The Continuous Line
When Maggie and I moved to Europe two years ago we decided to make a project together by alternately drawing a simple line across a piece of paper, and then the next day one of us would continue that line from wherever it ended on the sheet. We did it for 365 days. Here is the run of days at this time 2 years ago. Seeing all 365 laid out around a room becomes an amazing journey.
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.
For many years I have come across chairs, both humble or grand, sitting out in the world waiting to be sat in or carted away. These relics have shown their personalities to me in a variety of countries and cities, and in some strange way I have become a collector of them, but to what end I never knew. Oh, yes, I’ve thought, and maybe even said to friends, “some day I’d like to put a book together with these chairs,” but it hasn’t happened yet.
While in Florence for the opening of the Leica store I mentioned in the last post, I wound my way through the back streets to get to know the place a little better. Of course the chairs found me, or I them. On that day these 2 showed up, and while I was on the streets some hand made wall messages also called out for attention.
I particularly liked the one that says, “place your hand to be tele-transported,” And I was!
The camera is a time machine. It measures time in fractions of a second. It shows us the time of day. It describes the seasons. It reflects what kind of time we are having, if you look hard enough you might be able to see something of what the photographer was feeling, but that is open to discussion I am sure.
A photograph of a wall like this one tells me a lot. It’s not just about the colors – which are delicious – or the time of day it was made, but when I stood there what I saw was the passage of time etched into the life of the wall. The layers of color applied over different times of the building’s life. The wearing down of the colors and the walls themselves. The addition of a window, or a doorway, the closing up again, and other, invisible forces, too. For example; those arcs on the wall, how did they get there? They must have been from vines that grew over the wall and were strong enough to score the surface as the wind tossed them around, and like a protractor they left their geometry scraped into the wall.
Time is told in this image by the sense of the freshening of the light. A spring urgency is just becoming visible in the newness of the grasses and in the silver glitter of the olive trees. Time is present to me in the way I feel on a day like this, when I wonder, ‘how many more Springs will I see?’
State of Play
Sometimes the liveliest things on the street, especially in a small town in Provence where no one ever seems to be around, are the vestiges of inanimate things that suddenly appear. My way of working is to respond to whatever comes up for me out of my passage through time and space. It could be nearly meaningless, ordinary, dumb, or unlikely to be of greater interest later on, it doesn’t matter, it is the only thing that is speaking to me at that given instant, and that is what I have to work with.
Anything that makes me pay attention, even for just a moment, is one more moment of consciousness, and once again a trickle of playful energy occupies my mind. It is this willingness to make something of nothing that primes my senses for whatever may follow that moment. I find that if I do not play when something calls to me then I lose my edge, soI let myself be taken in, and I play. And by doing so my innocence is capable of being prompted by the unexpected when it next shows up.
And we know that as we get older the innocent joy of discovery gets whittled away by all the other responsibilities that life throws at us, which distracts us from that state of play. So a moment of open ended curiosity, and the freedom to see in a care less way, is a gift we must not turn away from.
We are now 25 days into our line project and just today we saw the scale of the task we set for ourselves. How are we ever going to keep being inventive with the simple stroke of a line as our subject? We laughed when we recognized the futility of any resistance to the subject and the project. This is in the name of fun we agreed, a no-holds-barred kind of fun, where we can throw away any doubt that arises.
Perhaps it was actually seeing what variety we have already made that gave us doubt about our own capacities to add more to it, but after a few minutes of looking at the pages we felt better about the effort and the results so far.
So we’ll step forward one stroke at a time and watch the slow accumulation of the line as it dances across the pages and through our time in Europe.