The Looks of Listening

The following is a guest post by Hanna Soltys, Reference Librarian, Prints & Photographs Division.

It’s been quite the musical month at the Library: just this past week, the newest additions to the National Recording Registry were announced. This made me think of music’s role in my day-to-day life. Sing-alongs with 2013’s Gershwin Prize honoree Carole King jumpstart my mornings and the Staples Sisters provide the perfect score for afternoon chores. My multi-tasking listening style sparked an idea to see how pictures have captured the ways others have used sound.

As I combed through the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog for evidence of listening habits, I saw recorded sound used as an educational tool. Here we have children in Sikkim using “teaching machines,” and students at a New York school for those with visual impairments listening to a lesson.

GCRP in Sikkim, between 1965 and 1979. Photo by Alice S. Kandell. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.30932

New York, New York. Blind students listening to their lesson by the “Talking Book” at the Lighthouse, an institution for the blind, at 111 East Fifty-ninth Street , 1944. Photo by Richard Boyer. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8d42047

My thoughts of a typical summer filled with crafts and outdoor activities were quickly turned around with this image of young campers huddled around turntables.

Interlochen, Michigan. National music camp where 300 or more young musicians study symphonic music for eight weeks each summer. Equipment for making musical records , 1942. Photo by Arthur S. Siegel. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8d07646

Solo listening parties in the collection are plentiful. Often, one is “plugged” in and seated, such as this woman. Her shut-in outfit is dressed to impress – complete with the shoes! – perhaps as a nod of respect to her listening content.

The shut-in’s Sunday service, 1923. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c34575

I think we all can relate to this perched woman with a record album catalog, as she searches for the perfect sound to fill the silence.

_______ listening to records . Photo by Bain News Service. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ggbain.34933

We may listen for different reasons and in various ways, though one thing’s for certain: sound continues to move us.

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