You Will Be Surprised
When I am out walking with Maggie (who, among many other professions during a well lived life, was a dancer) the unpredictable often happens, so carrying a camera is a foregone conclusion. She, spins, and kicks, and runs and laughs, like a 6 year old, and she is more than 10 times that, but her energy and humor are part of the bounty she has brought into my life. Every so often I think; ‘why haven’t I made a book about her?’
While considering a photograph for today’s blog this one popped into view, as did that thought once again. I must have a thousand photographs of Maggie from our 20+ years together, probably more. This is a photographer’s dilemma; the thought that someone close to you is not the stuff of a book. In fact the family and loved ones constitute a great subject for an intimate work, if only we are willing to take the time to look closely at what we have. It also is a portrait of how one ages. Consider Nick Nixon’s series of the four, Brown sisters. When looking at them we see the wear and tear of lives spanning 40 years which, even without words, is an amazing document that grows deeper with each reading and every year.
So, look into your files for those images that you though were too personal, or too familiar, and try looking at them as if you were a stranger who has discovered this trove in a flea market trunk, the way John Maloof discovered Vivian Maier. You will be surprised.
We were driving to Rome for a shoot I was to do at Cinecittá, when along the way we passed this meadow. It was perfect timing, as nature was calling, so what better place to stop and take in while letting out.
The abundance of wild flowers, the heady perfume of the meadow on a warm day, the gentle roll of the land, (they call it dolce, sweet) even the march of trees across the space, produced a peculiar sensation of awe and tenderness in all three of us as we stood on the verge of the meadow and looked in.
How often I have been stopped by something purely visual and yet encouraged to ‘take it in’ by the olfactory message that was being given off by where I was. I have learned to trust this instinct, this dream, or trance state, produced by the union of the whole sensory palette of seeing, hearing, smelling. Sight is not alone in our experience of place.
What Catches the Eye
Who knows why any one stops any time, anywhere? Why this trough, which is probably a truck tire track, filled with rain water in a gravel-bedded parking area. But there it is, the puzzle that all photographers deal with all the time. Something catches the eye, with no rational reason for it. Maybe it was the color of the light as the day waned, which, when seen against the new green of the hills at that hour set off the slightly warmer feel of the gravel, or perhaps it was the piece of sky that made its poem in the trough, falling to earth in a way that made me pause. These are the mysteries of this remarkable medium that so many of us are in dialogue with, and that makes it is so compelling.
So the dialogue continues.
There is a winery about 45 minutes away from Bonnieux which had some interesting contemporary architecture and site installations, so we were told. We made a trip there with some friends to have a look, a picnic and enjoy a spring day. Of all the works there – and there were some by well known artists – this cage of color strips provoked me into a playful mood and made me feel the ‘quality’ of the dappled light I had experienced in the woods I walked through to get to it.
How do you judge if a work works? If you feel something when you come near it, or within its space, and the feeling brings up a range of fresh sensations and thoughts, then I think it is a ‘living’ work, and becomes like nature in some strange, new way. This jungle gym of color strips made my eye work hard and set up spatial conditions and confusions that kept me engaged, and playful, which is what a work of art can do. I know that photographs, which are so tied to the material world that it is often hard to make them seem special, can, at their best moments, lift us from the bare facts and bring us a new understanding.
The Wonder of It
The snow bursts of cherry blossoms in the Luberon Valley drove me mad! The scent of the blossoms, their whiteness in the newly warmed spring air, the way they shivered in the faintest breeze, called me in close, as if to stand inside their space was to bring me closer to spring itself.
This search for the essential nature of anything that calls out to me has been my long time practice, and I find that in moments like this I want to be part the experience, not photographing it from the cool distance of the observer, but becoming integrated in it somehow. And this tree – one of many in the long lines of orchard trees – brought me close to that kind of trance state, where I stood, spellbound, and felt as if I could have stayed forever watching the barely discernible flutter of petals, while listening to the steady hum of the bees.
It almost doesn’t matter to me at that point what the photograph looks like in the camera, what matters is keeping the simple wonder of it all alive.
It was one of those spring days where everything seemed to be popping. Radiant greens along sun-warmed banks and walls, tiny buds pushing out of branch ends, grape vines beginning to look like miniature candelabras, a joyous day where I was aware of trees in a way that winter made me forget. When I stop to look at each tree individually their complexity and magnitude become astonishing, even trees that at first don’t seem to be worth the look, but then grab my attention because of where they are growing and what trials they had to overcome to survive.
I have probably photographed hundreds of trees in my life as a photographer, and none of them are just a ‘generic’ tree to me. They seem to me to be more like portraits of creatures who are extravagant in their proportions, structure, overall form, and, in season, their foliage. None of them are asking to be seen or photographed, but when I stand in their space I often get their message.
Here are some trees I encountered along the way, and what they suggested I do if I wanted to play with them, or watch as Maggie did.