This house-shaped photograph tells all my dirty secrets: I have an unnatural fixation on objects; I might be mildly OCD; and Jane Austen is my spirit animal.
And you thought this was just another Pinterest-worthy photo taken from a birds-eye view?
Actually, this type of birds-eye photograph is technically called "flat lay" and thanks to Instagram, it has swept the visual world. Objects loosely arrayed in a pleasing composition on a neutral background and photographed in natural light that allow the viewer a new view of everyday things. Open any magazine and you'll see flat lay photography everywhere. (#flatlaystyle #flatlayoftheday)
Flat lay photography has its roots in an age-old process of organizing tools on a flat surface for ease of use. Think of a dentist's tray of instruments or a woodworker's pegboard of tools or my mother's entire storage room. Our brains love making order out of chaos. It frees up mental space to problem-solve when our necessary objects are where we expect them to be when we need them.
This organizational technique got elevated to art in 1987 by a janitor. Of course it did. Here's the story. According to Wikipedia, in 1987, Andrew Kromelow worked as a janitor in Frank Gehry's furniture shop where Gehry cranked out angular chairs commissioned by Florence Knoll for her iconic furniture company. Andrew the janitor arranged Gehry's woodworking tools in right angles, similar to the angles in the Knoll chairs, and referred to the process as "knolling." (By the way, Kromelow's c.v. states that he was a "design engineer", not a janitor.)
From Gehry's studio, knolling took on a life of its own. Remember the "I Spy" books? Or this incredible series called "Things Come Apart." Here's a kid knolling while packing for college. The military knows how to knoll. And here's Conan O'Brien spoofing it in this clip:
For me, knolling is simply a way of honoring an object's form and function. When I play around with an object, I try to see its true essence, and sometimes the best way to recognize it is in its relation to other objects. Then, differences and similarities become more clear.
Aside from form and function, objects carry fingerprints of the past, which I find so mysterious and wonderful. They even have a smell. If we bottled it, you would name it "Musty Stink" and I would name it "Time Passages."
In one final defense of my fixation, I'll say that what I love best about objects are the people tethered to them, the stories imprinted on them. It is because of this attachment that I can't help matchmaking. I'm a matchmaker. A spotter of possibilities, of symmetry, of interconnectedness.
But I'm not a hoarder. God.
Every Friday, I send out a newsletter with a little of this and a little of that. Kind of like the photos above. It all comes together quite nicely in an email that hundreds of subscribers enjoy. A great way to start off the weekend. Join us?
Photos by Renn Kuhnen.