I came across the most amazing thing the other day, whilst looking through "The Tribal Eye" by Peter Davies, a nice book (1993) about kilim rugs. Davies says, apologetically, about the lovely photographs:
"It should be kept in mind that these photographic plates are actually only an approximation of the weavings themselves. No matter how excellent the photography and printing process, it is ultimately only the designs and colours of the kilims that come through in photographic plates. A very important dimension of weaving is almost completely lost -- what the French call matiere*, that is the visual and tactile qualities of the surface of the weaving."
Well, maybe I've just missed the other 29 million references to matiere, and its inherent un-photograph-ability, but wow! It's so true. Not one of the photographs I have posted on this site has really come close to showing what the piece is like in real life, and judging from the frequent disclaimers by fellow bloggers, I'm not the only one with this problem.

And it's not a trivial problem, either. Getting into shows, or successfully applying for a grant is determined, to a great extent, by the quality of one's images. All media suffer from reproduction, true, but I think textiles are particularly vulnerable to this loss of the visual and tactile qualities that make a textile work alive.

I'd love to hear from any of you that have further knowledge of this French term and its phenomenological underpinnings. Or, if you have discovered any photographic techniques that help show off your work to best advantage, please share.

* (with an e acute, which I can't figure out how to type)


  1. I hadn't heard of that before, but it sure is true. I was just looking at the cover of a rug hooking book this morning, and while the image was nice, I thought "in no way does that convey the wonder and the beauty of the original piece."

  2. I don't know if "matiere" (yes, my keyboard has a problem with the accents also, got a big update and haven't fixed everything since) has a special connotation in English, but in French it is a very ordinary word.

    But what is true is, that photographing textiles is an art by itself.

    I only take pics of my knitting and sometimes sewing for my own enjoyment (and a small kalender for some friends every year) but in a good year (where I had a lot of time for photographs and was lucky) I have maybe 3 pictures I am happy with. In other years I end up with a selection of "nice". But no more.

    I think an important thing is, that when taking a photograph you have to make a decision what you want to show. color? pattern? texture? Or is there a story behind the item? Very skilled photographers might show two things well in one pic, but usually you can be happy if you take a photograph that shows/illustrates ONE of the qualities.

    Color and pattern are relatively easy, but everything that has to do with the texture, the way it touches/feels on the skin, maybe even a smell... is difficult.

    (For texture sometimes photographing from an angle with light from the side helps. Or taking the photograph against the light. Ur using light from different angles. Sometimes it takes accessorize to tell a story with the item. Many possibilities. - Product photography can be an inspiration, how they are using light, for example.)

    As long as it is for ones own enjoyment I'd say experiment with taking pictures! Luckily there is not cost for film and developing any longer.

    If it was for an important submission I would think about having the pictures done by a professional photographer. That can make a difference.

  3. some photographic images do speak clearly to the haptic senses, Judy Martin and Jude Hill do it beautifully on their blogs but an image on a screen or in a book will never convey the wordless wonder that we read through our fingertips

  4. I agree with "nowak"--and for me, finding the right time of day makes a difference: i have found that between 2 and 5 in the afternoon, in a studio with southern light exposure, that the photos can be absolutely fabulous for both colour and texture. Those are the ones that take my breath away, even with my own work. Shooting straight on in artificial light doesn't give that magnitude of depth or intent.

    Find that "sweet spot" in your space!!!


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