Some days, I feel I’m drowning in imagery.
It’s not just the time spent in front of my computer or phone that’s the culprit. There’s the extraordinarily good stuff on TV: Netflix and House of Cards and Game of Thrones and Empire and The Americans and Downton Abbey…There are the print magazines with which I’m obsessed … There’s the constant design image grazing I do for work, the FOMO (as in, “Didn’t you see that great room / sofa / tile installation / wooden spoon on insta?”) and the constant battle to find the right images, get the rights, edit them, get them in … there’s even the beauty of where I live and work – the sunsets, the rain, the interiors, the products, the factory, the ironic streetscapes (or so we like to think), that I now look for, to share, share, share. (Sad, isn’t it: but at least it’s gotten me to notice a bit more.)
All this visual juiciness has been bothering me of late and it took me a while to put my finger on it.
Part of it is the utter ubiquity. It’s now too pat, too easy to create all this visual “content” and now that people have figured out that images are more arresting than words (bye, bye Twitter, hello Instagram) everyone has glommed onto image-rich platforms. Even me.
The result: images feel if not meaning-less, then certainly less meaning-full.
In taking stock, I realized that the things that I gravitate toward, the things I love, the things that give me the most pleasure and which I want to surround myself with, are only nominally about the visual, and so much more about the other senses.
And even when I’m most tuned into the visual – shooting a sunset, for example – it’s less the prettiness of the blues, pinks, oranges and greys, but more the way it feels to be enveloped by the majesty and intensity of the sky: a profound bigness that the camera only barely hints at. Even Ansel Adams and all those other kings of landscape photography don’t really come that close. The image of that sunset is only a proxy for that feeling of awe, and that sense of how small we actually are, how infinitesimal our problems and obsessions, or maybe just the coolness of the evening sky on my skin.
Outside of story and all those associations, I’ve figured out that it’s texture, and to a somewhat lesser extent, fragrance, that matter to me at least as much as the sight of something.
It’s the feel of that cape/sweater I bought last year with its nubbly, fuzzy wool and structure courtesy of subtle leather edging: it gives me that rare combination of comfort, confidence, and glamour that I’m always seeking in my clothing (let alone life). And the fact that I can detect a very slight whiff of lanolin in the wool helps me connect to its source and the process of its making.
Or it’s the way the drape of my Maria Cornejo dress feels on my body: the textural element is less about classic aspects of touch (rough, smooth, coarse, silky), but about what touches me where, and how (just a whisper of a touch here, a little more supporting gentle moulding there). The fact that the dress makes me feel relaxed but also makes me stand taller (shoulders back, please) is something that gives me profound pleasure. The fact that people like the way I look in it matters less. (Well, I’d like to think that.)
Now that my house is at least complete enough to feel functional, I look around and realize that what I’m loving the most are the things that have the most texture. The cushions made out (individually) of velvet, chenille and woven wool/cashmere (clearly I have a thing for cushions). The nubby linen slouchy chair that surrounds me just so. The antique proofing bowl with its scratches and gouges. The endless wool blankets and throws we have strewn about (all smelling lightly of our cats, in a good way) and the old leather basket we try to corral them in. The zinc-topped coffee table with enough grit in the feel to cut through the feeling of any preciousness and make me relax instantly. The smoky smell of Diptique’s Feu de Bois that seems to have pervaded the most unlikely corners of the house with an air of mystery, sensuality, connectedness to the past and comfort.
The constant consumption of images is feeling like a sugar binge to me, making me a little jittery and craving. What I need, what really satisfies, is the texture, the flavor, the fragrance of life.
Perhaps it’s time for a visual detox?