I believe in the power of good observation. From my teen years, voluntarily or not, I would let my mind notice more details in the places and objects than I could possibly capture. It started as a humble experiment — one object examined at a time, say, an ornate door handle, or the size, and texture of a cobblestone. There was some peculiar magic in the most mundane city objects — and I was there to see it in depth. The simplicity of one ravishing idea occupied my mind: by simply being there, these city creatures manifest a largely deeper set of implications. Behind the looks, there is visual literacy, values towards preservation, the smarts of city planning. I discovered, that instead of describing the city, city objects describe the people and their state of mind. Today, my main inspiration and research material on anthropology and linguistics come not from books and conferences, but from direct observation.
I’m walking the street right now and here’s what I noticed in five minutes:
- The sidewalk is roughly three feet wide and will get unbearably puddled in case of rain
- The person carries a tote bag with a Turtle Conservancy logo on it. Imagined I’m a member of Turtle Conservancy
- The seagull got a beautiful visual intersection with a plane that just passed in the sky — a reminder of where planes come from
- The “smoking is prohibited” sign on the pole is passive-aggressive. Instead, “thanks for no smoking” or “smoking-free area” would be more appropriate
- The schedule change by the subway station is not typed with the prescribed Helvetica typeface. Instead, Akzidenz-Grotesk type is used — which breaks the New York City Transit guidelines
- The guy who just passed was reading a large green text message on his iPhone. Probably, something important — like a relationship break or bad news
- The sunlight pierces through the fence in the manner that would look very favorable in a movie scene
- The garbage bags in front of Chanel store look very comical compared to the luxury of displays
- The buzzer by a door has all Italian last names written there. They must be all friends
- The homeless guy I saw in a wheelchair yesterday is walking speedily across the street
- The sidewalk around the hydrant across the street is wet. There might have been a fire somewhere in the area
It’s fascinating what wealthy a menu the city has to offer a careful observer.