Hearing — 4/12
Each month, the photographer Bertrand Gaudillère creates an image or chooses one from his archives. Prison Insider sends it to a dozen participants, prisoners around the world.They are in Argentina, in the United States of America, in France, in Switzerland, in Guatemala, in Ukraine, in Colombia, in Lebanon, in Italy, in Japan, and in Belgium.
Bertrand talks to the participants
“It’s closing time at the fish market at Essaouira (Morocco). Seagulls are flying about, waiting to dive into the scraps left behind…the sound of the sea, the call of the birds, conversations between men in a language that I do not understand…a soundtrack of a place that I am only passing through…I listen, I hear.”
Prison Insider invites you to freely express what you feel, when, in prison, you look at this image about the sense of hearing.
The seagulls remind me of where
I used to live.
The crashing of the waves upon
The shore, a long time ago,
But if I listen, it all comes
Back to me.
The noisy cries of the seagulls
Fighting for scraps of food,
Closing my eyes and just listening.
Some things you never forget.
You can get used to anything in a way, even when it’s unbearable.
This fish market is very bleak! It looks more like a slave market, with death looming in the background.
Seagulls are very noisy birds, they never stop! Here I’m lucky because I’m in a calm place.
It reminds me of when I first came to the jail (maison d’arrêt) where the noise never stops. I spent 18 hours per day in a cell shared with two other cellmates, so there was never any quiet and the TV was on 24 hours a day. For the first few months, it was impossible to sleep!
The only time I could sleep was when I was completely exhausted. With time, you gradually get used to it.
You can get used to anything in a way, even when it’s unbearable. Finally, after four years in this kind of establishment, I moved to a high security prison (maison centrale). It was such a relief to finally be alone and to have a little bit more freedom!
When I look at this photograph, I imagine being on vacation in an exotic country where everything is different from my reality. Nature reigns over people and is not at their service; it is the other way around, people are at nature’s service.
The photograph evokes the same sense of calmness and freedom I feel when I admire the sunset at the end of a workday. All while awaiting some well-deserved pleasant rest and release from my prison obligations.
Read the original version (in Italian)
One listens and listens without getting tired of the message that comes through: “wherever you are, you exist!”
I’ve never been to Morocco, but I’ve heard plenty about Essaouira and of its world-renowned fish market. Just writing about it, I can smell the aromas, hear the lapping of the boats moored at the port, see the flight of the seagulls who lurk in anticipation of cleaning up any of the stall leftovers.
It gives me the feeling of freedom, and of being in a place other than in our favorite locations or hometowns, an unknown place, with a typical market. The majestic welcome of the Maghreb.
I can talk about this, the Tunisia that I know, being the widow of a Franco-Tunisian who knew Morocco like the back of his hand – a home away from home. All around, seagulls crisscross above the high walls of the Maghreb. their incessant noises mixing with those of the more melodious birds. But we are only passing through, heading towards Spain, Italy, France. An opening.
“Where am I going?” asks this brave young man. He is only passing through. The sensation of the bird’s cries, the flight of the seagulls, the incessant din of the boats at the port, the hubub of an early auction market in a strange language, Arabic, in a variety of different dialects that are difficult to pick out, one listens and listens without getting tired of the message that comes through: “wherever you are, you exist!”
Just by recalling the sound of seagulls, inspired by an image from a place half a world away, I am somehow freed.
There are – have always been – the criers of the sea for where seagulls are, so will it be. Their incessant squawk is forever locked within the recesses of my mind. It is a catalyst that once heard releases a torrent of images and sounds. I am accosted, suddenly and without warning, by the rush and roar of waves waging fruitless war against the shore, by the crisp rustle of sand tossed by the wind and the pop, slurp and splat of sunscreen applied beneath the suns’ relentless beaming.
These aural memories, once unleashed, somehow manage to turn the rusted squeak of a door hinge into a seabird’s call and the rattle of keys to the trip and tumble of pebbles dislodged by feet eager to reach the tide pools.
Just by recalling the sound of seagulls, inspired by an image from a place half a world away, I am somehow freed, left to roam an oceanic mindscape made of recollections. That is the true power of sand, to forever entwine a moment, feeling, place or person to a noise which once heard again, unleashes that which otherwise would be lost. Within the hollows of my mind I hear the seagulls crying to the sea and I remember.
In this painting, there are two worlds: one that is worried about things, and one that overlooks.
Seagulls fly in search of their lost purpose, tired of the giant silence. I hear their continuous noise despite the sound of the waves breaking. I sail in their chants; I travel with them to their far and pure destination. I contemplate their order and their uniformity in spite of the absurdity of the place, and I hear their leader soaring high, going wherever he wants, without looking behind or caring what these hunters would leave behind. He is telling them: “Join me; I will lead you to salvation.”
Birds, my friends, do not hear anything but the ether under their wings; this is the source of stability and inspiration that guides them to their destination.
