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.
The Duomo in Milan is one of the largest churches in the world, and like so many cathedrals of this scale it took a long time to be completed, close to 800 years. The sculptures on the facade came last, probably sometime in the early 1800’s.
When I was there I saw an amazing pair of figures, which although I have seen the building before I had never noticed the detail in the drapery covering – or not – the figure on the right. It is an astonishing image for the front of a church.
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.
How many times do we see something while driving, then pull over, leap out of the car, and race into the picture space to capture what it was that called out to us? Here, while opening the door and reaching for the camera, I saw the frame within the frame and the way the mist seemed to have slightly different densities between the two. I made the photograph and then stepped out to be in the space more fully.
And although it was lovely being out there with the rolling mist and the small scale of the buildings on the far hill, it was the odd presence of the door’s shape that made the frame,e more playful and interesting.
You know the expression; ‘I went to see a man about a dog.‘ Well on this day, we did. Gianni’s sheep dog had a litter of 10 and one of them was promised to a man who was for many years the man behind the Armani brand, now retired to a grand country estate nearby. As you can see from this dovecote, if a birdhouse can look this good imagine the rest.
He’s a kind and generous man who walked us all around his place with evident pride and pleasure. We went through woodland and pasture and vineyards and rolling hills and then through an amazing house. There was so much to see that I wanted to come back with my view camera and make some pictures that the place deserves. But for the moment these few notes are just the tip of the many places I responded to while with him.
But the mud/boot room takes the cake. What a holy ‘chamber,’ and for boots!
Note: we were without internet for 2 days and it held up sending these 2 posts.
Night is a great moment to step outside of where you live to look at where you live. It is different to see it at night. Another layer of mystery might be revealed about why any one of us chooses to live any where. So night time can tell us a lot about ourselves. Well…maybe.
Around the back I came across the two chairs we sometimes sit or lie on. They sat in the last radiance of the day and seemed to glow. Chairs that I would never think of photographing, but how could I not in this light?
And the house itself, when I turned back to it, seemed so inviting that I found myself standing there, saying ‘who lives there?’ I was happy to remember that it was me. It was so simple and innocent and inviting, that I simply raised the camera to acknowledge the ordinary, but welcoming sight it has become.
Right out my front door! The sheep often come by, bells jingling, dogs herding, and the shepherd, a strong, silent presence who merely needs to move his shoulders, or body, a certain way and all the sheep move where the silent message sends them. Sometimes it’s a whistle, or a precise grunt on his part, and the sheep come to a standstill.
Magical. Like the stuff of fables. But to see it still alive in our world today is to connect immediately to what the past must have been like, with flocks of sheep moving over the fields everywhere, and shepherds, their silent guardians, living on the land with them as a large integrated unit.
The year before, when I encountered him way out in the fields, I made a portrait of him, and when he passed by today I brought it out for him. He looked at it, and I believe he couldn’t quite believe it was him, so unused to a mirror is he.
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.
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.
Libera, a 70 year old contadina (farm woman of the old school variety from the time of serfs and padrones) is still working the land by hand. We stop by every few days to pick up tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, onions, and whatever else is ready at that moment, not to mention oil and wine when necessary. It is a great pleasure to see her smiling face and experience her generosity, both so easily given.
Here, I was driving past on my way home and stopped to chat for a moment, and just the simplicity of her presence, her earthy stance, the old wall behind her, the ordinariness of it all made me reach for the camera. These simple moments are precious, no attitude, no becoming something she is not. She’s just there, rooted to the earth, part of the spirit of the place.