Chairs are sitting everywhere. And as I wrote earlier this month, I have been collecting them in a steady but casual way for many years, slowly watching them build a presence in my archive. I have no doubt that one day I’ll find the time to take a hard look at the collection to see if it is worth publishing as a book.
What I like about this particular body of work is that I’m not out hunting for them to become a set of photographs. The work grows on its own like a kind of ‘folk art’ collection of oddities that accumulates its strength from the variety of the objects in it.
What pleases me in this photograph, besides the contrast between the two value systems within the frame (the place and the chairs) is the amazing object the chairs make when seen stacked that way. The chair’s simple form becomes a rich and beautifully graphic result as a single design motif, in a way it is just like all the wooden beading everywhere in the paneling. It accumulates by simple addition until we take in the wonder of it. That coat rack ain’t so bad either.
For many years I have come across chairs, both humble or grand, sitting out in the world waiting to be sat in or carted away. These relics have shown their personalities to me in a variety of countries and cities, and in some strange way I have become a collector of them, but to what end I never knew. Oh, yes, I’ve thought, and maybe even said to friends, “some day I’d like to put a book together with these chairs,” but it hasn’t happened yet.
While in Florence for the opening of the Leica store I mentioned in the last post, I wound my way through the back streets to get to know the place a little better. Of course the chairs found me, or I them. On that day these 2 showed up, and while I was on the streets some hand made wall messages also called out for attention.
I particularly liked the one that says, “place your hand to be tele-transported,” And I was!
Note: we were without internet for 2 days and it held up sending these 2 posts.
Night is a great moment to step outside of where you live to look at where you live. It is different to see it at night. Another layer of mystery might be revealed about why any one of us chooses to live any where. So night time can tell us a lot about ourselves. Well…maybe.
Around the back I came across the two chairs we sometimes sit or lie on. They sat in the last radiance of the day and seemed to glow. Chairs that I would never think of photographing, but how could I not in this light?
And the house itself, when I turned back to it, seemed so inviting that I found myself standing there, saying ‘who lives there?’ I was happy to remember that it was me. It was so simple and innocent and inviting, that I simply raised the camera to acknowledge the ordinary, but welcoming sight it has become.
Proof of Interest
For many years now I have seen dispossessed chairs hanging out wherever chance has tossed them, like old souls left on their own after a long and faithful service. Like us they have backs and arms and legs and feet and definitely bottoms, some even have a head of sorts. All of which, in some way, may make them so compelling. I have also photographed chairs within more noble or comfortable circumstances; thrones, Cardinal’s chairs, cushy corporate ones, and in nearly every imaginable location.
In fact, during my time working inside Ground Zero, one of the most surprising first sights was the unbelievable numbers of chairs that had been thrown from the buildings and remained intact upon landing! These chairs became the bleachers from which the exhausted rescue and recovery workers watched the amazing daily drama while taking their breaks. Every chair you might conceive of, from the most elegant to the most humble, found its way back to being useful once again.
How did I begin to notice ‘chairs’ as a subject? If I remember correctly it was while working on the light box (remember the light box?) when one day, while I was editing for something else, I noticed some funny chair pictures and tossed them to the top of the box, and then as others appeared I found myself becoming aware that this was a theme that I had not really known I was interested in. But the proof of interest was in the pictures that were appearing. And so I began looking out for them while editing and being more aware of them while out on the street.
I believe that it’s important to be open to the suggestive impulses that emerge, either from the world, or out of the work, for these clues have in them the clearest indication of our natural, instinctive responses, our identity even, and also some sense of the consciousness we may be overlooking when we act in more premeditated ways.
If there is one thing that 50 years of making photographs has taught me it is that every moment, no matter what it brings; joy, pleasure, sadness, pain, or the endless bounty of everything else we can feel, it passes as quickly as it came, and the continual renewal of every moment is all we can hope to be conscious of. It is the attachment to things, as if they were permanent, that gets us into trouble.
So, first of all, I am grateful beyond words for all the loving, supportive and generous comments that flowed to me and Maggie today after yesterday’s challenging times. Yes! It was shocking to be setup like that by a band of thieves (we later learned that it’s a honey trap, and that many other travelers have lost their belongings at this roadside attraction). And the Police do nothing about it, figuring, we guess, ‘tourists get what’s coming to them, traveling with all their precious possessions, and the cops know insurance companies will cover the loss, so why bother looking, and, it aids the local economy’. What a way to live!
But, back to your kindnesses. So many of you offered your thoughts about attachment, and our moment of loss, that it made us feel that there is hope when so many strangers offer this comfort so warmly. Maggie and I are already filling the space with new moments, new feelings, working through the lost items and memories, letting things go as we must, and painful as it is at moments, it is also becoming lighter to bear.
Maggie even said to me today, and she lost more intimate, meaningful treasures than my replaceable things, “I say a prayer for those who had to live lives that brought them to a place where they treat other humans like this”.
A day of retreat from all the aches of yesterday. As I walked past this stone cap at the end of a flight of stairs it took hold of me and made me pay attention. It made me step out of my inwardness and take in the vast, almost cosmic map quality of this humble stone in which mould, and fissures, and weathering, have made the surface dance the universal dance. As if stars exploded and atoms were splitting, and planetary movements were being etched by time on a glass plate negative. And perhaps that is what time has done to this stone. Simply left its marks while the stone aged.
The Humble Stuff
Some days just get away from me. I spent a good part of the day working on exhibition planning and a book layout, and I made a few still lives, though these were not speaking to me so I let them go. It was chilly and the fire inside was keeping me close to home. Then, suddenly, I realized that before the day disappeared I should go out and see something, keep the one-a-day work ongoing.
Frankly I was so caught up in the museum work that I was kind of flat and groping for somewhere to take myself, but it was getting late and it was bitterly cold, so I walked around the garden looking for a view or some play of light, anything that might spark my interest, and whaddya know, right there in front of me, on the grounds of the house we rented, was a kind of formal arrangement that I found oddly pleasing.
In a way – let’s be honest – it’s a little like an accounting of objects; trees, deck, stairs, wall, etc., but it also had its own rhythm, and a simplicity that grew on me the more I stood still and allowed myself to enter its particular expression of ‘place’. “This is where you are!” it reminded me. Sometimes a photograph is just about that; a sense of place, and your place in it, a place where the mystery emanates from.
So I let myself be taken in by it, by the colorless hour of the day, the stepped stone wall and the wooden steps, the paring of the chairs, the pacing of the trees, the point of view from below the deck that brought it all into being for me. It’s good to look hard at the humble stuff, because, in truth, most of life is like that. And once we accept that we do not have to be in the exotic to be turned on, we have much more to look at.