Oh, those mornings! The spectacle of seeing through the watered sky. All that suspended moisture acting as prism, or screen, or veil, hiding things while revealing another dimension of seeing. And then that gift of silence that falls over the land as does the mist itself. It’s an offering of contemplation that makes every morning an invitation to go out into it.
Even though the beauty of it seems to be everywhere it still takes a kind of discrimination to see, not the superficial beauties, but those other characteristics that speak to one’s own sense of necessity.
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.
A lazy mist drifted through and over the valleys that the road rolled through, so that at times I was above the clouds and then down under them. It felt a little like flying. And it was dreamy too, in that same way that flight can make you feel when passing through the clouds at 30,000 feet.
Up ahead the mist spooled across the road, and the moment felt timeless. The thing that separated me from the old world, it seemed, were the little pings of reflected light to mark the borders of the road. Out there was timelessness, inside the modern machine, with a camera in my hands, I could make a photograph at 50 mph and still get good quality, and a degree of sharpness that tells me how good our technology really is. It is important to be able to count on it that way and thus not have any fear about what the outcome will be.
I’ve basically used the same equipment for 50+ years. I don’t keep changing cameras, or go into the equipment mind set searching for the latest toys. For me the Leica and a good 35mm lens, and that’s all I need to say what I see, and to stay open to the act of seeing the world freshly.
Ordinary things still surprise me. A hay bale for instance, rolled up in the fashion of today’s farming methods, is often just pitched into the stall for the cows to chomp it down in their own sweet time. But here it unspooled itself when the wrapper was cut, and mimicked the wave that was already set in motion by the winds while the grain was growing in the fields earlier that summer.
While standing in front of it, the ‘object’ it became was satisfying to look at in unexpected ways, and led me to both see it for what it was, and to reconsider it for the other non-objective properties it held. I saw the color it became in it’s season of drying, I looked at the light it appeared in in the darkness of the stall, I thought about the flatness it presented while at the same time being enriched with curves, swirls, and eruptions of forms that splintered out along its edges. All these small thoughts made me stand there staring at a hay bale!
At times I wonder how these simple things have taken hold of me; a city boy whose love of the messy mix of speed and life on the streets has been overtaken by the study of stillness in the form of natural or man made things. It must be a certain time of life I’ve entered. I am taking ‘long looks’ at things that earlier slipped by and now call out for consideration.
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.
And I did.
Looks are Deceiving
Coming back from a late walk on our country road we heard the rasp of a motorcycle bearing down on us fast, I whirled, camera blazing, and gunned him down. Well, it wasn’t as wild west as all that, more like; I turned, guessed at the aperture and speed at that hour, something the Leica is great for and allows intuition and memory to serve in the moment, and made 3 frames of him coming past us, and the lovely hour, and the sweet space of the road curving away into the hills.
It was one of those magical moments when the quiet of the past is settling over the land, and then the intruder – mechanization – comes bursting into the silence, but is gone in a moment leaving behind a slowly returning quiet. I felt that this photograph meant all that to me, even though it looks like a road at dusk, with a headlamp on a motorcycle blazing into our eyes.
Looks are deceiving.
Some things are just pleasing because they are. Not for the graphics which certainly could be a part of the pleasure too, of course, but for some small and barely noticeable relationship which plays the eye for only a second, but is enough to tell the brain to consider its potential.
For me the clusters of foliage of the lecco tree, like a big broccoli, and they way they hold the light along their tops, brought me into connection with the clusters of clouds dissolving and reorganizing every second. Somehow they relate for me, the near and far, the substantial and the vaporous, the varied greens and the luminous whites. The pleasure of standing still for a minute to take in the world as it is.
I find this form of discovery a kind of play that is both serious and light handed, and it keeps my instrument tuned.
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.
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.