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.
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.
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?’
Sometimes the liveliest things on the street, especially in a small town in Provence where no one ever seems to be around, are the vestiges of inanimate things that suddenly appear. My way of working is to respond to whatever comes up for me out of my passage through time and space. It could be nearly meaningless, ordinary, dumb, or unlikely to be of greater interest later on, it doesn’t matter, it is the only thing that is speaking to me at that given instant, and that is what I have to work with.
Anything that makes me pay attention, even for just a moment, is one more moment of consciousness, and once again a trickle of playful energy occupies my mind. It is this willingness to make something of nothing that primes my senses for whatever may follow that moment. I find that if I do not play when something calls to me then I lose my edge, soI let myself be taken in, and I play. And by doing so my innocence is capable of being prompted by the unexpected when it next shows up.
And we know that as we get older the innocent joy of discovery gets whittled away by all the other responsibilities that life throws at us, which distracts us from that state of play. So a moment of open ended curiosity, and the freedom to see in a care less way, is a gift we must not turn away from.
I came through the revolving doors into the warmth of the vestibule of the hotel, paused for a moment to take off my hat and gloves, and then caught sight of this kid sitting there like a little puppy waiting for his master. Something about the scale of the boy, and then the strangeness of the whole space; that room to the right, with the slightly underwater glow, and that crazy instrument from another era, circa 1900 I would guess, a piano roll, or reproducing piano I think it was called – look at the size of that thing! and think how far we have come and how we carry our music around with us today!
But what was really happening, as it so often does, was that all of it suddenly filled me with a quickening of the pulse and the mind, which made me stop and really look at just where I was! Moments like that are expansive. Everything comes into play. I look all over the frame to make it register clearly, and out of that disciplined looking sometimes an interesting photograph comes.
Back on the street I passed a cafe where a woman was drawing, and again an interior space made me stop. This time it was a more ambiguous space that caught my eye, but also the hard focus of the woman within, which made me take the moment and carry it off with me. It always astonishes me when themes arise, however loosely, on any given day, and connect disparate, non-events to each other, which then, sometimes, keep adding up.
There are times in the life of a couple when one observes the other in an unguarded moment, like this image of Maggie at her studio table, lost in the process of feeling her way around in something she is working on. At a moment like this I feel radiant with love for her! I see the child-like concentration, and the adult’s expansion of the moment. This elasticity of focus is the state of mind that produces interesting answers to the question being posed, as well as the next question.
Earlier in the day we walked to what has become a new locus for our casual rambles around the village; a lavender field bordered by cherry trees with Bonnieux in the background holding onto the hillside as it has done since late Roman times. A long time ago, when my family was young I made photographs of them that were separate from my so called, ‘tougher’ street work, but then I learned that family life needn’t be treated any differently than the everyday world. In fact one has to look much harder to see into our intimate lives.
When Maggie and I finished our book on Provence we wanted to do a project together that might carry us through our year in Europe. Something that would give us an opportunity to step out of our roles as photographer and writer. The idea that first came to us (while sitting in the bath, actually) was; ‘let’s each make one line every day’, alternating daily, and where one line ends on a sheet of paper the next line must begin. This mute, meditative moment allowed us to choose whatever we wanted to use to make a line; paint, ink, charcoal from the fireplace, fruit, grass, blood, whatever was handy and felt right. In that way we could both collaborate and duel, respond and challenge.
We did it every day for a year! And it now stretches in one continuous line for 220 feet! This image was made as the 3rd line, Maggie’s turn, presented itself.