Earlier this year, I was visiting my parents. While I was there, my dad gave me a collection of digitized images from slides he had taken between the late 50s and mid 70s. Going through them was a very odd experience. Apart from the familial history that I discovered, I had an odd sensation seeing the images. It took me a while to identify what caused it. It was only when I was cleaning up some of my photos that it came to me. My dad and I share a very similar aesthetic.
I had never seen my dad’s photo of our trip to west Colorado until after I had been to Petra. Looking at them side-by-side, I could not help feeling that if I had been standing in his place in 1967, I would have taken the same photo that he did.
Without knowing it, here I was, standing on a hill in Petra, looking toward the horizon and framing my photo in the same way that my dad had, almost half a century earlier and halfway around the world.
As I went through his photos again, I began to see the shared characteristics more clearly, like a preference for scenery and buildings over people. Yet the landscapes and cityscapes have an emotional quality to them. We are both attracted to grandeur and harmony. We also tend to favour wider views instead of close ups.
I cannot say exactly how it is that I absorbed this artistic vision. I obviously saw some of the photos he took. There were also a few paintings or reproductions of paintings in the house. Later on, I knew about the artists, such as those from the Hudson River School, that he liked. I have also been to numerous museums with him over the years on our family trips. Yet I do not recall him ever explicitly teaching me about art or aesthetics. It was not his style.
On one level, the answer is actually rather prosaic. All these memories are active inside my brain, creating my specific neuroaesthetic framework, the synaptic and chemical activities that manifest in my pointing my camera phone in this direction and taking the photo in that instant.
But it is more than that, isn’t it? Why those particular memories and why did they combine in this particular way? Why do my notebook pages look more like my father’s than my mom’s, whose writing I saw much more of growing up and who was more involved in teaching me how to write than my dad was?
We really know so little about ourselves and why we are the way we are. It is constant challenge for me to try to understand more, and a constant reminder to question what I believe is ‘me’. After all, if something so personal as my aesthetic sense is an inheritance from my parents, than what is real me?