A Shadow of the Light
A young friend from Paris came for a visit. We decided to show him a mysterious old settlement called ‘the Bories,’ up in the woods above Bonnieux, Ancient nomadic people, perhaps Celtic shepherds, or so the legend suggests, built stone bee-hive and igloo- like structures, in groups of 30 or more dwellings and animal pens.
This place, long abandoned, has an air of spirituality and power that is still undeniably present. Each time we visit it courses through us with the same intensity. Over time, other visitors, some artistically inclined, have added things to the structures; woven branch roofs, stone circles, odd objects that set off the modern against the ancient, and other strangely affecting gestures.
On the day we were there I saw, nestled in a stone wall, this rock on which Nature, in its effortlessly creative way, dissolved a leaf over time and left this negative image. It reminded me of how, at the dawn of photography, the early inventors also made a shadow of the light to mark their moment. If photography is about anything it is about that; light over time.
Brands and symbols
The Mayor’s office is in this building. Why all the arrows? What did it mean, back whenever they built this place, to fill the void’s arc with arrows flying toward a sun? Why is it called God’s House? I know some of our French readers will let me in on the story, but while I walked the streets of Bonnieux I always found myself discovering these vestiges of the past that play differently in today’s world of symbols. And what will the future readers of our municipal leavings make of our logos and brands and symbols?
I don’t often collect this kind of imagery, it seems too static and perhaps too easy to pluck it out of the surround and stick it in the file, and then what? But on the other hand, sometimes these odd musings on time’s leftovers can lead the way to a fresh thought about something that may be there in a corner of our minds and we don’t yet know it. So I carried this away with me – it’s so light – and I remembered that once before, for Maggie, who’s a writer, I found a doorway arch just like this, and it had a lovely and elegant metal hand holding a pen!
I did add it to the file.
Every once in a while I find myself stopped by some indefinable sensation, as if a have just passed though a ‘locus point’, a zone of visual force that tingles in such a way that I look around to get my bearings. “What is here that is holding me”? Usually we respond to things that can be defined easily, a space, a tree, some figures doing something, a whole range of sensations that we know how to organize. But when there is nothing as concrete as that how does one make a photograph?
I have learned to trust those ‘calls’. Learned way back when I was first using the 8×10 view camera and working on my St. Louis commission. It happened to me one day right in the heart of downtown St. Louis. Nothing specific, just a feeling that something in the zone in front of me was whispering my name, stopping me from moving on. I remember yielding to the instinct and setting up the 8×10 and waiting to see where the call was coming from.
The image here was pretty much the same thing. Nothing going on but the voluptuous mess of nature. No beautiful arrangement, or scaled relationships, or counterpoint between near and far. Just chaos. Just the indefinite, overall, layered, complexity of nature, as if it had a mind of its own which presented a thought that was purely natural, not within the bounds of the esthetics we have applied to it for centuries of landscape painting and photography, nothing but the rawness of IT.
I would like to apologize to some of my readers for a confusion I may have let creep in when writing this blog about the year’s worth of photographs I have made. Sometimes my tense slips between past and present as it did the other day. So let me reiterate again that I finished this work a year ago and then let it sit while I worked on the accumulated days, and then decided to reflect on that passage of time, so perhaps my enthusiasm gets the better of my grammar.
Sometimes a crazy, meaningless collection of objects, spaces, colors, light, and actions all come into play at once, and from it might come the call to pay attention to this hodge podge of stuff in front of us. I think hodge podge comes from an old Dutch or French word meaning a soup made from whatever was left lying around, probably meaning a hot pot, or something like that. In Amsterdam I once saw a Dutch historical painting where there was a hot pot made for the masses who were celebrating the Spanish defeat, or something like that. Anyway, as we know, sometimes a mess of a stew can be delicious!
And although this frame isn’t exactly delicious, it is interesting to me just how much it continues to hold its own and make me want to look at it again. A little uncertainty is useful sometimes as it presses the argument. First, there’s the sculpted figure on a marble block about the same size as that car, (not to mention that the figure seems to be an early prototype of the model draped over the car hood to show its curves, just look at that head and chest) and then around her head is the corona of the tree’s limbs which, when seen in relation to the crane’s beam and the lines to the light poles, both fill and fracture the space in provocative ways. And there is an interesting ‘read’ to the overall space through the way the figures – statue/car/couple – diminish on an angle all their own. I would bet that were I to print this at 60 inches the image would invite us to look harder and pay us back with interest.
