Walking through a warehouse stuffed full of objects and furnishings this horn cried out to heard, so I stopped and waited while it struck up a dialogue in me. These things happen you know? Just pay attention to that tiniest sound of its identity, and how it meets your identity, and you have the basis for making something out of it.
Just a response is all one needs, whatever it is, a fragrance on the breeze that says, ‘hey, stop here a minute and take me in,’ a glancing play of light, a change in the scale of things that suddenly wakes you up to your own human measure. Any of these, and a 1000 more intimate details of our working minds when they are at play, and you have what you need to make something entirely yours.
I have finally finished looking at more than 40,000 prints and signing over 15,000 of them for the sale of my Archive. Yesterday and today were, and are, travel days, and I am deeply tired from the intensity of the effort. So the next few days will still be quiet time for me with pictures only until I recover enough to write about the images.
But I wanted to thank all of you for your support and patience as well as the effort some of you made to keep the observations about life and photographs flowing. I’d like to thank Jose and Ece, and all the rest for the wisdom and feelings your comments contained.
I had been continuing to work on some still lives with new objects that had come to me through my friend Gianni. The various weights and materials interested me, and this was a setup I had just started when I remembered that I was to open the new Leica store in Florence later that day.
I left the work as – in progress – and off we went to Florence. While waiting there for the Leica activities to begin I wandered around the nearby streets and came across this little drama on a dark side street. As soon as I saw her face I felt as if she was out of the 16th century paintings of madonnas and virgins.
While I was working with these objects I picked up an old funnel that I used a year before and found inside the funnel another small clump of ‘smoke bush’ fluff which had settled into the form of the cone shape of the funnel. The color and shape seemed to relate to the conical tops of the tin objects so I put it on top of the round form just to see what would happen.
Still life seems to me to be a form of play in which the objects have a life of their own, and as I move them around the stage something comes from them, a presence, a spirit, even sometimes a sense of their potential force. I add and subtract and then sit and look, waiting for something to speak to me or suggest another move. In that sense they are always open to subtle changes as I become familiar with their character and how it projects into the space.
This is still new to me and I am finding a kind of pleasure in contemplation that I hadn’t known came with the territory of the still life.
Most of this still life work has been made in the dark or near dark of my studio, but when I saw a slice of light falling through a crack in the covered skylight – a change in the season allowed the sun to be there for 5 minutes – striking this talismanic figure ,I sensed that I should spend some time seeing where it would take me. It was only then that I saw the marking on the box behind the figure, which for some reason seemed to read as a falling figure, the kind one would see in a painting by Bosch, and then of course I couldn’t look at the box without seeing it that way.
How often does that happen? Something is right there but it remains invisible until the right combination of elements makes it visible, and then a fresh start is possible.
I found myself neglecting to show some of the still lives I had been making at the same time as I was making outside images. This strange collection of forms below had been up in the teatrino for days, moving themselves around into different groupings. The organic shape (a smoke bush’s flowers which had dried and became this aggregate mass of delicate twiggy forms) and for some reason seemed to want to appear with the grey shapes I was working with then. These connections come so suddenly, on instinct, that I tend not to resist and just let myself be taken in by them to see what comes of it.
This was a day of generosity. In a nearby small town I came across this beautiful bunting wrapped, church doorway. No doubt ready for a procession for a saint’s day, or a wedding, or who knows what festive event the town was making, but it made me happy just looking at the way the space was redefined by some simple fabric hanging on the facade.
Then, returning home, a bounty of offerings appeared; Silvia came by with a cake she just baked, then her mother-in-law stopped by with some fresh ricotta she had made from the new sheep they recently bought, then a man from Buonconvento, on the way to his sister’s place, stopped by to bring us a box of figs from his amazingly productive tree. All that, and some eggplants from the garden, which I roasted and turned into baba ganouj became a summer dinner. And a still life, and a portrait of a building. You work with what you have.
We came back after a late-in-the-day walk to find this rugged tomato, just picked from the garden, deposited on our table by our farmer landlord, Silvia, who often brings us whatever is on the vine; squash blossoms, string beans, zucchini, eggplant, new potatoes, onions, figs, grapes, plums, and so on, but this creature sat there looking ugly/beautiful, and that always gets to me. Ugly/beautiful is one of those qualities that the world throws our way in unexpected moments, and when I see it I am reminded of how great the variety of what we call beauty really is.
It suggests a reconsideration of what we think we know about beauty, and our own values. It’s not that this tomato is any kind of paragon of beauty, but simply that it made me pause for just a moment to look at it, and once I paused I saw the light making lines like the tomato’s lines, and then I felt the sweet sentiment of Silvia’s generosity, add to that the lateness of the hour and its color, and what came over me was the plain song of the evening and the goodness of life.
Living on a farm in Tuscany offers in its solitude few distractions from the basic simplicity of daily life. Not like living in a city where just stepping out the door onto Broadway, or any lively street in a city, throws marvelous and unexpected chaos at one non stop. I find living on the farm is more of a slowed down and mediative experience, so that something even as ordinary as putting food on a plate and bringing it to the table can offer a moment to be startled by its humble beauty.
By accepting this I found myself responding the simple language of poetry, in which an accounting of what is in front of me serves to bring me to consciousness. That perception, more than making a great image, is preparation for what may appear next. And since photography is always dealing with the momentary – in which we never can imagine what is coming next – these small moments of attentiveness are really all we have.
During this period of a picture a day I had started making still lives and sometimes found myself considering found objects as potential backgrounds for the dark interior spaces I was working in. I was looking for indeterminate surfaces to make my teatrino space with, and when I saw this small billboard frame, with its scraped off remnants of posters and announcements, I decided to shoot it and later to print it on old linen tablecloths I have collected. That way I could subdue the color and darken it down into a visual space that would have that indefinite feeling I was looking for.
These ideas were all new to me and have about them decisions about picture making that never entered my mind until I began making still lives. As a working philosophy for my first 50 years, ‘do not touch or arrange anything,‘ was my method and bedrock belief, and I remained true to it, except if I was shooting something commercial which needed direction, and even then I often set something in motion and watched as it spun out of control and became part of real life, and then I could photograph it.
But now that still lives have begun playing a major role in my work I can accept that management and concept, selection and reworking, are all valid means of making a photograph. Even old dogs can learn new tricks.