Dear Reader, My youngest brother was killed last night in a head on collision 3 hours from New York City. I am going up there to be with the family for a few days. I will add a few days of picture-a-day work to this post to carry me through.
September 10, the still life went through some changes. To paraphrase something Jasper Johns once said, ‘ …you do something to a work, and then you do it again…’
September 11, The BBC sent a camera crew down to make a video.
September 12, Silvia brought over a still oven warm cake made from her eggs and milk and flour. Then we ate it.
While I was working with these objects I picked up an old funnel that I used a year before and found inside the funnel another small clump of ‘smoke bush’ fluff which had settled into the form of the cone shape of the funnel. The color and shape seemed to relate to the conical tops of the tin objects so I put it on top of the round form just to see what would happen.
Still life seems to me to be a form of play in which the objects have a life of their own, and as I move them around the stage something comes from them, a presence, a spirit, even sometimes a sense of their potential force. I add and subtract and then sit and look, waiting for something to speak to me or suggest another move. In that sense they are always open to subtle changes as I become familiar with their character and how it projects into the space.
This is still new to me and I am finding a kind of pleasure in contemplation that I hadn’t known came with the territory of the still life.
Most of this still life work has been made in the dark or near dark of my studio, but when I saw a slice of light falling through a crack in the covered skylight – a change in the season allowed the sun to be there for 5 minutes – striking this talismanic figure ,I sensed that I should spend some time seeing where it would take me. It was only then that I saw the marking on the box behind the figure, which for some reason seemed to read as a falling figure, the kind one would see in a painting by Bosch, and then of course I couldn’t look at the box without seeing it that way.
How often does that happen? Something is right there but it remains invisible until the right combination of elements makes it visible, and then a fresh start is possible.
I found myself neglecting to show some of the still lives I had been making at the same time as I was making outside images. This strange collection of forms below had been up in the teatrino for days, moving themselves around into different groupings. The organic shape (a smoke bush’s flowers which had dried and became this aggregate mass of delicate twiggy forms) and for some reason seemed to want to appear with the grey shapes I was working with then. These connections come so suddenly, on instinct, that I tend not to resist and just let myself be taken in by them to see what comes of it.
This was a day of generosity. In a nearby small town I came across this beautiful bunting wrapped, church doorway. No doubt ready for a procession for a saint’s day, or a wedding, or who knows what festive event the town was making, but it made me happy just looking at the way the space was redefined by some simple fabric hanging on the facade.
Then, returning home, a bounty of offerings appeared; Silvia came by with a cake she just baked, then her mother-in-law stopped by with some fresh ricotta she had made from the new sheep they recently bought, then a man from Buonconvento, on the way to his sister’s place, stopped by to bring us a box of figs from his amazingly productive tree. All that, and some eggplants from the garden, which I roasted and turned into baba ganouj became a summer dinner. And a still life, and a portrait of a building. You work with what you have.
We came back after a late-in-the-day walk to find this rugged tomato, just picked from the garden, deposited on our table by our farmer landlord, Silvia, who often brings us whatever is on the vine; squash blossoms, string beans, zucchini, eggplant, new potatoes, onions, figs, grapes, plums, and so on, but this creature sat there looking ugly/beautiful, and that always gets to me. Ugly/beautiful is one of those qualities that the world throws our way in unexpected moments, and when I see it I am reminded of how great the variety of what we call beauty really is.
It suggests a reconsideration of what we think we know about beauty, and our own values. It’s not that this tomato is any kind of paragon of beauty, but simply that it made me pause for just a moment to look at it, and once I paused I saw the light making lines like the tomato’s lines, and then I felt the sweet sentiment of Silvia’s generosity, add to that the lateness of the hour and its color, and what came over me was the plain song of the evening and the goodness of life.
Living on a farm in Tuscany offers in its solitude few distractions from the basic simplicity of daily life. Not like living in a city where just stepping out the door onto Broadway, or any lively street in a city, throws marvelous and unexpected chaos at one non stop. I find living on the farm is more of a slowed down and mediative experience, so that something even as ordinary as putting food on a plate and bringing it to the table can offer a moment to be startled by its humble beauty.
By accepting this I found myself responding the simple language of poetry, in which an accounting of what is in front of me serves to bring me to consciousness. That perception, more than making a great image, is preparation for what may appear next. And since photography is always dealing with the momentary – in which we never can imagine what is coming next – these small moments of attentiveness are really all we have.