Tag Archives: small town

AUGUST 6, 2015

Stop Time

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.

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JULY 22, 2015

Penmanship

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.

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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.

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MAY 4, 2015

Beauty and the Beast

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.

05-4 L pano1028585In 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.

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APRIL 5, 2015

Vocabulary of Signs

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.

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MARCH 10, 2015

Time Machine

The camera is a time machine. It measures time in fractions of a second. It shows us the time of day. It describes the seasons. It reflects what kind of time we are having, if you look hard enough you might be able to see something of what the photographer was feeling, but that is open to discussion I am sure.

A photograph of a wall like this one tells me a lot. It’s not just about the colors – which are delicious – or the time of day it was made, but when I stood there what I saw was the passage of time etched into the life of the wall. The layers of color applied over different times of the building’s life. The wearing down of the colors and the walls themselves. The addition of a window, or a doorway, the closing up again, and other, invisible forces, too. For example; those arcs on the wall, how did they get there? They must have been from vines that grew over the wall and were strong enough to score the surface as the wind tossed them around, and like a protractor they left their geometry scraped into the wall.

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Time is told in this image by the sense of the freshening of the light. A spring urgency is just becoming visible in the newness of the grasses and in the silver glitter of the olive trees. Time is present to me in the way I feel on a day like this, when I wonder, ‘how many more Springs will I see?’

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MARCH 9, 2015

State of Play

Sometimes the liveliest things on the street, especially in a small town in Provence where no one ever seems to be around, are the vestiges of inanimate things that suddenly appear. My way of working is to respond to whatever comes up for me out of my passage through time and space. It could be nearly meaningless, ordinary, dumb, or unlikely to be of greater interest later on, it doesn’t matter, it is the only thing that is speaking to me at that given instant, and that is what I have to work with.

Anything that makes me pay attention, even for just a moment, is one more moment of consciousness, and once again a trickle of playful energy occupies my mind. It is this willingness to make something of nothing that primes my senses for whatever may follow that moment. I find that if I do not play when something calls to me then I lose my edge, soI let myself be taken in, and I play. And by doing so my innocence is capable of being prompted by the unexpected when it next shows up.

And we know that as we get older the innocent joy of discovery gets whittled away by all the other responsibilities that life throws at us, which distracts us from that state of play. So a moment of open ended curiosity, and the freedom to see in a care less way, is a gift we must not turn away from.

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MARCH 7, 2015

Like This

Before cars and people came down this street, before roads and houses were built, before walls were mounded up for defense or boundaries, the stones themselves felt water rushing past. I never cease to wonder when I stop here, about the marks grooved into the stone, and how many millennia of rising and falling waters have passed since this was part of the sea bottom or shoreline of what is now the Mediterranean Sea.

The courses of stones and the courses of the smoothed ridges blend together in a stony harmony that delights my eye, and I always seem to find a reason to lift my camera and try to make a photograph that describes what it is I see. This image, made at the end of day, when the light was flat and had the faintest lavender cast to it, may (or may not) work, because it doesn’t depend on the glory of sunlight, or the drama of some action, to set off the place from the rather ordinary seeming place that it is. It is just its unmediated self now.

It’s the rocks that first produce the ‘beat’ that means something to me and makes me stop, so I need to reconsider what it is I want to say about them. Fortunately I had time here to look again and again, since I walked this way every few days. It’s a little like solving a math problem in one’s head, and by going over it again and again the meaning may resolve itself.

Once, when I was around 15, I saw Albert Einstein walking the back streets of Princeton, while I was on a day trip there from summer camp, and had slipped away from my group. He was on a back street; tree lined, quiet, nothing to mark it as special from the next one, and as I watched him from a hundred yards away, he stopped and stood for a long time doing nothing, head tilted slightly up, possibly watching the leaves trembling, or listening to the birds. Perhaps he was following a line of reasoning that was out there in the universe of his mind’s embrace. Of course it was impossible to imagine then, as it is now, what anyone else thinks about, but standing still, and taking it all in, like Einstein, is part of the photographic act at certain moments. And certain moments are what photographs are made of.

Like this one.

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FEBRUARY 25, 2015

The Presence

I had to run out to pick something up for Maggie from the pharmacy before they closed. I always take the camera even if I am just going around the corner, which is where the pharmacy is. What a moment! It may seem like an ordinary evening, and to the extent that nothing happened, it was. But we have to make the most out of what we have, the hand we are dealt as photographers is always a straight. It is what it is. The dull moments and the exciting ones, you never know what you’ll get.

But, in fact, it is our recognition of something special, to us, within the overall moments of life that puts us near the presence, the sense of necessity, that makes us gasp and say, Yes!

For me it was the hour, and the color of the street lights seen against that particular winter evening blue, and those shutters! Their blue off by just enough toward the cyan to make the last of the magenta in the blue of the sky seem even more radiant. These color events,these relationships, small as they are, are enough to bring a rising sense of joy to me. I stand in them, breath them in, linger, while my mind and eye let me know how wonderful it is to be alive.

This is what photography means to me.

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JANUARY 29, 2015

Swept Away

It must have been a fantastic January sale, even the window models lost their clothes! I see things like this on the streets of New York all the time since they change the windows a lot faster there, but to be in a small, French, agricultural town, on a back street no less, and to turn the corner, on a late and grey day, and come upon this window was quite a pleasant surprise – and let me tell you there was no one else on the streets, as is so often the case in French towns – where do they all go?

This kind of photograph is like shooting ducks in a barrel. It’s all there already, and all I have to do is stand in front of it and put a frame around it. And I probably have made more than my share of these kinds of ‘record’ photographs. But what do they record? And why bother to make it again and again.

Well, when I am out wandering and nothing much is going on, then anything that has a sign of life seems to be of interest. And in a way it’s a little like ‘priming the pump’, if I make a shot like this I feel somewhat freer, because something happened!  It feels good to be called out of the lethargy that can come over all of us when walking in strange, often quiet towns. It’s like a warmup, or a stretch.

So it records a moment of engagement for me, and it also records what this particular time, in France, in a small town, in the 21st century looked like. It is also a reminder that throughout the history of Photography this kind of image has called photographers to account. Think of Atget’s great photographs of windows with mannequins. Not that this has any bearing on his image, but whenever we connect with the past we keep the continuity of the medium going. And one never knows what might happen next because you stopped here to look, spend a few minutes thinking about what you are seeing, and then life resumes again and sweeps you away.

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JANUARY 24, 2015

Rapture

The lesson is; always carry your camera!

We were having dinner guests and Maggie, realizing we needed a fresh baguette, asked me to trek the 100 yards from our house to the baker. So out I went, and as it’s my habit to always carry a camera, whether it is 100 yards or a hundred miles, it gave me the chance to pause on my walk back to take in the spectacle of this nameless corner in a small town, in the Luberon valley, in the southern part of Provence, just as nightfall brought a rapture to these old walls and hills. And to me.

To stand here and breathe in the colors, because I believe you can breathe them in, how else to  account for that surge of knowing something, which comes from standing still some place and simply being, breathing in the all of it in that particular moment. And so what if the moment is illuminated by street lamps and window light, and the colors may seem a little garish. In fact it is the union of the two competing sensations that brings them into their momentary harmony.

Just to look at it all for what it is, is enough to fill me up with wonder about how remarkable, at any given moment, our world is.

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