Tag Archives: Provence

APRIL 23, 2015

Fetish

A friend brought this hand made old doll for me to see. It had tremendous power for such a small and innocent thing. Its oversize head and the tail between its legs lent it a kind of  talismanic, or fetish-like presence, but one with no ill will attached to it. It seemed to me, with its bowed head, to express some kind of shame.

I put it on the background I was working with that day, an old, cowhide, butchers, or perhaps metalworker’s apron, which, when I put it on the table I was using, offered a powerful sense of landscape scale. I moved the doll around to see what it could say within its small range of movement. If you click on the link below the photo you can see a video of the sequence of images I made as I was trying to understand what it could do.

I can’t say I solved anything with this first attempt, and to be perfectly honest I always felt that the doll photographs that were so popular back in the 80’s were really dumb, and I couldn’t see the reason for people to play with them when the world outside was so much more compelling and challenging. Yet here I am making still lives at this time in my life, and someone comes along with this gentle soul and I find myself interested. If it is nothing more than that – interest – in seeing what this might ‘say’, then that is good enough for me now. I will just have to wait it out and see if it continues to stay interesting.

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http://youtu.be/-lGs3juG154

APRIL 21, 2015

First Thought, Best Thought

Driving on a back country road to visit a man who saves plant seeds from all over the world; someone who has resisted Monsanto and their ideas about patenting seeds so farmers must buy only from them, or be punished if they don’t, we came across this landscape. I don’t know if it is a monument to someone’s idea of the civilization we are living in, or the fallen ruin of what in this part of France are called Bories, stone dwellings built centuries ago by migrant shepherds.

But whatever the reason, the apocalyptic image called out to be walked around. Of all the images I made this first one held the immediacy of the surprise, and the right scale for the TV set perched on the pile. And even though there were some strong alternates they stay behind on the contact sheet. Why is that? The old Zen saying, ‘first thought, best thought’ may be true as a photographic maxim too.

Of course it doesn’t always work that way, and persistence and movement can bring wonderful new points of view and ways of saying what you want to say as you discover the unfolding possibilities. But often enough it is the joy of that instantaneous sighting that holds all the power and freshness of discovery.

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APRIL 20, 2015

Henchmen

I had been looking at my tin chimney cap Mussolini for a few days, moving the tin man around on the little ‘teatrino’ setup I am using, trying to see what made sense, or gave me a fresh idea. At some point a crowd of objects came into the space but weren’t doing anything other than crowding. And then something happened. I introduced the tall wooden figure and, like a chess move, the force on the stage changed. The grey shapes began to cluster around and behind the tin man setting up a dialogue for me. The wood figure suddenly became slightly confrontational, as if he was the spokesman of ‘the people,’ who were represented by tiny, silver pastry cones, and the dynamic seemed to be (and all this is just the buzz inside my mind) that he was appealing to the powers that be for some cause, and that the outcome wouldn’t be in favor of the people, because the tin-man had his Henchmen to support him.

The stage seemed to bristle with potential political or social story lines, and then these cast-off objects, no longer used for whatever their original function was, seemed to come back to life for me. I thought, ‘is that what natura morte can do?’ Bring the inanimate back to life?

So I learned something here about what might be my way with still lives, which is not to arrange for beauty of form alone, that has been done by painting for a thousand years, but to stay open to trying to bring my street sense of possible connections and meanings into the way I look at the objects I choose. And that way test them to see if something meaningful rises up out of the collective assembly.

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APRIL 19, 2015

Which One

A day after visiting the winery with the sculpture gardens (in yesterday’s post) we went to visit a friend who was beginning a small gardening business. tomatoes are his dream crop. Standing in the newly raked rows I thought about how this space will soon be filled with these rough bamboo stakes which will, in their way, create a space and impression not too dissimilar from the work of art in the last post. Except that this is functional and made without esthetic concerns, although, as can be seen by the sense of order visible in these first 3 rows, there is a pure and practical, and even beautiful esthetic underlying his system.

What came to me while standing there was that this ‘installation’ would ultimately be be the more impressive one once it was fully staked, and then, during each stage of the season, it would be transformed by nature and time, and that in the long run it was this place that might be the real work of art.

I know it could easily be said that this is a garden not an art work, but who is to say what kind of effort brings us closer to the spirit and intention of the maker. I would like to stand here at summer’s end, with a sun warmed and ripened fruit in my hand, and take in the thousand bright red spheres shimmering against their sun burnished leaves, and breathe in that particular fragrance that tomatoes in the field give off, and then ask myself which experience pleased me more.

