After a long day of rain the break came around dusk. The air was saturated with moisture but it almost felt like color was part of the moistness, as if I was breathing in pinkness! There was even a fragrance on the air as if the ground was exhaling it’s perfumes after a long dry summer, and at that moment it was water, bourne up from the ground as droplets of the exchange between ground and air. All the elements were at play.
Earth, air, water, and the light was the last fire of the sun, and it kindled every thing together into a bloom of evening beauty. I always try and choose to put myself in the way of beauty.
In The Moment
The wind came, a sirocco, an African wind that crosses the Mediterranean and blows sometimes for days, driving people a little crazy with its relentless howling. It starts innocently enough and then just keeps coming until you can’t stand it anymore. Here at the beginning of the blow it darkened the skies and carried a smell on the air that might have been some of the desert’s dust still bearing the arid scent of ancient sea bottom.
Photographing the elements is something I have been trying to do for a while, but in another form, simpler, purer, without the horizon to make it familiar, just the phenomena of each of the elements. It’s not been easy to make them interesting, but I still work on it whenever the potential image appears. Yet, when the wind blows and the sky goes heavy I respond wherever I am, because that is all we can do; to try to be in the moment, in the place where we find ourselves.
I have only seen this kind of cloud formation 3 or 4 times in my life. Each time I am filled with a kind of awe about the mystery and potential it portrays, and I find I am drawn to standing out in whatever the weather will be that accompanies it. I try to imagine what the tops of the clouds look like, up there in the bright sun above them, while down below the menace and roiling, bulbous forms suggest a fierce climatic doom may be upon us.
And then it passes. Blown away like all moments, no matter if they are angry or benign, they just go on about their endlessly dissolving – one can’t say merry – way into becoming something else. For me this is a reminder that photography, like nature, is made of continuously unfolding moments that are rich with the rare and unexpected gatherings of energy, all of which are individually addressed to each of us.
Some years ago I began a series called “The Elements,” in which I was trying to see if I could photograph the phenomena of the 4 elements without resorting to the conventions of traditional renaissance perspective where there was a horizon line and diminishing markers of distance. I asked myself, ‘can I photograph the simple fact of each of our 4 phenomena; Air, Water, Earth, Fire, in such a way as to make them the pure statement of the thing itself?’
I began looking at sky, sea, earth, etc and realized that this could be close to being the most familiar and boring photographs one could make. Dumb images of dirt? Still photographs of water in a pool or lake? But my thought was to make them BIG, really large scale, say 10 feet high by 12 or more feet long; and I did make some like that for a show in Germany, where they were well received and collected.
I continue to add to that body of work whenever something speaks to me. Here was a moment when the light was going, and a stream of buttermilk clouds slowly drifted into view, and I found myself in that frame of mind where studying the sky for a while was a purely pleasurable experience, and what could be a better stimulant than pleasure for making photographs?