Father and son out for a 30K bike ride stopped by for a glass of water and a hello. It’s Gianni, our closest friend for 20 years and his son Giovanni, who we know since he was 5. I make photographs of Gianni because he is always so expressive in a purely Italian way. And funny too!
Every gesture, which is such a complex part of Italian expression, is is rich with undertones and expletives, world views and commentary, and every conversation circles around to the state of being of contemporary life, mainly in Tuscany, but also in the larger world. Physical gestures are the matrix of photographs, and even when you know someone well it pays to keep reading their animated expressive side for clues to their persona.
Yesterday I mentioned that sitting around and talking could often produce spontaneous portrait studies, and that like street photography, if one was observant some rich gestural images might come from it. The next day our friend Gianni stopped by, as he does almost every day, to hang out and play with us as we have been doing for 20 years now.
The positions we were sitting in gave me this chance to really watch the Italian in him in action, with every nuance of his story needing an expressive gesture to move the opera along. What the story was about I can no longer remember, or as the Italians say, “chi se ne frega,” who gives a damn, anyway.
And then, when he was done, he gave me the sweetest, most sheepish look, which endeared him to me even more.
Here’s a little story. We had gone to a nearby town for dinner and on the way back, as we passed through a burgo, a small collection of about 5 houses, we saw that 3 people were sitting on the bench right there on the edge of the road that passed through the place. Gianni, ever the connection between all things Tuscan, called out to them as we passed by and they waved to us to stop.
As soon as we did, the Italian Opera began, as always, with gestures, and a half hour of stories and laughter. One of the men had broken his arm and was holding a hand carved stick which helped him do whatever he needed to do with his one good arm. By the end of the exchange Gianni walked away with his stick. How he managed to get the guy to give it to him I cannot say, but it offered me a wonderful few minutes of watching the whole drama play out.
Even the nights in Tuscany are rich with possibility.
Gianni had arrived while Maggie was watering her roses. It was a blistering hot day and Maggie, spontaneous as always, turned the hose on him as he was walking away, and Gianni, open as always to whatever the next thing is, responded with such a moment of joyous abandon that I turned around and saw his exaltation and the rainbow all in the same millisecond. It pays to have the camera wherever you are, even around the house.
Some moments are rich with meaning and yet so simple as to be ordinary. Gianni was walking down the road with his son Giovanni, a 24 year old who, like many young adults, has been in revolt against all the values of his parents. It’s normal. And Giovanni has a tough act to follow with his father, who is rooted to the Tuscan earth like few people I have ever met. Often they are capable of a give and take that is complicated.
But this year something has changed, and as I watched them go down the road, in the glow of the last light of evening, I saw what could on the one hand be just a cliché, but in reality is the softening of differences that maturity brings. It was beautiful to me on all counts.
We have had a special friendship with Gianni for 20 years. It was his character and generosity that led us to think about starting our own workshops in Tuscany 20 years ago. At that time he was the director of a large azienda; Castelnuovo Tancredi, on which there was a castle and 7 renovated farmhouses capable of holding 40-50 people. The castle was lived in by the owner, who at 102 is still living there! And who danced at our wedding when she was 87.
So, Gianni is, for us, and I know for many other people too, a special keeper of the flame of old Tuscany. And it is with him that we frequently go off on jaunts around the countryside searching for old treasures that carry the history of the region. And this year we have taken a studio all together to make a kind of museum out of these finds, and also to work on our own projects in. But when I made these images 2 years ago, while doing the picture a day project, we were just finding our way to living here more regularly.
Maggie has learned her Italian by speaking with Gianni who is immensely patient with us, and is a great communicator himself, while not speaking a word of English. I find that I can photograph our lives as if I was out on the street anywhere in the world, and that this trio we make provides countless picture opportunities. It brings up that same lesson again and again; do not treat the intimate space of family as if it was off limits for doing serious work.
A late evening walk after a soft rain. Gianni accompanied us so we could all catch up with the events of the season we had spent in France. Suddenly he leaped over the edge to grab some flowers. His spirit, and the joy he takes in everything, reminded me of why we love Tuscany so much.
It’s not only nature that calls to us, but a friendship with a man of this land whose connection to it is so natural and deep that it has added a respect for all things Tuscan to our way of thinking. And out of that has come a kind of image making that is open and relaxed and about daily pleasure. And so portraits and gestures, and landscapes, and still lives, and the simplest of daily comings and goings mark my days. Everything seems photographable.