Seeing What Is In Front Of Your Face

One kind of landscape is hard to look at just because you don’t know where to start; there are too many things and they aren’t in the right order. It’s grotesque; it scatters your attention like a beam of light passing through a prism. This is the easiest one to start to see; you just spend the time to consider each part, piecing together the mystery of what happened and why. There is some reward there.

William T. Wiley, I'VE GOT IT ALL ON THE LINE (1970)

Other landscapes are hard to look at because you see your shame mirrored in them; you avoid them the way you would avoid your reflection. It’s even a little stranger than that; you can drive through them without looking at them, in the same way that you can shave without looking at your face, concentrating on one patch of stubble after another, one intersection after another. This, too, you can learn to look at with some courage; you can say, I should see this, no matter how much you don’t want to; you can lift the sheet.

Hughie Lee-Smith, LANDSCAPE WITH FIGURE (1952)

A third kind of landscape is hard to look at because it does not want to be looked at. It says, “I’m doing what I’m supposed to, don’t pay attention to me.” It says, “Move along, nothing to see here.” It says, “Nothing happened here, and even if it did…” It has been made to be that way, and there isn’t even a word for that intention; the closest I can manage is that it hides in plain sight.


I have been struck in documenting Columbus just how difficult it is to look at an office park, or a logistics center; your eyes seem to slide right past them. Finding an absurdity, or a glitch – a misplaced pile, a broken tree, a drained pond – seems to be a necessary condition to rest your eye at all. Why should it be so difficult to look at something normal? What would happen if you were to finally see it?

(August 2021)