31 August, 2020

[Doc Diaries] Photographing Art: Texture

One of my favorite challenges in photography is finding ways to represent experiences, and sentiments, that aren't just visual. Like, "how do I convey the scent of a field of grass, moments after a long-awaited rain?" Or the sound of the whistling wind, whipping through a barren midnight city street during a winter snow storm? The tart taste of a tantalizing, freshly-plucked tangerine? Or maybe it's a feeling, like the wistful sorrow of celebrating love, even as you let it go.

But you can break it down further, can't you? What about touch? You could show the dull glow of a piece of glass that looks friendly enough, but will bite you with a searing heat if you get too close. The shivering cold stillness of watching the sun set over an ocean beach, having forgotten to wear a jacket but too transfixed to do anything about it now. Or what about the smooth, polished texture of a rapidly-shrinking cube of ice, swirling and bobbing in a cup of tea?

Texture's an interesting one… Of course the key to representing any of these feelings is to reference something the viewer already knows, right? To show something so innately familiar that the feeling, or the sentiment, emerges anew from the viewer's own thoughts and feelings and memories.

But texture is interesting. It is, in many ways, the most visual of the non-visual senses. As humans, the idea of seeing a surface or a material and making inferences about how it might feel is second-nature. This one looks pointy. That one looks slippery. Better not fall over there or you'll scrape a knee… The connection from vision to a sense of texture is surprisingly direct.