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Belfast Festival: Photo Ballads

The worlds of photography and traditional folk music meet in what promises to be one of the more unusual and memorable shows at this year’s festival.

Photo Ballads is the brainchild of sonic artist Caroline Pugh, who will be creating music on the spot alongside improvisor and Californian instrument inventor Paul Stapleton, whilst simultaneously taking and developing a pinhole photograph before a live audience.

But anyone expecting an intimidating hi-tech set-up on stage might well be pleasantly surprised.

“Recently I’ve been using a Quality Street tin as my camera, so it’s not very specialist apparatus,” laughs the Edinburgh native.

“I have a light-tight tent I’m using to develop the pictures, so even through the stage lights you can see what I’m doing in there.

The inspiration for the work came from the days when people simply didn’t have visual mementoes of their loved ones, as most of us do nowadays.

“There are some old stories that talk about your lover going away overseas and when they come back, you don’t recognise each other initially.

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“That used to happen because we didn’t have visual records, so people would forget what they looked like.

“I’m interested in ideas of how photography and memory and technology and archiving are all linked nowadays. We’re all just documenting ourselves constantly, whereas older forms of documentation and idea-sharing used to be in song.

“So the pinhole photography is to show an older way of taking photos and how long it took; it’s also handy that the length of exposure is about as long as it takes to sing a song.”

The project is also part drawn from personal inspiration and part born of necessity, says Caroline.

“My dad used to take black and white photos and I grew up with that,” she says. “Also, I’ve been singing folk songs for years. When taking a pinhole photograph it takes a long time to wait without doing anything, so I found myself quite naturally singing a song while doing it, so that’s how it happened.”

Caroline is keen to make sure the audience are involved and fully briefed at all stages of the process, of course.

“Up to now people have been quite intrigued by it and excited,” she says. “I guess it’s not something you would get involved in every day. There is something quite magical.

“It’s something you’ve got to work for a bit more than just taking a picture with your phone.”

  • Photo Ballads, October 25, Black Box

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