Taking Pictures


Taking Pictures


Audio walk with photographs

16 minutes

Curated by Rochelle Steiner for the group exhibition Wonderland (June 30 – September 24)

Janet Cardiff

The use of photographs in St. Louis came out of the Carnegie video walk. I was interested in how I could transform the feeling of a summer forest with photographs taken from the site in the winter. The script was very much about the layering of time and how memories change things. During one of the research trips, my mother happened to be in the city on a bus tour, so she became part of the piece.

Janet I remember when I was here before, in the fall, sightseeing with my mother. I brought my camera with me to remind myself of our visit. I noticed as we walked along that she had trouble keeping up with me, that she was out of breath.

Janet Stop. Look at the next photo. Number 2. Hold it up. Move your eyes back and forth from one reality to another. The leaves are different on the tree at the right. In the photo they’re red. The grass is brown. Someone’s getting out of a car.

sound of camera clicking, fade to silence behind voice

Janet I flip through the photographs looking for a picture of my mother on that trip. But there isn’t any. She was always standing outside the frame.

siren, sound of dog and owner walking by

Janet Let’s go on. Keep following the path into the forest.

Janet Cardiff ’s work for the Saint Louis Art Museum was commissioned as part of Wonderland, a group exhibition in 2000 that included ten artists whose art transforms space – whether architectural, formal, social, or psychological. Her walk, Taking Pictures, began in the Museum’s Sculpture Hall, a grand space created for the 1904 World’s Fair. I remember Janet pacing the room to check the timing of the walk: the echoes of her footsteps, along with those of her voice, were accentuated in the cavernous space. At the time she was preparing Taking Pictures, she was also working on 40-Part Motet, and the idea of sound originating from different points in space was central to her thinking.

Taking Pictures led visitors on a route from the museum into the surrounding Forest Park, to an existing but little known wooded path hidden within a forested section of the park. Atelier van Lieshout’s work for Wonderland, Pioneer Set (2000) – a self-sufficient ‘farm’ with farmhouse, chicken coop, shed, vegetable garden, and live animals – was located in the vicinity of her route.

Taking Pictures, like many of Janet’s walks, employs recollections, and this was the first time she used still photographs as a device to convey a sense of both history and memory. Four years later, I still recall the sound of the rustle of leaves, a plane overhead, a photograph of a bathtub, and a bench in the woods. I also remember Janet and George recording the piece, arriving with their multiple cases of equipment, taking over a spare office in the museum, walking with the ‘blue head’ they use to record.

The public response to the piece was fantastic. One visitor said that he got completely lost but was nonetheless mesmerized by the sound and her voice and the way she transformed the surroundings.

Rochelle Steiner

Related Publications

Janet Cardiff
The Walk Book

Thyssen_Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Vienna in collaboration with Public Art Fund, New York