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When I was in college I took a class on the philosophy of art, which really meant the philosophy of paintings. We started with Plato and proceeded through the great thinkers of Western philosophy up to the middle of the 20th century and abstract expressionism art. To help us understand the thinking behind abstract expressionism the professor took on the task by explaining that paintings include some combination of five qualities—form, color, line, texture, and representation. Abstract artists had dropped representation from their work because they thought that the depiction of a scene overwhelmed the other qualities and became a distraction from all of the other things that were important to paintings. For the abstract expressionists, there were to be no more dramatic religious scenes or paintings of a barn with a hay field in the foreground and a mountain range in the background. A lot has happened in the art world in the six-plus decades since I took that class and the qualities of art that I was taught almost seem quaint now, but they still work for me. I think of myself as a photographic artist and I still look for form (or composition), color, line, and texture when I take photographs, and representation is an integral part of my photographic art.

When I am photographing in a natural setting like the Sourlands I view it through the prism that I learned about art in that class long ago. I make compositions from portions of what is before me when I am in the natural world. I look for colors that please me. I look at textures and lines. For the purposes of the “Seeing the Sourlands” essays, I emphasize representation because the images are there to illustrate a topic. But, I wondered, what would happen if I tried to focus on one of the other qualities that make up a work of art as taught to me in college? I decided to focus on texture in nature. I chose texture because it is an important part of how I experience the natural world. I go through the forest tempted to touch much of what I see. I can barely resist stroking the limbs of a muscelwood tree and I rarely pass ferns or grasses without touching them. I love the texture of a stone, with or without lichen and moss. Representation, color, form, and line may be present in the photographs I have included here but texture takes the lead.

Unlike paintings, which of course can be textured, these photographs cannot have texture because they are presented here on a smooth screen, but I think that they depict texture in a way that makes us see it.

These lichen have a gritty texture that is like sandpaper.

I always think of the bark on a beech tree as smooth, but the right light reveals its subtle texture. In this photograph, the bark looks like a sheet pulled tightly over a lumpy bed.

The texture of ferns is derived both from the delicacy of an individual frond and from ferns’ habit of growing in tight clusters with fronds pointing in different directions.

Sometimes texture is seen in large-scale scenes rather than in close-ups. The density of the forest and the shadows that the trees cast on each other create texture on a large scale. Although the camera is somewhat exaggerating the density of this winter forest landscape and thereby emphasizing its texture, it is a young forest and the trees are much closer together than they will be in another hundred years.

This old dead cedar bristles with texture and reveals a history of how dense the branches were when it was alive, and that long ago a woodpecker made a home here.

However tempting it might be to stroke this delicate dandelion seed head, I have to restrain myself or it will be destroyed.

A close view of the seed head of a blade of Indian grass looks bristly but is actually quite soft.

A field of tall grass with the wind blowing and the light coming from a low angle creates a mysterious texture. I want to dive into this field and roll around in the grass.

This fast-moving stream was just downstream from a little waterfall so it was covered with the foam that the turbulence created. The uneven light adds to its surface texture.

People sometimes add texture to the landscape. A wire fence, a stonewall, or a series of stone steps add texture. It can also be added as an act of vandalism, and with these carvings on the bark of a beech tree, a special texture has been added.

By Jim Amon.