In this painting, there are two worlds: one that is worried about things, and one that overlooks what surrounds it; but the worst catastrophe is that these two worlds are similar. The hunter is glorified by his selfishness and greediness, by what he has caught and his new sailing destination, while seagulls only care about the crumbs they make, in a world that only listens to itself. Similarity remains the bridge between the two worlds. That is how we hear its malicious noise in its silence.
Read the original version (in Arabic)
United States of America, Schuylkill (Pennsylvania)
No matter, I still hear dead people
Exercising my sentience, serving my sentence, I see dead people shuffling, pacing, meandering.
Dead People: Why are you here?
-I was sentenced to life here.
-And why are you here?
-I was sentenced to death here.
Then why am I here? Despondent but not vulnerable, sightless but not visionless, unaware but not impervious. A saline mist prickles, making the sun’s ambient kiss tickle. Settling. Slowly. I still feel dead people.
Caw! Caw! I hear birds. Irascible, circling, hovering birds. Sniff! Sniff! I smell death, waiting with its scythe, hooded. Inconspicuously apparent. Is it an illusion? Or reality? Or the reality of an illusion?
Wisdom knows, yet I cannot tell, but I still smell dead people. Seek and you shall find… the hooded one. Feel and you shall experience… a language you cannot perceive. No matter, I still hear dead people. They answer me but they will not speak with me, except to tell me that the living leave scraps for the birds, so that they may feast. I fear. I am one with these dead people.
To me the picture presents a contradiction. On the one hand, there are shadows or dark silhouettes of people, but on the other, there is the free flight of birds as beings with no frontiers, not held behind bars or walls, which is the reality oppressing us.
Despite living with the restriction of prison, it is clear that we still have the power of flight. I mean in terms of our mental capacity.
In connection with this topic, I would like to send a photo taken in Valledupar high security prison in Columbia. It’s of a bird which finds its way into a cell and then perches on the window. How ironic that is!
In the morning, you can hear the sound of the whistling kettle when the water is boiling.
Images often take me to places, and odors, to memories.
My prison is very different from others, where hate and evil reign. I could even say that the silence is overwhelming; in the morning, you can only hear the sound of the shower, that is if someone is taking one, or the sound of the whistling kettle when the water is boiling. In the afternoon, you can only hear the textile machines from my work, and the radio, which is always tuned to FM 100. The nights are very peaceful. I always am really tired when I get back to my cell, so I let myself doze off into a well-deserved good night’s rest.
United States of America, Lake Placid (New York)
Within this darkness we not only lose sight, we lose our senses.
I see the shadows of society, dead to the world, preyed on by a system, vultures, thieves, robbed of life’s many blessings. Why? Because some were never taught the language of the privileged.
Left behind by all.
For how many of the bottom half know that feeling? The soundtrack of a place passed through erupts with screams, hollers, weeping.
Some arriving here and never leave. Do you hear the sound of silence? Tired of waiting on the scraps, the pains of hunger are too great. We hover around and about until finally we crumble. What a trap. Too close to an end, finalization, the end is nearing, there’s no conversation between man and nature, only darkness. Within this darkness we not only lose sight, we lose our senses, so the sounds of the sea escape us.
The calls of the birds fall on deaf ears. Every minute is closing time, every second we’re looking for something greater although the food of life appears to not be for us.
Regardless of the shadowed images, what do you see when you see darkness?
I hear this photo, I hear the cries, I can fabricate a world and this picture. My inner gaze travels to the outside, and with the music and the ballet that I am privy to, I am, Novalis - the philosopher.
We are predators of our own species.
Like a seagull soaring above the remnants
One day, we were with Aunt Isabel,
walking between valleys and hills.
When climbing one of these hills, we saw that there were thousands of snakes in heat that, within the blink of an eye, launched themselves at us.
We ran away.
Aunt Isabel also ran but unfortunately fell to the ground.
The snakes attacked her until she disappeared.
The horrible squawking of the seagulls
resembles the noise of snakes, the blablabla of people;
it’s very loud and yet you can’t hear a thing.
I realize that our lives are being stalked
as if by birds of prey that are always there waiting for us
to remain motionless to pick our eyes out.
In human societies, that horrific function is fulfilled by man himself;
we are predators of our own species.
Although there are exceptions –people who are willing to help
and offer new opportunities in life.
He who has learned from having been imprisoned will not stumble again.
Because we all deserve to be given a new opportunity.
No smiles, no tears, nothing.
The ferocious bolts of the security door to my cell announce the beginning of another day. A brand new day with the unpleasantness of prison; no smiles, no tears, nothing… Only the sound of the locks that acts as an alarm clock.
There are days when the latches open so violently that left us with the eyes half-open in a state of shock. Where am I? Maybe it is a dream? The opening of the door and the presence of the guard indicates me it is not.
There are sounds which will stay with me forever, sounds from an unknown place in which I am only passing through.