Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Messy, Hidden Order

Post 96
Lately I have been walking around Chestnut Hill and Northwest Philly, trying to take pictures that make visible the qualities that make this urban village such a beautiful and useful ecosystem.

We live more adjacent to each other than usually happens out in suburbia, Yet nature encompasses our houses more than it does in most suburbs. It is hard for me to take a picture of a house without tree limbs jutting in at obscuring angles, just as it is hard for me to take a picture of a tree without rooftops ensconcing the distance. We're all tangled up together here, vegetation, animals, humans and a predominately Arts & Crafts architecture that harmonizes the mix. The building materials are organic and often subtly variegated: local stone, usually left irregular, slate, wood, copper and brick. And often all these materials show up in the same house.

Since the Hill is an older development, the houses feel as if they have gratefully nestled into the sheltering earth. Most of them have patina rather than shine. The visual qualities I find in all this are; compatibility, co-operation, comfort, humility, dignity, respect and yes, even love.
All of which has led me to treasure the relative realism of photography. I am inept enough at Photoshop that most of the images I take are pretty much the images I see, (Well sorta, taking into account flattening to two-dimensions, different settings, etc.) So taking photos helps me see more of what I actually see instead of what I think I see. My mind erases all those branches, telephone and electrical lines and other messy stuff. My eye loves photos that my mind can easily read, pics that that are clean, have an obvious subject, focus on what is essential. Somewhat like the photo below,
For me, this is a fairly orderly photo. At least it is clear what you are supposed to look at (the tree,) while there are lots of straight lines, often parallel, making the background angles repetitive and obvious. Of course, turn around and this is what you may well see...
Hmmm, not so easy to decipher, is it.? Or give significance to either? It's just branches. But just branches is what nature often looks like. There are suggestions of pattern yet so many variations and layers that it seems to resist the mind. That is because it is an ecosystem. Nature can always  be broken down into dead analytical bits by mind, but it will only vitally function as a whole. The complexity is what life really looks like. And because complexity is hard to turn into order, we often ignore it or think it chaos.
All this makes me glad I'm not better at Photoshop, since the temptations would be hard to resist. Someday I may get better at photo manipulation and take photos as Art. Right now I take them as praise and as spectacles, lenses to help me see how the Hill's life-enhancing virtues show in it's actual physical reality.  In short, the Hill  looks like a place where a good life can be led. True, it lacks obvious excitements and like all communities, always has more than enough stuff to argue about.  But it is an excellent place to make a garden, take your dog to the park or walk in the cool of a gorge on a summer's evening, It is a supportive place in which to make your own entertainment by co-operating with nature and people around you. When George Woodward developed this area, he built it to hold different classes and different types of people, in fact, he went out of his way to encourage artists to settle here (The Red Rose Girls, Willets,) And because most of the architecture took inspiration from vernacular styles, there is an ageless feel to some of the areas,

We are born to abstract, to strive for clarity and order so that we can master facts and theories and so master nature, of which we are a part.. But in places like this are hints of a deeper order, a hidden order of life itself.

It is that order that most interest me, and that order that I try to take pictures of.

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