Patterns. There’s something very reassuring about them. Whether a consistently repeating sequence of shapes, a loose gathering of similar elements or something in between, a pattern gets our attention. Patterns resonate deeply, maybe because their structure echoes the repeating sequences our brains depend on to configure perceptions and memories.
From well before birth we’re bathed in the regularity of our mother’s heartbeat, priming the pump for countless patterns we will perceive during our lives. As random as the world seems at times, patterns are woven throughout our experience, and like other beings on this planet, we depend on our ability to recognize them. Where would we be without pattern recognition, without rhythm and music and mathematical sequences, without that knack for making sense out of repetition?
Today, I’m interested in visual patterns, and there are thousands of them in my files. Here’s a smattering.
- The skylight at the Museum of Northwest Art, a small museum in a small northwestern town a little over an hour north of Seattle. The formerly commercial space was re-purposed by a local architecture firm in the 90’s, and features cedar and hemlock paneling, a spiral staircase, and the skylight, which allows extra light into the gallery space.
- There’s something satisfying about window blinds – is it just the pattern? I don’t think so, I think it has to do with our relationship to windows themselves. For this photo I used an in-camera effect to heighten the contrast.
- At Seattle’s Japanese Garden the landscapers take pains to do things the Japanese way, lashing bamboo for fences in the traditional style. This one was done recently; it needs time to weather and blend with the landscape.
- Seattle’s King Street Station clock tower reminds us that patterns aren’t only found in repeating motifs like the columns on the facade, but are also recognizable gestalts, like the clock. Built in the early 1900’s, this was once the main train station for Seattle but, like train travel, the building has gone through changes over the years. A renovation was completed in 2013 – I should go insde and take a look.
- Deception Pass Bridge, which connects Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands, is about an hour and a half north of Seattle. Built high above the turbulent waters of Deception Pass in the 1930’s, the bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s about 180 feet above the water, and trails allow you to walk directly underneath, where this photo was taken.
- Patterns in carpets are an old tradition. This is a wool kilim-style rug from somewhere in the Middle east. Originally, most of the patterns woven into these rugs had particular meanings but now, I suspect the primary meaning is, “I hope the tourists like this one.”
- Seen in a Seattle alley, a pattern of bricks contrasts with random markings on a wall.
- The sandstone’s pattern evolved from millions of years of shifting sand dunes, at Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada.
- This perfectly posed (poised, too!) lizard lives at a delightful roadside zoo. His wonderful skin is all pattern, in both texture and coloration. The Reptile Zoo is found along U.S. Rt. 2, as you head up into the Cascade Mountains from Seattle.
- Veins of fallen leaves and the mushrooms’ striate caps repeat their patterns with slight variations, giving us important clues. What would we do without these tools? How would we know what we were looking at if there were no repeating patterns?
- Cascade Oregon-grape (Mahonia nervosa) displays a rhythmic repetition reminiscent of Bach’s music, maybe a Cello Suite. Here’s an article about experiencing repetition in music.
- Picking up shells on the beach elicits a pattern if one kind of shell is favored. This little collection is from the U.S. east coast. I placed them (in a pattern!) on a page in a blank book, and photographed it: an instant book of shells. Often called jingle shells, or mermaids’ toenails, these shells can be found from Canada to Brazil, or so I read. In fact, there are many different species of jingle shells and apparently they’re found in Europe, China and New Zealand, but not on America’s west coast. Next week I’ll be on the coast of Oregon; maybe I’ll find other goodies there.
- Frank Gehry’s architectural riff on a smashed Stratocaster guitar takes your breath away the first time you see it. Seattle’s renamed Museum of Pop Culture (it used to be called the Experience Music Project) contains oodles of memorabilia about native son Jimi Hendrix. The free-form sheet metal style Gehry favors builds on repeating shapes, though they aren’t as obvious as the rectangles we’re used to. On a sunny day, the undulating, shiny curved walls reflect off each other, multiplying color and shape in a photographer’s dream.
- Skunk cabbage is in bloom now in many wet spots across the U.S. The eastern and western species are different, but they share an unpleasant odor and basic form. I think the spadix (the central spike carrying the tiny flowers) may be arranged in a Fibonacci Sequence, like pine cones, but I’m not sure.
- At a botanical garden, netting is used to protect plants from hungry rabbits and deer. When it rains, what a pretty sight!