Coming into Focus

A camera is a save button for the minds eye – Roger Kingston

A recent trip to New York City had me shortcutting to avoid the congested streets near Times Square. Not fully paying attention, I unwittingly found myself delivered right to its epicenter. P.T. Barnum himself could not have dreamt up this surreal circus maximus landscaped with towering electronic billboards that are an assault of stimuli and a wonder of mankind.

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The billboards’ purpose is to grab our attention. With minimal text their strong visual images tell us quick stories about what’s hot and what’s happening. I started to think about the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words, meaning a story or complex idea can be conveyed in a single image. We have used images to capture snippets our lives since the beginning of time. The earliest humans did this by scratching images onto cave walls. As man and medium evolved these stories or ideas were recounted on wood or canvas. Today it is the camera that instantly provides the pictures that speak a thousand words.

Reviled or revered, the camera has become one of the most relied upon tools of modern day. Last year Yahoo estimated that 880 billion pictures would be taken worldwide, mostly by cell phones which have, as a basic feature, the ability to snap a picture and share it instantly. These captured images recount the stories of our lives- from the banal to the sublime. The camera has changed the lexicon (i.e. “selfie”) and whole social networks have been created to upload these pictures that fit together to tell a bigger story.

I was recently asked to supply some photographs of my interior design work for a presentation. Searching the stored images on my computer was a nice walk down memory lane but it occurred to me that I was experiencing the spaces very differently viewing them in picture form vs. standing in the space or retrieving them from memory. Somehow the photographs seemed to suspend the rooms in mid-air with their details jumping out at me. Even photographs of rooms I walk through every day showed me things my eyes had missed. How is it that I never noticed that crooked molding? Or the way the curtain rod was coming out of the wall? How did I not appreciate the beauty of my gardens or the way certain colors happily played off of one another?

Are we really seeing what’s right in front of us?

The human optic nerves transmit what they are seeing from the retina to the brain. This visual data is processed and assigned a storage space until it is retrieved, kind of like a package that travels a conveyor belt to it’s storage spot in a large warehouse. When we experience the same images (i.e. familiar people and places) over and over again the brain does less detailed processing. Data is fast tracked to/from our imprinted storage so the process of evaluating, storing and retrieving visual data doesn’t have to start all over again. Without the ability to do this we’d be overwhelmed by the overabundance of stimuli and data that we are asked to process every minute of the day. This short cut may be involuntary and necessary, but is relying on the minds eye blinding us to what surrounds us?

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It is said that when one sense is diminished or impaired the others are heightened. Perhaps that is why we often feel something is wrong before we can actually see what is wrong. Looking through my own trove of photos made me realize that my eyes didn’t capture as much as I thought, and most of what I recalled was what I felt or perceived about a room or a home and not necessarily it’s details.

The camera has the ability to capture space in a format that can be viewed time and again without changing. It delivers for our viewing what is actually there in front of us and does not skew like the images retrieved from memory. I think studying the images captured by the camera could be invaluable in helping people to figure out what is and what is not working in their homes. By actually looking at a picture of a space, not merely recalling it or seeing it askew, we can get valuable clues about what to deconstruct and what to build on.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then one taken of the home should easily and accurately tell the story of the people that live there; what they love, what they do and who they really are. If something feels off or out of alignment perhaps clues to a fix might be offered by what the camera has to show us. Why not take a picture and see.

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