A Brick Beach is what Siena’s main piazza reminds me of. Thousands of people can fit into this fan shaped, south sloping, herring bone patterned arena, and they do, every day during the tourist season. It is here that one can walk among them and feel free to photograph everyone. It has that special vibe where no one feels taken advantage of by a photographer’s curiosity. I used to bring my street photography classes here back when I had a photography workshop from 1995 to 2001. This was always a great place to look at life in all its surprising and playful combinations.
Turn the Table
A documentary was being filmed by Ralph Goertz, the head of IKS – Institut für Kunstdokumentation – in Dusseldorf. We had been working on this for several years and he came down to Tuscany to film me working with the view camera along the coast. He’s made over 70 documentaries about artists, but mostly about photographers. He’s an amazing, easy going, and balletic filmmaker. Last year, at my Retro show in Dusseldorf, the film premiered at NRW Forum where he was also the curator for the show.
It’s always fun to turn the tables on someone who is filming you and do it back to them. If nothing else it becomes a record of the moment, and that has value too.
A blistering hot summer day at the Tuscan shore. After a swim and a short nap I opened my eyes and saw the light coming through the umbrella, and then the pure blue of the sky. My first impression was of being under a sundial and that it was around noon, and sure enough, it was.
I love the amazing amount of information, even in such a simple image as this. The difference in tone and color between one side of the white nylon and the other, the subtle density difference between one end of the shadow and the other, the way the sliver of blue hovers above the black frame of the umbrella and then continues beyond. It is this kind of ‘describing’ things to myself that enlivens my attention and keeps me interested in the things that might easily go unnoticed. It’s this ‘paying attention’ that makes photography such a vital form for me.
Every so often I am reminded by something I see right in front of me, of Saul Steinberg, that great New Yorker magazine artist who did the famous poster showing New York City and the avenues going west to the river and then beyond to the bleak view of the distant American emptiness. His characters often were shown in ridiculous outfits and social postures which showed us all how crazy we actually look while we think we are pretty sophisticated.
So when I see someone like this guy on the beach, a faceless, strangely shaped human being, Steinberg pops into my head. Of course I love the pair of hands under the sunny towel and the way they relate to the figure of the man, although I couldn’t explain how they relate, except to say to me they made sense, photographic sense, in that something happens when I look from one to the other, a kind of connectivity between the hands that you don’t see and the pair that you do.
The 6 month lease on the car we were using was up, and we had to go to the return place near Fiumicino, Rome’s airport. On the way back, in a newly leased Peugeot, we had the need to actually see the sea. But what a gritty stretch of used up and run down, Roman getaway string of beaches! After 15 minutes of trying to find some way on to the beaches we spent 5 minutes on the sand when Maggie said to me, “are you having fun here?” And up we got, but on the way off the beach I saw this dreamer drawing figures in the air, with a matching umbrella to boot.
Later, on a pull off near a gas station, I saw the burnt out wreckage of a tractor trailer and immediately pulled in to see what I might scavenge for my still lives. But on getting closer, and smelling that particular odor of burned metal, rubber, plastic, and assorted other materials, I was overcome by my memories of those smells, and this kind of physical ‘look,’ which I still carry with me from my 9 months inside Ground Zero.
I don’t know what the fascination is. Perhaps it’s seeing a whole thing reduced to its melted components while still retaining something of its original shape. To see this transformation and take the time to walk around it and consider it from every point of view, brings up a lot of thoughts and ideas, and sometimes a fresh image can appear.
While walking around this truck I was reminded of the time when a whale was washed up on the shore in Provincetown, not far from my house, and how it drew the attention of everyone who passed by on the beach. It was a solemn parade, with people needing to go over to it and stroke and commune with the now dead, but still mighty form.