The Divine Comedy
A walk on an Italian beach is something out of Dante. It’s the divine comedy and a slice of the inferno all thrown together in true operatic style.
When I began making photographs in 1962, John Szarkowski was the head of Photography at MoMA, where he wrote his first book called, “The Photographer’s Eye,” and in it were many ideas about what happens when you use all the wonderful visual assets that photography offers, and to consider the challenge each posed.
One of the ideas was Vantage Point. The following is part of what he had to say about that way of looking at things.“If the photographer could not move his subject, he could move his camera. To see the subject clearly — often to see it at all — he had to abandon a normal vantage point, and shoot his picture from above, or below, or from too close, or too far away, or from the back side, inverting the order of things’ importance, …….”
Here, I was lying on a beach lounge, and when I looked up the combed cloud was gliding across the space between the 2 half seen umbrellas. Had I not been lying down exactly where I was my point of view would not have contained this thought.
A blistering hot summer day at the Tuscan shore. After a swim and a short nap I opened my eyes and saw the light coming through the umbrella, and then the pure blue of the sky. My first impression was of being under a sundial and that it was around noon, and sure enough, it was.
I love the amazing amount of information, even in such a simple image as this. The difference in tone and color between one side of the white nylon and the other, the subtle density difference between one end of the shadow and the other, the way the sliver of blue hovers above the black frame of the umbrella and then continues beyond. It is this kind of ‘describing’ things to myself that enlivens my attention and keeps me interested in the things that might easily go unnoticed. It’s this ‘paying attention’ that makes photography such a vital form for me.
Every so often I am reminded by something I see right in front of me, of Saul Steinberg, that great New Yorker magazine artist who did the famous poster showing New York City and the avenues going west to the river and then beyond to the bleak view of the distant American emptiness. His characters often were shown in ridiculous outfits and social postures which showed us all how crazy we actually look while we think we are pretty sophisticated.
So when I see someone like this guy on the beach, a faceless, strangely shaped human being, Steinberg pops into my head. Of course I love the pair of hands under the sunny towel and the way they relate to the figure of the man, although I couldn’t explain how they relate, except to say to me they made sense, photographic sense, in that something happens when I look from one to the other, a kind of connectivity between the hands that you don’t see and the pair that you do.