Imperfections, antiques, photography, beautiful women, iPhone apps… (2011)

Now, what have all of these in common?
Well, let’s take it from a distance. Perfection is boring. If asked most would probably say they strive for perfection, they desire it, they want it. Yet, when face to face with something or someone close to perfect our reaction is generally of immediate but very superficial and short-lived attraction.

During the 80s I was working as a photographer, doing mainly portraits, fashion and glamour. One of the implications of the work was the constant contact with scantly (if at all) dressed women who fitted the commonly accepted concept of “perfectly beautiful”. Yet, despite my profound and absolute dedication to women, rarely I found any of these at all attractive; the few who were tended to be those distinguished by (apart form being doted with a working brain) some peculiar imperfection that marked them as recognisable and unique individuals.

This element of unique recognisable distinction is at the basis of many human likings.
Why is it that we instinctively feel attracted by antiques, wild landscapes, traditional crafts, old architecture, vintage objects?
There is of course a cultural element and, without being patronising, it is undeniable that people with a higher level of culture are more prone to appreciate antiques than uneducated ones. It is equally true, and obvious, that someone whose main preoccupation is to survive another day isn’t likely to appreciate art and antiques. But the same person, given a chance, would most likely feel the same and derive a certain level of comfort from anything traditional that could recall a personal history and origin.

It must have to do with our innate need for a sense of continuity, for a connection with where we come from.
Recently I have been observing the increasing popularity of photo and video iPhone apps that simulate vintage effects, from the scratches on B&W film to the jitters of super8, from the washed out colours of instant cameras to the peculiar palette of Polaroid. The same happened with the revival of other traditional image-making techniques. Digital photography has reached a level of quality that is close to perfect. So perfect that it looks almost unnatural, and people started trying all possible ways to simulate imperfections that were typical of old fashioned photography and film.

This may seem like nonsense, years of research and technological development to achieve perfection, and then all sorts of attempts to spoil it to effectively achieve a result that is further from reality and yet perceived as more credible. Undoubtedly it is a psychological trick, but one that is very powerful and must appeal to something deep in our mind.

Do we fall in love with someone perfect? No, we dream of doing so, that’s why so many idolise actors, models and other symbols of perfect beauty. That’s why so many turn themselves into rubber dummies at the hands of plastic surgeons only to discover that their acquired beauty is a shallow mirror of misguided vanity.
Instead we fall in love with imperfect but real human beings, and their imperfections are precisely what, without us being completely aware of it, make them attractive.
It is the scars and battering of time that mark an object and make it attractive, it is the peculiarity of subtle imperfections that make a person’s features memorable.

Perhaps we should re-evaluate the importance of imperfection in real life as well as in our mind’s perceptions.

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