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.
Libera, a 70 year old contadina (farm woman of the old school variety from the time of serfs and padrones) is still working the land by hand. We stop by every few days to pick up tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, onions, and whatever else is ready at that moment, not to mention oil and wine when necessary. It is a great pleasure to see her smiling face and experience her generosity, both so easily given.
Here, I was driving past on my way home and stopped to chat for a moment, and just the simplicity of her presence, her earthy stance, the old wall behind her, the ordinariness of it all made me reach for the camera. These simple moments are precious, no attitude, no becoming something she is not. She’s just there, rooted to the earth, part of the spirit of the place.
Laughter, sunlight, a naked kid, a moment of joy made out of the simplest connections. The connection is ephemeral, but the energy in the frame comes from the connection of moments between the people, which will dissolve in another second of so, and yet the camera, with its fraction of a second capability, sees into those moments and stills them into the distillation of the larger moment. The human moment. That’s what it’s all about.
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.
August is the time of year, it seems, when friends passing through Tuscany make their way to your door. In popped Ciro, now in our life for 20 years! That in itself is amazing! When we started our Tuscany Photography and Writing Workshops here in 1995 he was our first assistant along with his buddy, Giorgio, and we have stayed in each others lives all this time. It’s been great to see their work grow, watch them flounder around with girl friends, marriages that come and go, children being born, new work being created and new risks taken, and at the same time watch them grow older, like our own children are doing. It’s real life!
Maggie’s closest friend here, Luana, stopped by for a chat, and when I stood with them for a moment listening to their back and forth, I saw how even in an unglamorous setting, one with harsh lighting, plus the awkward frame of the doorway, a ‘moment’ could still be found where something interesting, in this case a gesture, could be read as strange, or at least visually intriguing. And then Maggie’s hand shooting into the edge of the frame suddenly gave me the impulse to shoot.
Of course Luana is something to see all on her own, a combination of a real, earthy, country woman, with an Italian movie star. So even if she is telling Maggie,”….I have this pain here…” it still provides an interesting, open ended moment.
A documentary was being filmed by Ralph Goertz, the head of IKS – Institut für Kunstdokumentation – in Dusseldorf. We had been working on this for several years and he came down to Tuscany to film me working with the view camera along the coast. He’s made over 70 documentaries about artists, but mostly about photographers. He’s an amazing, easy going, and balletic filmmaker. Last year, at my Retro show in Dusseldorf, the film premiered at NRW Forum where he was also the curator for the show.
It’s always fun to turn the tables on someone who is filming you and do it back to them. If nothing else it becomes a record of the moment, and that has value too.
‘Table Top’ used to be what still life work was called back in the 70’s and 80’s when I did some advertising photography. I never shot that kind of stuff because I was a ‘location guy’ and couldn’t find any interest in being inside a studio. But sometimes, when sitting across a table from someone; a friend, family member, even a total stranger, whoever it may be, there is a moment when some connection just begs for a photograph.
Her steady look and directness, with no projection of the kind of beauty she is capable of and can often express, was what I responded to as we sat around the breakfast table. These simple, intimate moments are rich with possibilities.
Some friends came down for Maggie’s birthday a couple of years ago and brought their teenage daughter with them. We have known her since she was a few weeks old and have seen her through all her phases so far and hope to watch her for as long as we can. These yearly or sometimes twice a year sightings are a little like watching a stop motion movie where we see the spurts and leaps as if it was a continuous sequence.
She’s about 16 here and looking leggy and beautiful. I feel fortunate to have witnessed her through all the years and seeing this image, simple as it is (we were walking in the medieval part of our town in the evening) made me feel that I should collect them all and make a little book for her at some point in her life when it would be important for her to look back.
We had just stepped outside so Maggie could read another chapter to me when Luana, our close friend, stopped by. She saw Maggie’s hat, and since it’s not her usual style, she wanted to try it on, and so I was witness to the give and take between two beautiful women as they played with the hat.
It was nice to be the ‘fly on the wall’ for a few moments and see the kind of fun women can have with something as goofy as a hat, and it allowed me to make a couple of portraits that had simple spontaneity and genuine expression, rather than those more reserved moments when people put on their camera face.