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  • Writer's pictureKurt Keefner


Updated: Mar 18, 2021

I am fascinated with textures. I think it is because they engage my eyes I love granularity over big swooshy things - Baroque music over late Romantic. It also appeals to my desire for defamiliarization, a concept described by the Russian Formalist school of literary criticism as being a process by which one's automatic perception of the world is broken down so that one sees things anew. In my book, Killing Cool, Fantasy vs Reality in American Life, I describe this as a process of "mature wonder," which represents an active process of viewing the world afresh rather than taking things for granted and just seeing them as practical objects.

In this photo-essay I want to examine several photographs I have taken, mostly near my home, that capture what I mean by texture, and for each I will offer one way (among many) that one can see the image that will break up the traditional perception. Some are abstract, but they do not need to be.

This picture is, of course, not an abstract. It is a photograph of a tree trunk surrounded by mulch and grass, sprinkled with cherry blossom petals and dappled with sunlight. It reminds me of an impressionist painting. The image doesn't evoke anything metaphorical for me, but invites me to lie on the petals and feel the sun on my face.

This one reminds me of an army marching in formation or maybe the atoms in some sort of crystal. I'll leave it to the reader to figure out what it really is!

I think of this hillside of buttercups as a star field. The mysterious dark patches in the grass are clumps of the elusive Dark Matter that astrophysicists argue is necessary to keep the universe from flying apart. The overall effect is psychedelic, which suggests its doing its job of defamiliarization.

This is Mickey the Cat. In this light his velvet fur glows like a Russian Blue, but in real life he is a gray tabby with no stripes on him except for some faint rings on his tail. Note his elegant shape. He almost looks like a tea-kettle!

I call this last photo "High Clouds on a Wooden Sky." It was taken on a bridge in the Washington, Baltimore and Annapolis Rail Trail , near Electric Avenue in Bowie, Maryland. If you practice my habit of mature wonder, you can see the brightly illuminated patches as clouds and the shadowy background as blue sky. Perhaps it is night -shot. In any case the trick is to flip background with foreground to get a new meaning to an old image.

All of these photos but the last one were taken within a ten-minute walk of my home. I am just an amateur photographer with a phone of course, but I am doing something good for myself by looking for beauty, my kind of beauty, in my run-ins with everyday life. Nothing is mundane unless you let it be so.


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