When I was a less experienced artist, I thought that less gloss meant less talent. For after all, it seemed to me to be commonly assumed in our culture that talent resided only in the gloss, the perfection and the polish. If your art didn’t have polish, it was only because you weren’t able to apply it.
Now, I tend to feel just the opposite. Gloss, more often than not, acts as a substitute for soul, a clear vision, intent. It’s certainly more challenging to find the perfect vintage car to purchase than it is to select a new Porsche. It seems like too often gloss is the easy way out.
Photographically, for me, this translates away from traditional, more “perfect” images and toward the more real moments. It’s the off moments, or rather the “un-moments,” that make stronger, more emotionally charged images. These images feel more like my life—–far more imperfect and far more relevant.
In my own work, an example might be the photographic portraits from my recently completed Seattle 100: Portrait of a City project (forthcoming October 2010). It was always my goal to catch this “un-moment” of which I write—–that instant just before and just after the photographic moments that have been so historically revered in our culture. My growing experience tells me that the sliver of time that captures the spontaneous and the genuine and pierces through the façade of a conventionally “perfect” portrait more accurately reveals the truly human.
I contend that these same principles can be applied to architecture and design. Certainly, while exceptions to my hypothesis abound – where polished architectural spaces, posh interiors and high designs succeed – it’s simply my hope that we suspend our de facto acceptance of the new and polished as “design” and recognize that it’s more often something gritty that challenges us to find a deeper aesthetic, take a longer vision and seek more soulful connections. Put simply, “gritty” may require more emotional and metaphysical investment from the viewer, but it is far less deceitful than “glossy” and creates a far greater opportunity for culturally relevant, creative success.