Susan Jahoda

“But now follow the path of photography further. What do you see? It becomes ever more nuancé, ever more modern, and the result is that it can no longer photograph a tenement block or a refuse heap without transfiguring it. It goes without saying that it is unable to say anything of a power station other than this: what a beautiful world!”

Walter Benjamin, The Author as Producer, 1934

As a traveller in India with a camera, the urge to make a picture was simultaneously countered by an uncomfortable feeling that I was “trespassing”. I put my camera away and began a project addressing the conditions of the uninvited.

this is that and that is this begins with “photojournalism” and continues to reference this practice through a performative shift away from looking to eavesdropping. I am aware that “documenting” conversations is ethically ambiguous, but hope that the aesthetic operations engaged allow viewers and readers to realize that they are the subjects of these drawings.

The project consists of overheard conversations between individuals in public spaces in many cities throughout India. Recorded and collected as notations in a pocket journal, they are ultimately organized by location and time. They situate people in relation to the practices of their everyday lives and, at the same time, position the artist as an observer outside of these practices.

There are four hundred and forty-seven living languages in India, and one fifth of the population speaks the colonial language (English), which is directly associated with class mobility. As individuals code-switch between a native and the colonial language, I record the only words and phrases I understand, which are in English. Later, as my notebook is transcribed into an artist’s book and wall drawings, these words float on a separate sheet in the spatial and temporal order that they were uttered and recorded.

In each case, the extent of a drawing is an indication of my presence as a listener, and as a rule does not exceed a single page in the notebook. The duration of an individual’s utterance determines the length of each dotted line-segment, and the density of the dots that make up the line is an indication of the volume of their speech. Each speaker in the drawings is represented by a different color, and exhibition wall labels are limited to location, date, time, gender and an approximation of age, as, in most cases, this is all I can claim to know about the subjects of this project.

Click here to view the project.