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APRIL 16, 2015

Where Will It take Me

In yesterday’s post I showed a photograph of this statuette and talked about how desirable it was, but not for me. What I didn’t say was that the guy also had this tin chimney cover, and that that was the thing that interested me. Now how strange is that? Why the damn chimney top of all things? I can’t explain it, but I found myself walking away from it, and then turning around and going back to look harder, handle it, and finally, overcome by some mystery inherent in the object, some strange power, I bought it.

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As I have mentioned before, my new interest in still lives has me seeing things. This tinsmith’s work, and after all, the thing was meant to go way up on a roof top where nobody really looks at it, yet it has about it a kind of madness and image quality that suggested to me something of the dictatorial power of Mussolini. Even the profile feels like Il Duce.

Mussolini

Look at the force projected by the helmet-like face and the warrior’s plume, which in this case is simply a wind catcher, so that the draught from the fireplace below will flow smoothly upwards as the wind turns the cap. My first impulse was to read arrogance and force into the inanimate tin pot. From that moment on I was blinded to the actuality of the thing itself, and all my first images seemed to be about scale and power. Where will it take me?

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APRIL 15, 2015

Intention

It was an 80 degree day in April, and I was at a big antique fair in Avignon. While wandering the endless aisles I came across this sleeping beauty getting his radiation dose, and found it more interesting than any of the furniture, paintings, mirrors, chests, dishes, rugs, and the assorted contents of dealers warehouses from all over Europe.

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Although this guy below had an amazing statuette of an All American showgirl/cheerleader type that had me thinking; ‘what I could do with this?’ But, in the end, (which is where he was going) I felt it was too much of a great thing in and of itself – it had all the same characteristics of those 40’s and 50’s pin-ups and magazine illustrations – and it felt that there was little I could do but copy it, and that isn’t my idea of photography. Yes, the camera does copy things, but one’s intention seems to me to be more important than mere duplication.

Invention in the moment, inspiration and surprise, and of course the time factor, has always been a more exciting prospect to me than direct rendering of a thing or place or person.

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APRIL 13, 2015

Characters

I went to  some antique fairs during my time in Provence and found myself drawn to these odd forms and sizes. It’s something I don’t really understand very well since I never was a ‘collector’ of things. I have so many photographs from my 50 years of shooting that I never wanted to have ‘things’,  but now that I started making still lives I am surprised by what I find fascinating.

I created a little stage for them to behave on.  I am not really interested in making beautiful arrangements of forms and then lighting them so that each object is a thing of beauty in and of itself; unlike the way that much of the history of the still life plays out.

I like the oddness and the used-up quality of these things whose function, in some cases, is hard to guess. And I had the feeling that my years on the street would tell me what I needed to know in order to play with these new characters. In fact, thinking of them and responding to them from that point of view, as characters, would be the way this new work would develop. We’ll see what happens over time.

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APRIL 12, 2015

Simile

The world often throws metaphors, similes, analogies, and other language cues out to us in its own effortless manner, all we have to do is be alert to the throw and the camera becomes a great catcher’s mitt. Since baseball season has just begun perhaps that is an apt metaphor.

The simile here, was breathtaking in its simplicity even at 60 miles an hour. I got it in a blink.  The cloud of cherry blossoms and the oncoming layers of mist and cloud rolling down from the cold reaches of the hills beyond, into the warmth of the valley.

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APRIL 6 -11, 2015

Seeing the Light

I look out the window never knowing what I’ll see that may be of interest. Will it be the weather? The landscape? Street activity? Even if we are familiar with our window’s frame, expecting it to show us the same old scene just altered by time or season, we can be surprised. The frame can move our attention just as we move the camera in front of our eye. On this bleak day, with a light rain falling, the delicate tracery of the cypress trees on the water, and the subtle coloration of the pool’s structure, made me feel as if I was seeing lavender in the overall aqua that I wasn’t sure was there. There was no lavender in the grey sky. Yet the grey bands in the pool delicately resonated with color. My feeling was that all that aqua produced a lavender echo in my eye, and on the sensor. And it is that magic of color seeing that has always seduced me.

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Carrying the camera always makes me interested in something along the way, and thus I am always having to catch up to family or friends who are already ahead of me. But sometimes it pays off if even in small ways. Seeing Maggie and our friends ahead of me as we hurried to the cinema made me appreciate the now lengthened hours of the day, and the lovely mix of last light and lamplight in this old town’s narrow alleys. I had that jolt, as I so often do, that, “I am Here, now!” And the recognition of the meaning of being in every moment becomes ringingly clear.                                                                                                                                                           April 7

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Nature takes hold wherever it can, it is, after all, nature’s dominion that we live in. So when I stand in front of something as simple as an ivy covered wall, naked in this season, I see the vivacious complexity of it all, and thrill to the marvel of it once again in yet another form. I imagined a print of it at 8 or 10 feet, and see how something so simple can also convey great power, depending upon its scale.

