This is a strange story – photographs making music.
In Communist Russia during the Cold War western music was illegal and records of it were rare. There was an underground market for illicit copies, but since vinyl was unattainable, some cheap and pliable material was needed. Well, enterprising Russians discovered that X-rays were the answer!
Collecting discarded X-rays they would cut out the circular shape with scissors, gouge a hole in the centre for the spindle, and engrave the sound into the plastic acoustically.
You can imagine the sound quality, it’s not hi fi, but they made recordings of popular singers like Rosemary Clooney, Johnnie Ray and Bill Haley and the Comets. The one above is Tony Bennett.
Wanderer Records is selling these Cold War artefacts on their website and you can even listen to the music on some of them. It’s the strangest application of photography I can think of.
Publicity still, 1946
The Murderers are Among Us is a German film made in 1946, just after the end of World War 2. Much of it was shot on location in bombed out Berlin. It was the first Trümmerfilm – rubble film – movies made in the immediate aftermath of war amongst the rubble of defeated Europe. Scenes take place in the uncanny desolation inflicted on the great city by Allied saturation bombing.
The plot follows a young concentration camp survivor who returns to her damaged apartment to find someone has moved in in her absence, a doctor traumatized by his war experiences.
The film presents the hardship and material shortages of that time. One unforgettable image is when the the doctor replaces the blown out window panes, not with glass which was unattainable, but with x-rays from a hospital. Bones provide a backdrop to their domestic life and frame the view of Berlin through the window.
David Maisel, History’s Shadow GM16
A recent exhibition at New York’s Yancey Richardson Gallery was David Maisel‘s eerie project, History’s Shadow. They were made during a residency at the Getty Research Insitute where he re-photographed X-rays of antiquity sculptures. These X-rays were originally made for research and conservation, but Maisel’s images brought out something quite different from the scientific.
“The ghostly images of these x-rays seemed to surpass the potency of the original objects of art. These spectral renderings were like transmissions from the distant past, conveying messages across time, and connecting the contemporary viewer to the art impulse at the core of these ancient works.”