Heightening texture through contrast
Setting one texture off against its opposite can help to emphasise both
In the same way that some dishes aim to bring out the taste of certain ingredients by pairing contrasting flavours (such as sweet and sour dishes in China, or cheese with apple pie in Lancashire), so different textures can be combined in a photograph to bring out the texture of both.
There’s nothing new about using contrast in this way. During the 1920s the Bauhaus movement was hugely influential on art, design and architecture, and in its Basic Course, which all students had to complete, the first exercise was to express contrasting qualities of things, including the pair roughsmooth. Johanes Itten, who ran the course, called it the ‘general theory of contrast’ and wrote that “Finding and listing the various possibilities of contrast was always one of the most exciting subjects.” Juxtaposition – setting one thing (shape, colour, action, expression, whatever) against another – has long been a staple of photography, too, and in the case of texture, it’s a relatively simple matter to arrange. The example here, though, wasn’t arranged; it was happening already. In close-up the work-worn hands of a woman from the Akha community in Thailand contrast with the bright red dye with which she is dyeing a headdress.
An Akha hill tribe woman’s hands as she dyes chicken feathers. The very tight framing limits the image to two contrasting textures: rough and dry and shiny and wet