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.
The stuff that people advertise themselves with! Why this crazy bird? Why so big? Why hang it over a balcony?
I glimpsed it at 50 mph as I slowed down while passing through a seaside town and by reflex I shot it, as I usually do for things that jump out at me this way. Frankly, if it wasn’t the only thing of interest that I saw on that 15th of August, during my ‘picture a day’ work, I’d probably never bother with it. But because something from every day must be acknowledged this is the one that said to me, ‘…have gratitude for small and strange things.”
When I began making photographs in 1962, John Szarkowski was the head of Photography at MoMA, where he wrote his first book called, “The Photographer’s Eye,” and in it were many ideas about what happens when you use all the wonderful visual assets that photography offers, and to consider the challenge each posed.
One of the ideas was Vantage Point. The following is part of what he had to say about that way of looking at things.“If the photographer could not move his subject, he could move his camera. To see the subject clearly — often to see it at all — he had to abandon a normal vantage point, and shoot his picture from above, or below, or from too close, or too far away, or from the back side, inverting the order of things’ importance, …….”
Here, I was lying on a beach lounge, and when I looked up the combed cloud was gliding across the space between the 2 half seen umbrellas. Had I not been lying down exactly where I was my point of view would not have contained this thought.
The world is crazy! I walk into a shop that has both junk and antiques in the doorway, and inside was a picture of someone’s mind, a mind that developed over many years of selecting things, and those things shape the point of view of their world. Sometimes you see great visual style and recognition, and other times just a mash up of stuff as if its a rolling wave of junk that landed in somebody’s place.
So what to make of a dead cat with a slivery, papery, wooden looking surface, whose shape is still prowling and leaping at some long gone invisible prey. And it leaps over a rolled up modern poster, onto a scale with old weights and a huge wheel. On the shelf above it rests a stack of folded cartons, and above that is a strange cutout shelf that was probably made for a sink, by the shape of it, and then, above it, the kicker of it all is a chaos of wrought iron stands, and chairs, baskets and shelving. Is it a photograph? Or an inventory? I stepped back to look.
Perhaps it’s simply a record of a moment of surprise, one that keeps my mind and eye alert for the next strange thing that comes along. This game of sight of ours is often about staying ‘tuned’ to our own instrument, and being ready at a moment’s notice to play beautifully.
At the little beach side hotel we were staying in – a real Italian family kind of place – the husband and wife chefs turned out homey and delicious variations of classic Italian cuisine. We went in to see them at work and were so taken with their honesty and sweetness that I wanted to give something back to them, so I invited them out for a portrait.
I couldn’t ask for a more playful pair of lovebirds. He simply found her irresistible, she was his ‘dumpling,’ and he couldn’t keep from snuggling and hugging her, even dancing around together for a moment. I suddenly felt that their restaurant (sadly they didn’t come back the next year, business being really tough in Italy’s economy, and we really missed them on our next visit) was their little theater, and so I photographed them on their ‘stage’ set. It’s one of a lot of frames I made, but it’s easy affection and real warmth keeps me engaged.