongoing series Fragmented Landscapes, which considers different ways to express locations visually.
In 1989, while Bruce was photographing a courtyard of Iximche, a Mayan ruin in Guatemala’s western highlands, he wanted to explore presenting a broader context for the location. He embarked on gathering a series of images that, when together, formed a 360-degree panorama.
I wasn’t satisfied with my results from that day, but it opened the door for a new way of using photography and the beginning of my visual experiments in documenting our world with multiple images and panoramic views.
Afterward, Bruce began applying this approach to almost every personal project he worked on. Throughout the last 30 years, he’s been fine-tuning his technique, especially in developing his sense of “where to start, where to end, and how to translate.”
For many of the Fragmented Panoramas, I composed the images, so they contained an overlap from one image to the next. The resulting montages present the idea that the landscape can be transformed into visual melodies, with each photograph a note that is connected by its overlapping image.
Bruce uses a direct camera approach combined with serial imagery and audio recordings resulting in a slow scan of the street, and the sounds heard there.
At times, some streets almost seemed like flowing rivers with buildings as the riverbank, and the cars as the boats, bringing the people to and from their homes. Overlaid onto these scenes were a mix of sounds — cars and bikes driving by, horns honking, doors opening and closing, radios playing, birds chirping, people talking, and wind blowing.
Each street, of course, was different whether in its appearance and size or its sounds and feeling. Using a uniform way of documenting and expressing each street allows the viewer to make more distinct comparisons. This ability to compare is how the viewer can develop an understanding of the different identities wrapped up and represented by these streets.
Where we live and how our local environment appears to us is a major component of our identity thinking: who we believe we are. With this in mind, I started photographing whole streets or portions of them in each neighborhood to learn not what I see but what the camera records.
It seems simple enough, this dissonance between experience and documentation, but each is inherently layered. One’s experience of this locale can be the sum total of decades or maybe just one day when they took a different route to work. It can include their mood, the temperature, the smells, the feeling of the pavement, or the breeze. And any of those sense-activating occurrences can take a person back to a specific time, place, or moment in an instant when experienced again.
On the surface, this documentation includes only two senses: sight and sound. Within that, however, are moments; we’ll never know if that trashcan got picked up or if it rolled away, or whether one of the kids playing skinned their knee and trudged home in tears. The project is more objective than that but successfully inspires these musings within outsiders. It allows for fresh narratives as much as it shies away from creating its own. Each detail may be significant to a different person or a different life led on that street and beyond.
Down The Street considers how the camera records visual information versus how we see and remember visual information. This project attempts to combine multiple images overlaid with an audio montage to create an audiovisual poem about streets: the stage where we live our day-to-day lives helping to define our identity thinking.
See more of Bruce’s work at brucetmartin.com.
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