I am, or rather I was, not an especially observant person. Say I’d go to visit my Aunt Ivy with my sister, and on the way home she’d ask, “What did you think of Aunt Ivy’s new living room drapes?” Aunt Ivy got new drapes? I’d never noticed the old ones, let alone the new ones.
I like to think that it wasn’t so much that I was oblivious, but rather that I was focused on things that were more…important, most likely Aunt Ivy’s old dog Skippy or the always fascinating (to me, at least) fact that the only way to enter Aunt Ivy’s house was through the ground level back door, because her front door was a story above ground level, and in the many years since the house had been built, no one had ever bothered to construct steps up to it.
Actually, even more likely, I was focused on all the much more entertaining stuff going on in my head, not in Aunt Ivy’s living room.
Growing up, I never had an art class. My elementary school offered no art instruction. Art was supposedly required for me to graduate from high school, but the semester I was scheduled to take art, there were more students than art teachers, so the school waived the art credit required for my graduation, and I was assigned to a second semester of vocal music instead, a regrettable and humiliating substitution since I cannot carry a tune. At all.
In college I took two semesters of art history and another of history of film. I did learn about composition and perspective in those classes, but I saw those only when analyzing the works of others. It never occurred to me that they could, and should, be applied when I took photos.
Then, last year, I took “Introduction to Digital Photography,” and our first assignment was “texture.” What a revelation. Yes, intellectually I knew everything had texture, but while I may have looked at it, I never really saw it.
I really saw for the first time, the multiple textures of the bark of my aging trees. I really saw the slick, shiny surface of the water lily pads in my backyard pond. And, whoa, the Lutheran Church near me had a facade of three distinctly different types of grey stone!
And like a truly obsessed person, I started snapping and snapping photos of all the newly-revealed-to-my-eyes textures: the waffled fabric of my blue walking shoes, the several kinds of yarn in my fuzzy purple scarf, the knobby warning tiles on ADA-compliant curb cuts, the woven straw of my red hat, the rusting old nails left from removed yard-sale signs on the utility pole on the corner, the multiple cracks and patches on the concrete steps of the nearby social hall. I become rather fixated on capturing the surface of every interesting texture I finally saw–and they were many.
With each class assignment, I saw even more: shadows, patterns, reflections, symmetry.
And my life has never been the same.
Now I still might not really notice everything about Aunt Ivy’s drapes, but I’d probably notice that it had a lovely diamond jacquard weave.