Of our five traditional senses, four do their business within inches of each other. Sight, hearing, smell, and taste are transmitted to our skull-encased CPU by our eyes, ears, nose, and tongue. They all face forward, all interested in the same thing, sucking in data for the human unit to process and use for itself. Only touch gets to wander off on its own, often out of sight, to physically connect with other beings and things, sharing, giving back. It's as if the Five Horsemen of the Apocalypse held a summit and banished Touch from the club for not being tough and selfish enough. Go do your thing elsewhere, they said, you're too touchy-feely for us. You're holding us back from conquering the world.
But I'm in touch! says Touch. I feel! I connect! I heal! I support! Have a heart!
No matter, they say. You drag us down. We have an agenda. Begone. We exile you to the faraway Kingdom of Fingers and the Islands of Ticklish Parts.
The remaining Four Horsemen are essentially single minded and selfish. Eyes judge another person's "looks" and ears discern a sexy voice from a grating one. The nose searches out attractive pheromones and pinches shut at decay. The tongue adores sugar and curls up into a fetal position at Brussels sprouts or Vegemite. The tongue can even be a two-edged sword - somewhere along the line it learned to employ its willing friend the vocal cord in one ridiculous soliloquy after another (Photo Assignment being a prime example). The ear aids and abets the tongue but breaks connection when it hears criticism. The Four Horsemen despise silence and darkness and unsalted foods, yet on occasion can heal, instruct or show love although it's not their natural bent. It's touch that usually tricks them into it.
Touch didn't put up a fight. Instead, it jumped the neck fence and headed for unexplored lands where wild things grow. Uninterested in argument or social status, caring little for rules and judgment, Touch instead searches out direct contact. Touch brings opposites together whereas the Four divide and conquer. And so Touch, the affable Fifth Horseman, is our mentor and guide for this assignment.
We can't directly use touch to make photographs, of course (we're forced to use vision), but it can inform what we point our lenses at. We CAN touch and feel what we photograph, and our viewers can too if we do our job well.
For instance, in entertainment media, what we know of other people is derived primarily from faces. Hair, makeup, skin, and facial expressions are the biggest money in the photography business. Ideal exposure, lighting, and posing are billion dollar industries. The words these well-photographed faces utter complete the illusion of success. We are our own worst idols, at least on the surface.
Meanwhile, touch is working to bridge instead of divide, bring us closer to other people, other things. Touch would rather hug a tree than cut it down to make more paper grocery sacks. Touch likes holding a dogeared novel in the shade of a tree while subtly directing the eyes to other places and times. Touch likes snuggling on the couch with your honey while the other senses nap. Touch understands now, has no inkling of tomorrow. Touch is always present tense.
Touch isn't without a dark side, though. When it's lazy, it meanders to sappy Hallmark cliche. When its drunk it can invade personal space and cause unwanted trouble. When its angry it can bruise. Touch feels everything from bliss to pain and requires self-control, especially when shouted down by the Four, drowning out the Silent One.
As usual, our Photo Assignment struggle is figuring out how to relate a concept to photography. For this one, the challenge is to employ our eyes while letting touch take the lead. It may be difficult for some, natural for others. It may take all of our two weeks to get a grip on touch.
Here are some ideas to get in touch with TOUCH:
- Pick up an object and hold it for as long as it takes to know it well. Let it inform you how it would like to be displayed.
- Before photographing a large subject (e.g. landscape, clouds), sit and feel it, touch it with your mind. Put yourself into the scene mentally, let your imagination wander, daydream. Once your inner and outer landscapes are in balance, make the photograph.
- Explore texture. Run your hand over things to identify characteristics. Observe how light reveals or obscures texture.
- Photograph people in love. Touch is usually a big component. :-)
- Photograph the act or moment of touch - hands on things, otters splashing in water, grooming a horse.
- Display someone's character without including the face. Does it touch you differently than a standard portrait?
- Reach out and touch someone. Develop a meaningful connection, and only then make an honest photograph.
- Look up synonyms for touch - physical contact, percussion, kiss, abut, feeler, embrace - and use them in photographs.
- Search out phrases with touch in them - touch football, touch and go, touched in the head, soft touch, Midas touch.
- Explore an object with eyes closed. What can you learn about it merely by touch?
Now go touch something and make us feel what you feel with your photographs.
TOUCHED IN THE HEAD will run for two weeks, from April 20 through May 3.