The wind came, a sirocco, an African wind that crosses the Mediterranean and blows sometimes for days, driving people a little crazy with its relentless howling. It starts innocently enough and then just keeps coming until you can’t stand it anymore. Here at the beginning of the blow it darkened the skies and carried a smell on the air that might have been some of the desert’s dust still bearing the arid scent of ancient sea bottom.
Photographing the elements is something I have been trying to do for a while, but in another form, simpler, purer, without the horizon to make it familiar, just the phenomena of each of the elements. It’s not been easy to make them interesting, but I still work on it whenever the potential image appears. Yet, when the wind blows and the sky goes heavy I respond wherever I am, because that is all we can do; to try to be in the moment, in the place where we find ourselves.
Not every day has interesting photographs in it. Some days it’s just a record of being alive and seeing something curious in a familiar place, even if it’s of minimal interest, like this street in the small town, Buonconvento where we live. During that week the town held its annual Sagra Festival, where all 4 quarters of the town cook for the whole town and any visitors who wish to come. On the last night of the festival they held a ‘fashion show’ in which the young kids paraded down the street trying to be glamourous. The town threw itself into the event and set up this ‘runway’ in the middle of the street. What appealed to me was the vision of modernity set inside a place built a 1000 years ago.
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.
The land speaks. I find myself listening as the season enters the next phase. The light’s slant is lower. Its intensity is now colored by the angle of the earth’s tilt and movement, as seen in this hemisphere, now further away from the sun. The temperature of a whole day is different. My perceptions of things around me is refreshed.
That’s what’s so special about the season changing. It’s we who are seasoned along with everything else, and what that does to the way I see things is part of the way photography’s mystery works on each of us.
I have to admit that the death of my brother has thrown me. Add to that my long return flight to Italy, and jet lag, the arrival of guests tomorrow, and my need to go ‘On Press’ early in the week, and I can see that the time needed to really devote myself to thinking, posting and writing over the next few days, will be tough to find.
So I’d like to put up a suite of days to give me some breathing room.
9-19 Dear friends arrive with baby Chayton.
9-20 Gianni brought this character to stand guard.
9-21 Chayton and Pasta form a lasting relationship.
9-22 An older woman slipped on the moss in the old Roman hot springs. But was OK.
9-23 Our dear workshop cook, Lisena, made a homey Italian family dinner for all of us.
At this season the land offers up the harvest, and after the cutting it often looks flag-like with its stumps and stalks now revealed in ordered rows and burnished colors. All the florid heads of sunflowers, wheat or corn have been carried off and the land waits for the turning under and then rest.
These wide views are deceptively simple and seem not to amount to much, but I like that spaciousness with the panel of the land below and the top of sky, and the narrow, glowing strip in between. As a small print it seems to be just like it looks, distant and familiar, but in a large print the space comes alive as every stalk is clearly rendered, and the march from the frame edge to the field of color is a visual journey. It’s not for everyone I know, but having made simple images with the view camera I know how the image expands and converts itself into a surprisingly tangible experience.
Dear Reader, My youngest brother was killed last night in a head on collision 3 hours from New York City. I am going up there to be with the family for a few days. I will add a few days of picture-a-day work to this post to carry me through.
September 10, the still life went through some changes. To paraphrase something Jasper Johns once said, ‘ …you do something to a work, and then you do it again…’
September 11, The BBC sent a camera crew down to make a video.
September 12, Silvia brought over a still oven warm cake made from her eggs and milk and flour. Then we ate it.
There is nothing the Italians enjoy more than eating. And when they can gather at some long communal table and be eating outside on a summery evening, they love it! It’s a way to meet new people, or be with old friends, or simply take a chance on whatever life throws their way. It’s a custom that goes way back and small towns all over Tuscany, and I’m sure all over Italy, continue the tradition.
I always find something to shoot when I’m there, portraits of my table companions, the behavior of the young kids who are doing the serving, the musicians who stroll on through, the dancing later on, and sometimes fireworks.
I went to visit with my friend, the photographer Paolo Ventura, in his studio on the far side of Tuscany. At some point he took a seat on his own hand painted set where he usually has characters from the 40’s and 50’s playing out his stories and dreams. In fact he usually plays some of the characters. But here he was just himself, and to me he looked like he belonged there in that barren, spindly, woodland, almost like a lost traveller in a dreamscape, or a contemporary version of the sage sitting alongside the road, which one finds in those School of Siena paintings of the 1500’s. Slightly wild-eyed or mad, or possessed, which he is.
Yes! We had heard bleating and strange noises coming from the sheep pen up the road. Unusual for middle of the day when the sheep are often lying about or huddled under a tree in the shade. Maggie went up the hill to see what was the matter. A wolf had gotten into the fenced in enclosure and killed two pregnant mothers. I raced up to the pen to see for myself.
There are no words that can make it become something other than what it is. And a photograph is simpler still; no tricks of the light, no angle that dramatizes it to make it more horrific or sad, just the plain fact of what a slaughtered animal looks like in the moment after its death. Sometimes just bearing witness is enough.
I never was one to photograph wars, or the depths of poverty, because I couldn’t stand the idea of making esthetic decisions about framing when dealing with such enormous human events. It was different when I went into Ground Zero for 9 months, that was all Aftermath, and as such it needed the record to be made for posterity, but to witness slaughter and disease and human wreckage and while doing it make something beautifully framed seems beyond my capacity.