Monday, August 19, 2013

A Pattern Language

I am reading A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction which is a 1977 text on everything from urban design to how to select trim around windows. It's a fascinating read that is also, basically, a political tract in disguise. Anyways, the point of the book is that it presents its material as a set of interconnected Patterns. Each Pattern is a problem of creating spaces that humans can live in happily and well, together with the sketch of a solution. Each Pattern fits in to, can be deployed as part of, the solution to one or more higher level patterns. Each pattern's solution is expressed, as much as possible, in terms of how to use lower-level patterns to build the solution. The way you build the world is thus using these Patterns. Each of those patterns is thus and uses or may use these Patterns and works together with that Pattern and that one. The Patterns form a mesh of idioms and ideas.

This seems to be, and I think it is, a useful way to think about photography. One might have a pattern Well Defined Subject which is simultaneously a desired feature in many photographs, and a problem to be solved in those pictures. One might use a Contrasting Values pattern to separate the subject from the background or a Selective Focus pattern to do the same thing. The Contrasting Values pattern might be itself solved by a High Lighting Ratio pattern, and/or some other patterns.

It is clear to me that that which can be codified about photography could be codified by a Pattern Language of this sort. The question that arises is whether doing so would be a good idea. Would this be good pedagogy? I am unsure, but suspect not. Pattern Languages are mesh-structured, and pedagogy is best accomplished in a more or less linear fashion. Certainly A Pattern Language for Photography would be an interesting artifact, but I'm not sure what use it would be. I could certainly use it as a platform for pushing my ideas, and I almost certainly would -- or perhaps will.

Something we can take away, though, is this. The book I am reading talks about the poetry of the language and makes the point that often what makes a poem good is that there are layers of meaning in the words. There is a density of message that is desirable in artistic things. Similarly, there is a density of meaning and message that is desirable in architecture. If a single room can be built to satisfy multiple overlapping patterns, then it will satisfy more of the problems of being a pleasant, useful, compatible space for humans. It will be a better room, a room we spend more time in and take more pleasure in.

Similarly, a photograph that simultaneously contains multiple patterns is likely to be stronger. If we have a subject, and we separate it with selective focus and with contrasting tones, then the subject will jump out even more powerfully. A portfolio that uses multiple methods for creating coherence and interest will be more coherent and interesting. Of course in photography, as in architecture, as in poetry, there are limits. Still, we can take this away and think about it. Don't be satisfied with a single solution to your visual problem, to your problem of conveying meaning, to your problem of documenting what is. Are there multiple ways to solve your problem, and can you use them together, and will they reinforce one another in a good way?

No comments:

Post a Comment