April 21st, 2020
The Photographer’s Playlist
Photography might be a silent medium, but these renowned photographers are turning up the volume while in isolation. Coinciding with the “House & Home” issue of Aperture magazine, Nan Goldin, Alec Soth, Jamel Shabazz, and others share the music that comforts, inspires, or makes them move.
In 1986, I was in Palermo, Italy, during the feast of Saint Rosalia. She is the patron saint of Palermo, who rescued the Sicilian city from the plague. According to legend, people found her bones in a cave, and when they carried them through the city, the plague ended and people were cured. Today, Palermo is invoking Saint Rosalia to protect the city from COVID-19. I’m praying to her myself. I remember when the world looked like this photograph, not so long ago. Hopefully, we’ll be able to touch each other again soon. We need to call it physical distancing, not social distancing. Words are important. When I went into quarantine, Thora, a writer, came to interview me and never left. I’ve gathered the songs that we’ve been listening to, while baking pies and playing backgammon.
The pandemic has provided an opportunity to reflect on the power of stripped-down communication. The Rolling Stones seem closer to their roots when forced to perform in their living rooms. Here are some of the bare-bones songs that have inspired me over the years. This playlist starts with my teenage neighbor Prince, and ends with my 2021 collaborator Dave King of The Bad Plus. In between are songs by artists that inspired my projects Sleeping by the Mississippi (2004: Low, Lucinda Williams), NIAGARA (2006: Antony and the Johnsons, Leonard Cohen), Broken Manual (2010: The Langley Schools Music Project, Daniel Johnston), Songbook (2015: Sufjan Stevens), and I Know How Furiously Your Heart Is Beating (2019: Max Richter with Tilda Swinton reading this line by Franz Kafka: “Everyone carries a room about inside them”).
Music has always played a major role in my creative process. It fed my soul and provided me with a glimpse into a larger world. I am personally drawn to music and recording artists that address political and social issues. Those types of songs and artists are needed more today than ever before due to the current state of the world. It brings me great joy to share these ten songs that are all very close to my heart and soul.
I listened to these songs repeatedly while driving cross-country during my two decades on the road. The music operated as a narrative, each song articulating the sense of loss I felt leaving, being left, running away. But also an optimism for what lay ahead—confinement in a car is a space for imagining. The strangest song on this list, a must-listen, is by Scott Walker, who basically sings a synopsis of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957).
Meticulous selections of high-frequency vibrations.
Music for house cleaning. Vacuum. Underneath the sink, behind the toilet. Scrub. Scrub hard. Repeat.
My playlist is a love story and a dance party. My quarantine experience has been truly bittersweet: finding myself distanced from and concerned about my friends and family, but getting to spend such wonderful and rare time with my partner. These are some of the songs that have just been keeping me going during this time.
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