Trick of the Light
The quiet that exists in European towns the day after Christmas is both eerie and peaceful, alternating between them both in ways that made us feel as if everyone had disappeared from the planet, and then grateful to be experiencing the town as the solitary travelers.
In the somewhat grim, darkened streets, the cold and damp was even more penetratingly chill and then, suddenly, a beam of light slipped out from under the cloud bank and struck home, and then was gone in barely the blink of an eye.
I don’t know if Aixienne is used as the name of those women who live in Aix-en-Provence, but the old costumes, and those faces, brought to memory some 19th century paintings of women from Arles, L’ Arlesienne, if I remember correctly, maybe it was van Gogh, in any case when I passed by the 2 women in Aix and took in the hair styles, and garments, I had a flash of how it must have looked when everyone wore clothes like this, and how each town or region in the back country must have had their own specific identity.
How different from our contemporary esthetic where ‘branding’ is the force that unites all towns, cities, and even members of a generation. And how in every town today we find the same fashion names on the shopfronts along the streets.
Sometimes I long for the mom and pop stores of the past with all their individuality.
I had to go to Milan for a show and talk. On the way the landscape whizzing by always has moments of surprising imagery. The 1000th of a second I shoot at in these situations still can’t always freeze what’s nearest to the camera, but things further away are not moving as fast so they are precisely defined.
I love the fragmentary quality of this kind of seeing and responding. It makes me extremely watchful for periods during every train trip I go on, because we never know what we might find interesting.
This new forest along the right of way was flickering by with light and shadows, and then I saw the opening with the scratchy lines in it, and the single white line in the distance. At 140 miles an hour there is barely time to register the event and make a shot. But I’ve learned to be in tune with this kind of seeing. That single white tree or pole, or whatever it was, seemed so beautiful to me!
Then, as the train pulled into the outer edges of Milan, structures, and the materiality of the outer edge of cities, begin to replace the simplicity of the countryside, and it always makes me realize how harsh an environment we all make, and then accept as a way of living.
This ‘way in’ to cities is evident all over the world now. A brutal form of ugliness in the architecture, and over it are scrawled the painted shouts of the minorities and immigrants who are pushed out there by the societies that accept them for their brute labor, but basically keep them penned up in these enclaves of sadness.
The politicians – everywhere – just don’t understand what should be done to make happy citizens, and yet it is right there in front of them.
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!
The day after the opening, right across the street from the Leica store in Florence, this little scene unfolded in all of 5 seconds. And then it was gone. As if it never existed. The street is like that. It gives and it goes away. My Leica is always ready.