Synesthesia, Photography, and a Different Way of Experiencing Images

Have you ever wondered what colors sound like? Or what images taste like? Well, if you were someone with synesthesia , you’d know.

Just what is synesthesia? According to Richard Cytowic, M.D., a leading synesthesia researcher:

It denotes the rare capacity to hear colors, taste shapes, or experience other equally startling sensory blendings whose quality seems difficult for most of us to imagine.

A synesthete might describe the color, shape, and flavor of someone’s voice, or music whose sound looks like “shards of glass,” a scintillation of jagged, colored triangles moving in the visual field. Or, seeing the color red, a synesthete might detect the “scent” of red as well. The experience is frequently projected outside the individual, rather than being an image in the mind’s eye.

Many different kinds of synesthesia exist, ranging from synesthetic art and synesthetic images to synesthetic cinema, and others.

A few years ago on the discussion forum, “Oliver S.” wrote, “… after wondering why I never managed to take a photograph that I liked of certain motifs, it dawned on me that I simply couldn’t because the colours of the object’s name and of the object clashed.” Quite a few fellow photographers shared their own experiences with synesthesia.

But perhaps one of the most well-known synesthetic photographer is Marcia Smilack, who creates what she calls “paintings by camera” and focuses exclusively on reflections found on moving water, shooting the image as she experiences a texture or sound. Her unique approach to photography is also manifested in the names she’s given the pictures, such as Slime for Clouds, Can-Can Dancers + Telephone Ring, and Singing Arches.

You can read more about Marcia on her site, or hear her speak at The 6th Annual National Conference of the American Synesthesia Association on January 26-28.

Yale Scientific Magazine explores the mystery of synesthesia here.

[tags]synesthesia, photography, andrea weckerle[/tags]

One Response to “Synesthesia, Photography, and a Different Way of Experiencing Images”

  1. FYI: I have been exploring synesthesia and photography for several years now, have posted a number of blog entries on the subject:

    and have recently self-published a book of "Synesthstic Landscapes":

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