Category Archives: Uncategorized

MARCH 18, 2015

Wunderkabinet

At a friend’s house I saw this ‘wunderkabinet’ of creatures. It fascinated me on several levels. On the one hand this is just a glass box with an owl and a rabbit and some woodland background, but looked at another way, which is what was so interesting to me, it is similar to a photograph. Someone made this! They brought all the elements together, they put them in a frame, they charged the whole thing with their own sense of mystery, value, color, form, context, reality, all in a search for meaning or beauty.

Isn’t that what we all try to do? Put a frame around a moment of time and try and invest it with all our feelings for the precise fraction of a second when we saw or felt something! Often we are not completely certain what it is that emanates from our observation, but the call is clear to us; make this moment count!

So, too, in this glass box of wonder. The effort here, by a taxidermist, or a hobbyist, or someone who just wanted to preserve something they found beautiful, is extraordinary and invites both speculation and wonder. Isn’t that what photography does.

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MARCH 14, 2015

The Dummy

At a flea market I found this dressmaker’s dummy, probably something from the 1950’s, and to my surprise I found myself wanting if for the still lives I was beginning to make. In fact at first I had a strong pull toward it, then walked away thinking, ‘this is crazy, Joel, what do you want that for’? What was it about the dummy? Why was it so strangely appealing to me? In my life as a photographer, making table top still life work was never something that called to me. Give me the street any day with its unpredictability, chaos, radical light conditions, and the joys of timing, which always made me concentrate more fiercely.

Yet, there I was, going back to the stall and standing in front of this mysterious figure again and wanting to take it home to see how it played with the other objects that were finding their way into my life. How can I explain it? Maybe it was a Magritte-like mystery that presented itself, or another echo coming to me from the Dadaists and Surrealists, who I loved when I was an art student nearly 60 years ago. Whatever it was it was strong enough to make me say yes to it and leave the rest to chance. That part is like the street which is all about chance.

On this day I put it up on the ‘teatrino’, my little theater-like set, and added some other objects that also have found their way to me, just to see what would happen in terms of scale, color, the various forms, and whatever meaning might emerge from their encounter. I have no answer as yet, just some ‘records’ of what things look like. Now it is time to look and wonder.

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MARCH 10, 2015

Time Machine

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.

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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?’

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MARCH 7, 2015

Like This

Before cars and people came down this street, before roads and houses were built, before walls were mounded up for defense or boundaries, the stones themselves felt water rushing past. I never cease to wonder when I stop here, about the marks grooved into the stone, and how many millennia of rising and falling waters have passed since this was part of the sea bottom or shoreline of what is now the Mediterranean Sea.

The courses of stones and the courses of the smoothed ridges blend together in a stony harmony that delights my eye, and I always seem to find a reason to lift my camera and try to make a photograph that describes what it is I see. This image, made at the end of day, when the light was flat and had the faintest lavender cast to it, may (or may not) work, because it doesn’t depend on the glory of sunlight, or the drama of some action, to set off the place from the rather ordinary seeming place that it is. It is just its unmediated self now.

It’s the rocks that first produce the ‘beat’ that means something to me and makes me stop, so I need to reconsider what it is I want to say about them. Fortunately I had time here to look again and again, since I walked this way every few days. It’s a little like solving a math problem in one’s head, and by going over it again and again the meaning may resolve itself.

Once, when I was around 15, I saw Albert Einstein walking the back streets of Princeton, while I was on a day trip there from summer camp, and had slipped away from my group. He was on a back street; tree lined, quiet, nothing to mark it as special from the next one, and as I watched him from a hundred yards away, he stopped and stood for a long time doing nothing, head tilted slightly up, possibly watching the leaves trembling, or listening to the birds. Perhaps he was following a line of reasoning that was out there in the universe of his mind’s embrace. Of course it was impossible to imagine then, as it is now, what anyone else thinks about, but standing still, and taking it all in, like Einstein, is part of the photographic act at certain moments. And certain moments are what photographs are made of.

Like this one.

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MARCH 5, 2015

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.

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FEBRUARY 28, 2015

Emptiness

The end of February! An unusually warm day, springlike even. We walk through the fields        outside the town and realize how the sun adds a lightness to our step as well as to our sense of place. Coming back into town we cross the library plaza and suddenly the scale becomes theater-like, and Maggie’s caped form, bold in the hard sunlight, makes her seem like an actor on the stage, then she twirls and comes to rest laughing and blinded by the full on glare of the sun. It is an irresistible moment! I feel the hard blue of the sky, the hard sunlight, the hard black edge of her form, the hard edge of the frame above her head, all known in that moment’s grace after the twirl, and before she walks away. It’s as fast as that!

Emptiness is a condition of photography that I have come to cherish. And as you may know, I love the charged, crowded precincts of big cities where everything going on all over the frame has enchanted me since I first began making photographs. But now there are times when the simplicity of place itself sends its awakening call through me, and when someone I love is passing within the boundaries it makes it even more vital for me.

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FEBRUARY 26, 2015

The other side of the camera

This is what it looks like from the other side of the camera. I was being interviewed and filmed by the BBC for a documentary on Vivian Meier. I had been involved with her work almost from the very beginning, because, when John Maloof discovered what he had bought, and began asking for opinions from a number of photographers about the quality of the work, he called me, and I said, “she’s the real thing’!

I contributed to this BBC version because a friend was the producer of the film and I couldn’t say no to him even though I had already been filmed by John. It all worked out in the end and John’s film has brought a lot of attention to the work, which is the best result possible.

But as I sat there facing them I had the impulse to make a record of the moment, since it was one of the parts of the day that seemed worthy of remembering. It’s a record, more or less of who was there, how the place served us, and what life in Bonnieux offered. It’s what photography can do in its simplest, most utilitarian way.

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FEBRUARY 25, 2015

The Presence

I had to run out to pick something up for Maggie from the pharmacy before they closed. I always take the camera even if I am just going around the corner, which is where the pharmacy is. What a moment! It may seem like an ordinary evening, and to the extent that nothing happened, it was. But we have to make the most out of what we have, the hand we are dealt as photographers is always a straight. It is what it is. The dull moments and the exciting ones, you never know what you’ll get.

But, in fact, it is our recognition of something special, to us, within the overall moments of life that puts us near the presence, the sense of necessity, that makes us gasp and say, Yes!

For me it was the hour, and the color of the street lights seen against that particular winter evening blue, and those shutters! Their blue off by just enough toward the cyan to make the last of the magenta in the blue of the sky seem even more radiant. These color events,these relationships, small as they are, are enough to bring a rising sense of joy to me. I stand in them, breath them in, linger, while my mind and eye let me know how wonderful it is to be alive.

This is what photography means to me.

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FEBRUARY 18, 2015

Leo

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.

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