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I pulled into an empty lot to turn the car around and swung into line with the back wall of a  cemetery filled with crazy topiary bushes and trees. But what really called out to me at this late hour of the day, was the enormous pile of stones banked near the wall. There was something so funereal about the pile and the way it was stacked and ordered, that i got out to walk around it and take it all in. The scene became more mysterious as the light faded and the stones emanated a ghostly radiance. I guess it was just right for a cemetery.

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What a riot of color this restaurant was! Earlier in the week I was taken with the barely discernible lavender tones in a green pool, and was questioning color’s way of working in a subtractive or additive way. But here, the mix and bounce and reflection and blending of colors was a whole lesson in primaries and complementary colors, and the wait for our food to arrive was taken up with the beauty of how light transforms wherever we are and what we see.

April 10

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With all the various kinds of light this week presented, when it comes to feelings of intimacy there is nothing like candlelight. That old touch of primitive fire, flickering and dancing the shadows on the walls, making moods and mystery where electric light would elaborate the harsh details and leave us looking at the repairs we need to make rather than at the beauty of the moment. The cameras of today do very well in low light situations, and in fact have advanced our ability to see into the dark in ways that film struggled with. I am grateful when the technology of our times adds expressive potential to our ideas.

April 11

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MARCH 22, 2015

7 in 1:

Announcement: I have to try an experiment this week. I am in the middle of preparing a set of 4, 20 foot high, 3 sided, triangular columns for the EXPO 2015 World’s Fair in Milan, which opens in 5 weeks. I have been given a whole Pavilion to install these works in. The theme of the Fair is “Feed the Planet,” and my Pavilion is dedicated to Cereals and Grains which translates, to me, as ‘Bread.’ So I have made 75 portraits of bread from all over Italy. These will be stacked on Totem-like columns. So I must, starting this week, post a weeks worth of my one-a-day images all at once, while I dedicate myself to finishing the work on the pavilion.

The week that I made these images took me to Lourmarin, near Bonnieux, and Bonnieux itself, then Paris, and after Paris on the TGV to Deauville, where Maggie and I were asked to do a commission about the town in Summer, but once we saw the place, we decided that it wasn’t something we were interested in doing, so back to Bonnieux we went.

I had the sense that the dogs in Lourmain (3/22) were ‘getting acquainted,’ and that these rituals are an interesting thing to consider, maybe even as a subject for a body of work. We see this in human beings all the time in the dance we do, the gestures we make, the knowing looks sent back and forth between people are all part of our subtle communication. Sometimes themes and ideas spring from surprising sources.

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The power of the tree in the landscape at this time of year is rich with suggestive force. The small shocks I get from these relationships of trees to the whole space never cease to please me and open me up to considering what makes a landscape photograph. Even with such minimal conditions as these something comes into play. That fountain-like tree in the distance and the groin of the tree in the foreground spoke to me of needs and surges that all nature’s things can express.

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In Paris (3/25-26) it’s always the parks and boulevards for me, where life is at its most Parisian and something always comes along, both the expected and unexpected. And lovers have arguments as well as making up, and an argument in public is an observable intimacy of the unguarded moment. Then, on a visit to the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation, to see a great show of Howard Greenberg’s private collection, I found myself looking out the Foundation’s window at a scene that the master himself might have looked at, although this image certainly isn’t worthy of him. Nonetheless, the activity in the schoolyard below changed every few seconds and was fun to look at when seen with the running figure on the wall above the window. Later, while passing a shop, I saw this amazing 4 fingered glove. Eerie and mysterious, as well as a strong image all on its own, I asked the owner if I could buy it for my still life collection of objects with that kind of power. No deal she said! So, it’s just a memory now.

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(3/27) At 120 miles an hour on the TGV, things come and go in the blink of a second, yet every once in a while something lovely is revealed, plucked by speed itself. Here! and Gone! And all I have is the camera’s 1000th of a second to save it from oblivion.

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(3/28) The beach at Deauville, while wide and clean, had behind it a town that was developed by rich Parisian merchants early in the 20th century. It was a holiday town for the well to do who wanted to get out of Paris, and as such it had no history, and it shows it now. After 30 minutes of walking around Maggie and I were dispirited and longing to get back on the train and head for Bonnieux. Yet the red, white and blue of the beach on that second day of spring, bitter as it was, did bring a moment of longing for those sweet summer days by the sea.

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