After the car rolled over 3 times.
I have to admit that the death of my brother has thrown me. Add to that my long return flight to Italy, and jet lag, the arrival of guests tomorrow, and my need to go ‘On Press’ early in the week, and I can see that the time needed to really devote myself to thinking, posting and writing over the next few days, will be tough to find.
So I’d like to put up a suite of days to give me some breathing room.
9-19 Dear friends arrive with baby Chayton.
9-20 Gianni brought this character to stand guard.
9-21 Chayton and Pasta form a lasting relationship.
9-22 An older woman slipped on the moss in the old Roman hot springs. But was OK.
9-23 Our dear workshop cook, Lisena, made a homey Italian family dinner for all of us.
Laughter, sunlight, a naked kid, a moment of joy made out of the simplest connections. The connection is ephemeral, but the energy in the frame comes from the connection of moments between the people, which will dissolve in another second of so, and yet the camera, with its fraction of a second capability, sees into those moments and stills them into the distillation of the larger moment. The human moment. That’s what it’s all about.
Father and son out for a 30K bike ride stopped by for a glass of water and a hello. It’s Gianni, our closest friend for 20 years and his son Giovanni, who we know since he was 5. I make photographs of Gianni because he is always so expressive in a purely Italian way. And funny too!
Every gesture, which is such a complex part of Italian expression, is is rich with undertones and expletives, world views and commentary, and every conversation circles around to the state of being of contemporary life, mainly in Tuscany, but also in the larger world. Physical gestures are the matrix of photographs, and even when you know someone well it pays to keep reading their animated expressive side for clues to their persona.
Maggie’s Birth Day
We went to a friend’s restaurant knowing we’d have great food and a good time, and it was even better and funnier than we expected. Celebrations are great moments for making pictures for all the usual reasons; the special moment, the memories, the friends who one day won’t be around but are captured in their liveliest expressions and stay that way for us. Here are four women from 16 to 66 who span the generations yet look so comfortable and beautiful together
Often the camera does things that can only show up as visible in a photograph; that’s the magic of the medium. Maggie ‘s cake came out with a sparkler blazing away, and when I made the shot the sparkler had a fraction of a moment of less sparkle before exploding again, and in that space the shutter – at 1/ 30th of a second – was open long enough to make 2 recordings of everything.
Then someone put on a Berlusconi mask and just as in his real life the women flocked to him. And here again an accidental ‘catch’ occurred, someone else’s flash went off just as I opened my shutter and it produced this ‘bronzy,’ garish color and hard light.
Smoke, following the slightest draft of air, trailed behind the guy with the hose. All I could smell was the Tuscan roasting going on; wild boar, pheasant, pigeons, and sausages, but that was only my olfactory sense, while my optical side, as always, was watching for something that could be made from nothing.
Italian families! So much affection, gentleness and concentration on babies when they come. On our way home from the seaside we stopped to see an old friend whose new son was drawing all eyes his way just by being his bubbly small self. Or was he so happy just because of all the attention pouring into him? Probably goes both ways in that circle.
Shooting little kids may seem like easy pickings, but they shouldn’t be seen only as ‘cute,’ like kittens, or beautiful, like flowers, they are amazingly communicative and expressive little beings whose personae, and expression, although limited by their size and verbal skills, still make them interesting subjects. Witness those Diane Arbus photographs of kids in which their fears and pain make them powerful subjects. I always thought those images of hers were a big step toward a tough body of work in an area we think of as cliché.
We have had a special friendship with Gianni for 20 years. It was his character and generosity that led us to think about starting our own workshops in Tuscany 20 years ago. At that time he was the director of a large azienda; Castelnuovo Tancredi, on which there was a castle and 7 renovated farmhouses capable of holding 40-50 people. The castle was lived in by the owner, who at 102 is still living there! And who danced at our wedding when she was 87.
So, Gianni is, for us, and I know for many other people too, a special keeper of the flame of old Tuscany. And it is with him that we frequently go off on jaunts around the countryside searching for old treasures that carry the history of the region. And this year we have taken a studio all together to make a kind of museum out of these finds, and also to work on our own projects in. But when I made these images 2 years ago, while doing the picture a day project, we were just finding our way to living here more regularly.
Maggie has learned her Italian by speaking with Gianni who is immensely patient with us, and is a great communicator himself, while not speaking a word of English. I find that I can photograph our lives as if I was out on the street anywhere in the world, and that this trio we make provides countless picture opportunities. It brings up that same lesson again and again; do not treat the intimate space of family as if it was off limits for doing serious work.
You Will Be Surprised
When I am out walking with Maggie (who, among many other professions during a well lived life, was a dancer) the unpredictable often happens, so carrying a camera is a foregone conclusion. She, spins, and kicks, and runs and laughs, like a 6 year old, and she is more than 10 times that, but her energy and humor are part of the bounty she has brought into my life. Every so often I think; ‘why haven’t I made a book about her?’
While considering a photograph for today’s blog this one popped into view, as did that thought once again. I must have a thousand photographs of Maggie from our 20+ years together, probably more. This is a photographer’s dilemma; the thought that someone close to you is not the stuff of a book. In fact the family and loved ones constitute a great subject for an intimate work, if only we are willing to take the time to look closely at what we have. It also is a portrait of how one ages. Consider Nick Nixon’s series of the four, Brown sisters. When looking at them we see the wear and tear of lives spanning 40 years which, even without words, is an amazing document that grows deeper with each reading and every year.
So, look into your files for those images that you though were too personal, or too familiar, and try looking at them as if you were a stranger who has discovered this trove in a flea market trunk, the way John Maloof discovered Vivian Maier. You will be surprised.