I have just returned to New York City for a 3 week or so, intensive period of work. I must sign 30,000+ prints for the upcoming sale of my archive. A life’s work is on the line, and so my studio director has signed up a team of assistants to work with me for 6 days a week, 8-10 hour days, in order to complete the sale by a certain date.
Just today I signed 1550 prints, so I can see the path through this as an endurance test, but one I happily commit to. What this means in terms of the blog postings is that I will most likely not have the concentration to write during this period. But by this time you have read me regularly, and you get the drift of my thinking, although I hope I have not been too repetitive, still my concerns and my limits have been out there for all to see.
I propose doing the simplest thing to keep the blog going until I can be fully present once again. That would be to post a picture a day as is my blog’s raison d’être, but without my making commentary. However; now that you have read my kind of responses to seeing and working, I am open to seeing what it is that any of you might contribute to the images I show, your take on them for example. No obligation, believe me, just my own curiosity to see what ways, if any, I may have provoked you into thinking about this crazy, wonderful medium of ours.
You’ll be hearing from me again when this is done. Wish me luck on this Once-in-a-Lifetime deal.
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.
A Full House
Giving a talk about photography is always a new adventure, no matter how many times i have done it, because I never know what I’ll be talking about until I am up there in front of the audience. I like that risk because it is just like making photographs; the unexpected can happen at any moment.
It may be a new thought triggered by a slide that I have seen many times before but now strikes me in a fresh way, or else it might be a question from someone that sends me off in a direction I hadn’t considered before, or finally it might be the challenge of the new work I am making which might push me to reconsider the older works coming onto the screen.
We can never imagine the work we might make in the future – that’s part of the wonder of all art making – but when we are in the present and can look back, as I can, over 50 years of work, there seems to be a continuous path that unwinds in a way that sometimes seems inevitable.
Ordinary things still surprise me. A hay bale for instance, rolled up in the fashion of today’s farming methods, is often just pitched into the stall for the cows to chomp it down in their own sweet time. But here it unspooled itself when the wrapper was cut, and mimicked the wave that was already set in motion by the winds while the grain was growing in the fields earlier that summer.
While standing in front of it, the ‘object’ it became was satisfying to look at in unexpected ways, and led me to both see it for what it was, and to reconsider it for the other non-objective properties it held. I saw the color it became in it’s season of drying, I looked at the light it appeared in in the darkness of the stall, I thought about the flatness it presented while at the same time being enriched with curves, swirls, and eruptions of forms that splintered out along its edges. All these small thoughts made me stand there staring at a hay bale!
At times I wonder how these simple things have taken hold of me; a city boy whose love of the messy mix of speed and life on the streets has been overtaken by the study of stillness in the form of natural or man made things. It must be a certain time of life I’ve entered. I am taking ‘long looks’ at things that earlier slipped by and now call out for consideration.
Maybe it’s the season changing, but something from the landscape kept coming over me. The summer had been a brutally hot one, and the land baked day after day, and seemed to be unyielding even though wheat and sunflowers grew abundantly. Perhaps it’s the first few cool days and the light’s new, revealing power that made me conscious again of the space I live in.
I walked in the freshly turned land and could sense my small scale relative to the land’s vastness, and tried to make a photograph from that gut feeling. I ask myself, and have for many years now, ‘can I photograph from the gut with the eye being less of a primary force?’
The light in the house has changed too, and turned the tall space of what was once the hayloft into a camera obscura, projecting the arched shape of the window on the wall for a 20 minute exposure, in which the form of the acacia tree outside drew itself across the wall like a silent movie screen playing a slow motion fade out.
It’s lovely to see how natural and simple the principles of photography, before it was photography, continue to make their presence felt. I can easily imagine how in earlier times, say the 15th century (probably well before that too), people had these same ‘momentary visions’ come and go inside their homes, but were unable to hold on to them until Louis Daguerre and William Henry Fox Talbot figured out how to fix the image for later study.
This time 2 years ago I was working own a set of still lives of objects I made in Cezanne’s studio in Aix-en-Provence. I remember putting them together in a large test strip to see how they printed, but also to see if they had any power, or were of interest to me. Putting things up on a wall and living with them for a few days has long been my method. That way I can catch glimpses of them out of the corner of my eye as I walk past, or I can sit and stare and wait to see if something comes back to me. A new idea, a critical thought, a moment of pleasure, all the things one hopes their work will do when out in the public space.
It was early in the day when I pinned the strip up and the room was shadowed. Then I went to town to get groceries and some other errands, and when I came back the sun had crept around and was washing the wall with a pointing finger on one of the objects I liked best. I felt that little kick to my heart, the flutter of excitement when something seems to resolve itself and offer a new possibility and the enthusiasm to go forward in that direction with full force.
And I did.
A few days ago I wrote about a dead sheep and her unborn lambs, and now the other side of the coin. This old dog, a special breed of Maremmani sheep dog, the kind that can kill a wolf that attacks their fold, had given a litter of 10, and it was to everybody’s surprise because she really is no spring chicken that ol’ sheep dog!
Luana, tended every one of them, nursed them, warmed them, cleaned up after them, all because the old dog didn’t have it in her any more to ‘mother’ them fully. I was witness to the beautiful domestic connection between humans and dogs, an ancient companionship that has truly weathered all the tests of time. I am sure that even in the hard fought life of early man dogs were attracted to their fire, and what they could communicate to each other, and that this bond goes back to prehistoric times.
The humble scene here could have been rendered in black and white and would seem to have been made in the 1950’s, or even earlier, so true to type is it. At moments like this, when I’m in the grip of a reflection on our human history, and because of what I am seeing in the present, I don’t think about dramatizing anything, or pushing the frame around to zap the energy in the image, you know, to make a picture!. I find myself just being there, present to the moment, and then, when something in front of me connects with that time ship that I was traveling on, I find the alignment of my feelings and this special moment. And then an image is made.
It doesn’t even have to be a good picture, by whatever our current standards are, as long as it resonates, to me, something about what this picture is about.
Most of this still life work has been made in the dark or near dark of my studio, but when I saw a slice of light falling through a crack in the covered skylight – a change in the season allowed the sun to be there for 5 minutes – striking this talismanic figure ,I sensed that I should spend some time seeing where it would take me. It was only then that I saw the marking on the box behind the figure, which for some reason seemed to read as a falling figure, the kind one would see in a painting by Bosch, and then of course I couldn’t look at the box without seeing it that way.
How often does that happen? Something is right there but it remains invisible until the right combination of elements makes it visible, and then a fresh start is possible.
Being Taken In
I found myself neglecting to show some of the still lives I had been making at the same time as I was making outside images. This strange collection of forms below had been up in the teatrino for days, moving themselves around into different groupings. The organic shape (a smoke bush’s flowers which had dried and became this aggregate mass of delicate twiggy forms) and for some reason seemed to want to appear with the grey shapes I was working with then. These connections come so suddenly, on instinct, that I tend not to resist and just let myself be taken in by them to see what comes of it.