Not every day has interesting photographs in it. Some days it’s just a record of being alive and seeing something curious in a familiar place, even if it’s of minimal interest, like this street in the small town, Buonconvento where we live. During that week the town held its annual Sagra Festival, where all 4 quarters of the town cook for the whole town and any visitors who wish to come. On the last night of the festival they held a ‘fashion show’ in which the young kids paraded down the street trying to be glamourous. The town threw itself into the event and set up this ‘runway’ in the middle of the street. What appealed to me was the vision of modernity set inside a place built a 1000 years ago.
There is nothing the Italians enjoy more than eating. And when they can gather at some long communal table and be eating outside on a summery evening, they love it! It’s a way to meet new people, or be with old friends, or simply take a chance on whatever life throws their way. It’s a custom that goes way back and small towns all over Tuscany, and I’m sure all over Italy, continue the tradition.
I always find something to shoot when I’m there, portraits of my table companions, the behavior of the young kids who are doing the serving, the musicians who stroll on through, the dancing later on, and sometimes fireworks.
Night time, and the variety of color temperatures of street lighting, often make ordinary places into theatrical spaces. This back street in a tiny town took on a richness of color that made me go back after I walked past it, and take a real look. And we are all fortunate today in what the digital capacities of our cameras allow us to see and to render. But it’s the going back that counts.
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.
On the streets of Cortona with students in the workshop, I saw a few of those balletic moments of no great significance, but which keep the eye sharp and the appetite hungry. When I was a kid we were taught penmanship with a real old fashioned pen that was dipped into an inkwell. We had to make slinky-like spirals and other gestural swirls and swishes so that we would develop a ‘good hand’ and be ready at any instant to create beautiful letters.
Like penmanship, the attuned eye, following the rhythm of life on the streets, keeps one sharp and ready for when the moment arrives. These little toe pointings, and head tiltings are nuanced gestures that lead to a more watchful readiness and also to enjoying the rich, unexpected incidents that can happen when you pay attention.
This image of 2 sisters, one already filled out and worldly, and for a moment taking charge of her younger sibling, filled me with the sense of what sexual development, or the lack of it, may offer in the way of power between people. Who knows what the hidden text of this picture really is? For all I know she was saying, ‘gosh, that’s hot, don’t you have a lighter top?’ But it also could be about the difference between being a teenager and not.
I had gone into town to meet someone, and on the way in I was stunned once again by the simple beauty visible almost anywhere in this remarkable valley. A roadside with an old olive tree and a new field of poppies, and in the distance a line of cypresses. Like a haiku poem unfolding in 3 lines and 2 frames.
In town, the fable of the ‘beauty and the beast,’ played itself out in 2 strokes. As I walked to my meeting with the ‘beauty,’ I saw the old man below plodding heavily along, andI felt the pull of gravity on his whole being. Not that he is the beast but the space around him was weighted with his effort, and some ineffable sadness. The beast I saw was one who worked hard all his life and, ilke many country people here, are bent from a lifetime of labor.
It’s often hard to know what to make of almost anything we see in the world at large. Garry Winogrand, with whom I daily walked the streets of Manhattan, LA, Paris, and elsewhere for a few steady years in the mid 60’s, used to say that when he photographed someone on the street with their mouth wide open it was difficult to know if they were screaming, laughing or yawning, and it was that ambiguity that made it an interesting photographic moment.
Here too, the ridiculous angle and action opens the frame to suggestions of a violent nature, as well as just thoughtless family teasing. These unknowns are part of the photographer’s vocabulary of ‘signs,’ which indicate something of interest is happening right here! But will it yield a photograph? Only the photograph after the fact will tell us if it amounts to more than the sum of its parts.