Maybe it’s the season changing, but something from the landscape kept coming over me. The summer had been a brutally hot one, and the land baked day after day, and seemed to be unyielding even though wheat and sunflowers grew abundantly. Perhaps it’s the first few cool days and the light’s new, revealing power that made me conscious again of the space I live in.
I walked in the freshly turned land and could sense my small scale relative to the land’s vastness, and tried to make a photograph from that gut feeling. I ask myself, and have for many years now, ‘can I photograph from the gut with the eye being less of a primary force?’
The light in the house has changed too, and turned the tall space of what was once the hayloft into a camera obscura, projecting the arched shape of the window on the wall for a 20 minute exposure, in which the form of the acacia tree outside drew itself across the wall like a silent movie screen playing a slow motion fade out.
It’s lovely to see how natural and simple the principles of photography, before it was photography, continue to make their presence felt. I can easily imagine how in earlier times, say the 15th century (probably well before that too), people had these same ‘momentary visions’ come and go inside their homes, but were unable to hold on to them until Louis Daguerre and William Henry Fox Talbot figured out how to fix the image for later study.
This time 2 years ago I was working own a set of still lives of objects I made in Cezanne’s studio in Aix-en-Provence. I remember putting them together in a large test strip to see how they printed, but also to see if they had any power, or were of interest to me. Putting things up on a wall and living with them for a few days has long been my method. That way I can catch glimpses of them out of the corner of my eye as I walk past, or I can sit and stare and wait to see if something comes back to me. A new idea, a critical thought, a moment of pleasure, all the things one hopes their work will do when out in the public space.
It was early in the day when I pinned the strip up and the room was shadowed. Then I went to town to get groceries and some other errands, and when I came back the sun had crept around and was washing the wall with a pointing finger on one of the objects I liked best. I felt that little kick to my heart, the flutter of excitement when something seems to resolve itself and offer a new possibility and the enthusiasm to go forward in that direction with full force.
Most of this still life work has been made in the dark or near dark of my studio, but when I saw a slice of light falling through a crack in the covered skylight – a change in the season allowed the sun to be there for 5 minutes – striking this talismanic figure ,I sensed that I should spend some time seeing where it would take me. It was only then that I saw the marking on the box behind the figure, which for some reason seemed to read as a falling figure, the kind one would see in a painting by Bosch, and then of course I couldn’t look at the box without seeing it that way.
How often does that happen? Something is right there but it remains invisible until the right combination of elements makes it visible, and then a fresh start is possible.
This was a day of generosity. In a nearby small town I came across this beautiful bunting wrapped, church doorway. No doubt ready for a procession for a saint’s day, or a wedding, or who knows what festive event the town was making, but it made me happy just looking at the way the space was redefined by some simple fabric hanging on the facade.
Then, returning home, a bounty of offerings appeared; Silvia came by with a cake she just baked, then her mother-in-law stopped by with some fresh ricotta she had made from the new sheep they recently bought, then a man from Buonconvento, on the way to his sister’s place, stopped by to bring us a box of figs from his amazingly productive tree. All that, and some eggplants from the garden, which I roasted and turned into baba ganouj became a summer dinner. And a still life, and a portrait of a building. You work with what you have.
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.
I was walking through the living room when this slash of light caught my attention. It dissolved the wall in a way that made the mirror’s rectangle, and the space within it, part of the graphic energy of the place, with the doorways and windows behind. And there I was; looking into the image and suddenly a self portrait suggested itself.
I don’t make a lot of self portraits, or I haven’t for many years, and seeing myself there, on the first year of living in Europe, I sensed that it was time to record who I was at that moment, and perhaps make more of them now and then so that at this age, (75) I could watch myself in the process of aging, just to see how it all turns out.
August is the time of year, it seems, when friends passing through Tuscany make their way to your door. In popped Ciro, now in our life for 20 years! That in itself is amazing! When we started our Tuscany Photography and Writing Workshops here in 1995 he was our first assistant along with his buddy, Giorgio, and we have stayed in each others lives all this time. It’s been great to see their work grow, watch them flounder around with girl friends, marriages that come and go, children being born, new work being created and new risks taken, and at the same time watch them grow older, like our own children are doing. It’s real life!
Maggie’s closest friend here, Luana, stopped by for a chat, and when I stood with them for a moment listening to their back and forth, I saw how even in an unglamorous setting, one with harsh lighting, plus the awkward frame of the doorway, a ‘moment’ could still be found where something interesting, in this case a gesture, could be read as strange, or at least visually intriguing. And then Maggie’s hand shooting into the edge of the frame suddenly gave me the impulse to shoot.
Of course Luana is something to see all on her own, a combination of a real, earthy, country woman, with an Italian movie star. So even if she is telling Maggie,”….I have this pain here…” it still provides an interesting, open ended moment.
There are 2 kinds of light; natural and man made, and often we find ourselves in the presence of both but fail to consider the photographic possibilities that their dissonance presents. I’ve been looking at this phenomenon for 40 years now, ever since I started using the large format camera in 1976, and I am always pleased to take a few moments to look hard and see the ways in which the color temperatures of the light play against each other. There always seems to be a photograph out there.
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.