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 blistering hot summer day at the Tuscan shore. After a swim and a short nap I opened my eyes and saw the light coming through the umbrella, and then the pure blue of the sky. My first impression was of being under a sundial and that it was around noon, and sure enough, it was.
I love the amazing amount of information, even in such a simple image as this. The difference in tone and color between one side of the white nylon and the other, the subtle density difference between one end of the shadow and the other, the way the sliver of blue hovers above the black frame of the umbrella and then continues beyond. It is this kind of ‘describing’ things to myself that enlivens my attention and keeps me interested in the things that might easily go unnoticed. It’s this ‘paying attention’ that makes photography such a vital form for me.
Being read a story in the late hours of a warm summer day is a little like being a kid again and submitting to the pleasures of the tale and dreaming while listening. Those evening readings were pure joy and often, while Maggie was reading, I would photograph her, or sometimes make a video so I could hold on to the sweetness of the memory of that time in our lives. That was the year we decided to come back to live full time in Italy.
The halo of light around her head in the darkening of the day, and her physical concentration and intensity, like an actress preparing for a role and searching for the ‘voice’ of the character, kept me glued to her every nuance of gesture and tone. Little observations like that, even with someone you know well, can give an ordinary moment meaning.
Siena’s Campo is one of the most spacious piazzas in Italy, and one of the most unique. It is a fan-shaped, brick patterned, space with 9 divisions representing the different contradas, or quarters, that existed when it was built. It functions as a giant sun bowl filled with people usually lying on the bricks and chatting, sleeping, eating, or playing. But what has always fascinated me – and I would like to make a time lapse video of this – is when groups agree to meet in the Campo they usually avoid the heat of the sun by standing in the shadow of the clock tower, and as the shadow moves, like a sweeping sundial’s pointer, everyone moves with it.
I can imagine a very funny short film showing the changing texture of the crowds and varying amounts of people filling the full length of the shadow. This early June morning shows only the first sets of tourists.
Years ago when I was on a Guggenheim Fellowship grant I toured America looking at the way Americans were living while we were in the middle of the Vietnam war. I was also interested in the way we were spending our leisure time, and how the culture was reflected in our monuments and tourist attractions, and I was curious about a lot of other attitudes of that period.
One of the things i noticed was that a lot of our military junk was finding its way into playgrounds, civic spaces, and intersections on highways, to name a few places. Old fighter jets, and missile launchers, armored cars and tanks, the rusting leftovers of the military-industrail complex that Eisenhower warned us against. What I seldom saw was the kind of memorial that The Great Wars of the 20th century produced, those valiant figures helping a fallen comrade, or standing firm against the onslaught, or looking toward the future with some degree of resilience and hope.
When I see these European monuments in small towns all over France I feel the tenderness that those losses addressed. Millions of young men were slaughtered by the incompetence of their war making leaders and the politics of their era. I find it hard to pass these empty plazas and not stop for a moment to read some names, take into account the ages of the dead, be surprised at how many were killed from some of these tiny villages.
On a day when the winter is giving up its bitter edge, human folly still shows its tragic face.
The Child in the Adult
Maggie was a dancer in New York back in the 70’s. She is a natural mime, and is always open to whatever impulses the world sends her way. Walking with her has been an adventure for the last 25 years, since I never know what unexpected, playful gesture or move she’ll make. This day for example; bitterly cold, a mistral blowing, but out we went for a walk up and down the quiet streets of Bonnieux.
She is just as likely to jump up on a wall and walk it like a tightrope, as she is to spin around when a gust of wind spirals the leaves across the road and around her feet. She was 15 feet ahead of me when I saw her interacting with the tree, and so lost in play was she that I was able to slide up behind her without her knowing I was there and make a series of images which speak to me of the child still living inside the adult.
I am reminded that our loved ones are just as crazy as the rest of the world, and that intimacy is no excuse to not see them as separate and amazing.