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War Sounds

War is not quiet.  In fact, it is the opposite: loud.  Very loud.

Photographs, on the other hand, don’t make any noise.  They don’t even move.  So it is really hard (although not impossible) to translate the sounds and chaos of war into a photograph.

Recently on the New York Times Lens Blog, Tyler Hicks talks about just this:

Conflict is very difficult to capture in a still photograph. Once you take away the sound and the motion, when you’re trying to capture that feeling and that atmosphere, it’s very difficult to translate — what it feels like to be there, the confusion and gunfire and bombs and all these things that envelop you in battle. To take a single photograph of that is a challenge.

To illustrate the point, here is a photograph I took of a bomb dropped from a pro-Gaddafi warplane in Ras Lanuf, Libya:

What a bomb looks like exploding at 1/320th of a second

What a bomb looks like exploding at 1/320th of a second

And this is what it sounded like (followed by me running):

There is something terrifying in the sound, that the photograph just can’t capture.  There is no composition to the sound.  No thought.  Just the raw noise of a bomb falling and exploding.

And that’s what it’s like to be there.  Raw.  Unpredictable.  And very very loud.

22 Responses to “War Sounds”

  1. Love you man. Thanks for this amazing post.

  2. James Mitchell says:

    Hey Sebastian …

    Just followed your link from the BJP website.. Great article and completely agree with what you’re saying.

    I’ve listened to the audio a few times whilst looking at your image of the bomb explosion .. it’s surreal just thinking about it never mind being there in front of it all.

    But what you don’t see in the photo is whats beyond the visual right in front of you .. The sound of the bomb is immense but it’s the popping of the gun fire from near and far and people shouting, presumably jostling for positions or cover … this is what makes it even more real for me.

    Great work and I take my hat off to you.

    Take care bro.

  3. Paul Haley says:

    Great theory and well done for doing it and posting. I photographed The Falklands War back in 1982 and the images don’t show 2 things – the cold and the noise.

  4. Thomas says:

    Incredible! How did you record the noise of the bomb? I’d love to experiment with something like this. Not in a war zone I hasten to add. :) Is there a good audio recording device you use in the field that can capture the ambient noise effectively?

  5. sebmeyer says:

    Thanks for the lovely comments, guys.

    Thomas, I had a very basic set-up which isn’t great: I had a small boom mic plugged into a handheld recorder. I shoved both into a hip pouch with the mic poking out the top. It gets the general ambient sound, but it’s not great when you’re walking, as it picks up each step you take.

    Perhaps you could get some sort of hat you could attach the mic to. You might not look that cool, but you’d probably get the clearest sound.

  6. Mohsen says:

    Great. It adds a lot to a silent picture.

  7. Graham says:

    Hi Seb, not a new idea but one that is likely to become ever more important. Your explosion has that feel of reality (and probably a need for a change of underweear!).

    Audio is very easy to manipulate and hard to detect if done well(I used to be a sound editor for movies). How do you feel about using edited sound? Does it lose the truth of the moment?

    I can guarantee that many, many sounds will be sorced from sound efects libraries for this sort of work, how do we determine whether an accompanying sound track is ‘documentary’ or ‘theatrical’?

    Does it matter?

  8. [...] semble figée, arrêtée. Pas de bruit de balles qui fusent, de gens qui crient et courent… Maintenant, essayez avec le son. Puissant, hein [...]

  9. rosangela says:

    Hi there,
    I love your image and the combination of the sound/image. I absolutely agree with you…now days we are bombarded of images and no one pays attention more than a second to an image…specially if it is in a newspaper!!!

    Funnily enough few months ago’ I have made a book about ‘Freedom and Immigration in Lampedusa’ combining images with sounds and music in order for people to interact with the whole story rather than just flicking through the images… ;0)

    Good work and take care!!!!

  10. [...] microfono que le sirvio de utilidad para documentar lo que era realmente la guerra. Meyer tiene un sitio web en el que pueden verse sus [...]

  11. [...] find Seb Meyer’s website here: http://www.sebmeyer.com and his blogpost about this subject here: http://sebmeyer.com/war-sounds Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like [...]

  12. [...] Just had the chance to have an interview with the lovely Sebastian Meyer about his project “War Sounds” which can been seen here. [...]

  13. [...] Sebastian Meyer about his project “War Sounds” which can been seen here. [...]

  14. [...] can find Meyer’s original recording on his blog. There you can also find a photo of the bomb exploding, which was projected at the end of the [...]

  15. [...] Meyers photograph and audio recording of a bomb hitting down in Libya (http://sebmeyer.com/war-sounds) was part of the inspiration behind my current project with photographer Christian Geldart (more on [...]

  16. [...] Meyers photograph and audio recording of a bomb hitting down in Libya (http://sebmeyer.com/war-sounds) was part of the inspiration behind my current project with photographer/cinematographer Christian [...]

  17. [...] But then came the bombs. While in Ras Lanuf, Meyer photographed the explosion of a bomb dropped from a pro-Gaddafi warplane. The image [top] in itself isn’t very scary, but says Meyer, “Somehow, the sound – that gets me upset. That takes me to a place that is genuinely terrifying. And I hope this recording of it gives the audience a better impression of what it was like.” [Listen to the recording here] [...]

  18. [...] in March 2011, was gifted from pro-Gaddafi Libyan warplanes into the vicinity of photojournalist Sebastian Meyer, it represents what Herbert himself has elsewhere described as an attempt “to freeze history, [...]

  19. [...] change in direction: he and three colleagues make music derived entirely from five seconds of a recording taken by photojournalist Sebastian Meyer during the Libyan civil war in 2011, including the sounds of a bomb approaching and exploding. In May, Herbert performed music from the [...]

  20. [...] quick summary, this is Sebastian Mayer on his project War Sounds. An extreme example of digitla immersion, war becomes an essential part of our concerned minds [...]

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