It’s open-ended pictures like this that I believe help refine our sensibilities and enable us, in fact, urge us, to look more thoughtfully at all the spaces and moments we pass through. Let’s accept that there is nothing much going on here of note, but that it still has some kind of pull in spite of that shortcoming. I would rather make a flawed, but interesting to consider photograph, than a more successful image that uses conventional forms to tell its tale.
How many vineyards are there? It seems as if every road in the Luberon Valley of Provence is laced with endless rows of vines, and they are all beautiful in their way, whether it’s their sheer commercial production beauty and organization, or older, pre-mechanization vineyards that have a different spacing for their mature vines.
But every once in a while I come across one of these newer vineyards where the young plants have been collared with a plastic tube, something which sounds like it will only add an ugly note to the landscape, but which, at least here in this flat, but still backlit light, offered me something to stop and take a look at. I always trust my instinct when that tiny ‘Zen bell’ goes off in my head and says to me, “hey, what’s the hurry”.
Stepping out into the space is always a moment to take a fresh look! What’s here? Why do these dumb plastic tubes call out to me so strongly? Perhaps it’s just the pure color note they bring to the earth tones and the new green, maybe its their relationship to the veiled and slightly blue haze on the hillsides, generating a kind of ugly beauty which makes a new harmony. Or perhaps its their repetition and the visual mathematics of scale, with the neon blue buzzing as it diminishes in size all the way back to the horizon.
Whatever it is it tests the limits of what can make a photograph on any given day. So, on this day, this is the most memorable of my visions, and yet it is made of so little as to almost be without value. Yet I remember every sensation!
Never Say No
There are roads in Provence that can break your heart. This road near the town of St. Remy is one I have traveled almost every time I come to the region, and in fact it is so moving to me that I published two pictures made along its course in our book,”Provence: Lasting Impressions”. In those images the trees are leafed out in the fulness of summer, and again when fall burnished their leaves a rusty gold.
Now, on a wintry day, with flawless sunlight etching every detail into my eye, the white bones of the trees are singing against the blue dome of the sky. I’m not stopping – as I have done before, to dance in the middle of the road and play in the oncoming traffic – but I’m driving straight through and letting the windshield be my frame while the miles of trees fill and empty it as I pass.
I love this road and how I feel whenever I am on it. It always feels new to me, and yet it touches an ancient nerve where the definition of ‘road beauty’ lies in wait to be awakened once again. I remain susceptible to these quirks of mine and never fail to respond even if it seems as if I have had enough of them to last a lifetime. And I may have. But I believe in letting loose the arrows in my quiver whenever the impulse arises. That gesture, that Yes!, is my tipping of the hat to the spirits that have guided me to respond to the world for more than 50 years, and I never say no.
There it is! The first tiny bud indicating that spring will come again. Maggie, the gardener in our life notices every change, even the slightest, which is how a true gardener perceives the world. Her glee, the sweet innocence of her discovery, moves me to delight. I see the child-like spirit, maybe even catch a glimpse of who she was when she was 10 years old. This brief morphing of the mature Maggie into the child is something all of us are lucky to see in our loved ones. Like seeing the original before the world gave us our lumps.
Simple as this is I like seeing the pairing of the trellis form and Maggie’s, and – only an insider can know this – I catch sight of the word LEO on the lintel, and Maggie is a Leo, so that’s a little playful aside, which tickles me. But who else knows and who cares? Me!
And as we know it’s only for us that we make photographs, but I put it out here now because of all the images from today this is the one that makes me stop for a moment to take it in, and to wonder how that small square of earth can support such a generous plant, which, in fact, goes all along the roof line in both directions and must be amazing to look at in summertime when it’s in full bloom.
Whenever I see a buttermilk sky I am drawn to watching its curdled passage across the heavens. It’s a harbinger of weather systems on the move I’m sure, but of exactly what kind I am not. Still, they make for great skyscapes and play well with almost anything they relate to, like these trees with their frail, wintery branches whose color, somewhere between gold and green, vibrates against the blue.