Chairs are sitting everywhere. And as I wrote earlier this month, I have been collecting them in a steady but casual way for many years, slowly watching them build a presence in my archive. I have no doubt that one day I’ll find the time to take a hard look at the collection to see if it is worth publishing as a book.
What I like about this particular body of work is that I’m not out hunting for them to become a set of photographs. The work grows on its own like a kind of ‘folk art’ collection of oddities that accumulates its strength from the variety of the objects in it.
What pleases me in this photograph, besides the contrast between the two value systems within the frame (the place and the chairs) is the amazing object the chairs make when seen stacked that way. The chair’s simple form becomes a rich and beautifully graphic result as a single design motif, in a way it is just like all the wooden beading everywhere in the paneling. It accumulates by simple addition until we take in the wonder of it. That coat rack ain’t so bad either.
For many years I have come across chairs, both humble or grand, sitting out in the world waiting to be sat in or carted away. These relics have shown their personalities to me in a variety of countries and cities, and in some strange way I have become a collector of them, but to what end I never knew. Oh, yes, I’ve thought, and maybe even said to friends, “some day I’d like to put a book together with these chairs,” but it hasn’t happened yet.
While in Florence for the opening of the Leica store I mentioned in the last post, I wound my way through the back streets to get to know the place a little better. Of course the chairs found me, or I them. On that day these 2 showed up, and while I was on the streets some hand made wall messages also called out for attention.
I particularly liked the one that says, “place your hand to be tele-transported,” And I was!
I went to visit with my friend, the photographer Paolo Ventura, in his studio on the far side of Tuscany. At some point he took a seat on his own hand painted set where he usually has characters from the 40’s and 50’s playing out his stories and dreams. In fact he usually plays some of the characters. But here he was just himself, and to me he looked like he belonged there in that barren, spindly, woodland, almost like a lost traveller in a dreamscape, or a contemporary version of the sage sitting alongside the road, which one finds in those School of Siena paintings of the 1500’s. Slightly wild-eyed or mad, or possessed, which he is.
Being read a story in the late hours of a warm summer day is a little like being a kid again and submitting to the pleasures of the tale and dreaming while listening. Those evening readings were pure joy and often, while Maggie was reading, I would photograph her, or sometimes make a video so I could hold on to the sweetness of the memory of that time in our lives. That was the year we decided to come back to live full time in Italy.
The halo of light around her head in the darkening of the day, and her physical concentration and intensity, like an actress preparing for a role and searching for the ‘voice’ of the character, kept me glued to her every nuance of gesture and tone. Little observations like that, even with someone you know well, can give an ordinary moment meaning.
Sometimes just sitting around and talking offers unexpected gestures and expressions, and can often lead to a kind of intimate portraiture that doesn’t depend on the ‘pose,’ but rather flows from the state of being you and the subject find themselves in. Especially when it is family or friends, and the camera doesn’t present an intrusive presence into the mix.
I love this relaxed way of seeing, and in a way it is like street photography, but the kind where one is simply out for a walk and living in the wonder of the present moment. It’s always the present in photography.
Proof of Interest
For many years now I have seen dispossessed chairs hanging out wherever chance has tossed them, like old souls left on their own after a long and faithful service. Like us they have backs and arms and legs and feet and definitely bottoms, some even have a head of sorts. All of which, in some way, may make them so compelling. I have also photographed chairs within more noble or comfortable circumstances; thrones, Cardinal’s chairs, cushy corporate ones, and in nearly every imaginable location.
In fact, during my time working inside Ground Zero, one of the most surprising first sights was the unbelievable numbers of chairs that had been thrown from the buildings and remained intact upon landing! These chairs became the bleachers from which the exhausted rescue and recovery workers watched the amazing daily drama while taking their breaks. Every chair you might conceive of, from the most elegant to the most humble, found its way back to being useful once again.
How did I begin to notice ‘chairs’ as a subject? If I remember correctly it was while working on the light box (remember the light box?) when one day, while I was editing for something else, I noticed some funny chair pictures and tossed them to the top of the box, and then as others appeared I found myself becoming aware that this was a theme that I had not really known I was interested in. But the proof of interest was in the pictures that were appearing. And so I began looking out for them while editing and being more aware of them while out on the street.
I believe that it’s important to be open to the suggestive impulses that emerge, either from the world, or out of the work, for these clues have in them the clearest indication of our natural, instinctive responses, our identity even, and also some sense of the consciousness we may be overlooking when we act in more premeditated ways.