I’m mopping up a puddle in someone else’s garage and it’s just another day in the world of magazines. This is the real behind the scenes, not another pretty Instagram. The camera is flashing as the photographer is snapping test pictures, checking the exposure, the colour balance, and whatever else photographers look for. I’m scrounging around in the cupboard hoping to god there’s some cleaning supplies and dragging bags of road salt out of the shot, wondering vaguely what the point is. Long before this moment I’ve already become disillusioned.
I was dispatched to this particular home with explicit instructions: feature this home and don’t skimp where the garage is concerned. We’re on a mission to make someone happy—namely an advertiser. Its glamorous and creative, isn’t it? They wanted the garage featured, but it was covered in dirt and puddles. You know, kind of like you expect a garage to be. Yet there I was, moping a garage and trying to make it look “pretty”.
I don’t know how I am painting this picture to you. I wasn’t standing there with a mop grumbling. I’m not angry or upset or unhappy that I’m mopping someone’s garage. It really doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Making sure the home is photography-ready is simply part of my job description. It’s no different then sliding a lamp chord out of view. You can’t see my expression in this blurry long exposure, but I assure you it’s a pleasantly mild expression. I’m probably wearing a bland smile. I actually think this is the first time I’ve ever had to mop a floor. I’ve definitely swept a lot of decks off, and I once swept a driveway so furiously the home owner said he felt like he should pay me, but never mopped a garage floor. I’m certainly not frustrated by the work of mopping, but I am bothered by the reason for mopping.
What is the point? Why am I trying to make a garage look a certain way for a photo, when that’s not the way the garage lives. Why isn’t reality appealing enough for a magazine? Later that afternoon the home owners would arrive from work, park their grime covered vehicles (because where is that street sweeper!), and slowly the pling pling pling of spring raindrops unfurling themselves from the glistening metal will fall rhythmically onto that clean floor, dragging the dirt and mud with them. The garage will return to its natural state—its happy state. I just have a feeling that garages want to be dusty, they want to be covered in tools, and miscellaneous building materials, basketballs, bikes, and garbage pails. The garage is supposed to be this ultra functional pragmatic space that carries us through the messy aspects of life. It’s not supposed to be a sparkling Mr. Clean ad.
I keep muddling through the same circular question: Do we want to see the real, or do we just want to see pretty things? The confrontation of real life vs. pretty life is alarmingly confusing to me, and why isn’t real life pretty life? What is so appealing about pristine order that we go to this effort to showcase something false? Is it the illusion of a sense of control that is actually appealing? Are we striving to reach some ideal and going about it in the wrong way? Yes, obviously the human-imposed order of a home décor article is pretty, but I remain so unsure about why. What’s so pretty about a clean garage, rather than one with a mud puddle in the middle?
We find the unrealistic man-made order of interior design to be attractive, but I think it’s a mild attraction in comparison to real beauty. Like I said, it’s pretty, but even the most gorgeous homes aren’t awe-inspiring or breathtaking by any means. In nature real beauty is emotionally evocative, an experience I’ve never had staring at a pretty magazine picture. A wild and untamed vista of a meadow, or the chaotic swirl of the heavens, is enough to make our hearts sing—that is real raw beauty. I don’t think any human design can replicate the emotional hard-wired reaction of beauty, an alertness that happens before you think. The ridiculous effort of staging “real life” and the proliferation of false presentation in media seems to be some kind of misguided attempt to colour the lines in with beauty where there is no beauty.
We are trying too hard.