Tag Archives: stones

DECEMBER 30, 2015

Bare Bones

When it comes right down to it we can only work with what we connect with on any given day. It depends on where we were, what our appetite for seeing was, what the coincidences of the day threw across our path, or finally, what we were alive to at any one moment.

I drove to the local health food store to get a few things for the upcoming New Year’s Eve dinner we were making to celebrate the end of 2013. I had spent a good part of the day inside preparing and doing other year end tasks, and so went to the bio, as they call it in France, late in the day, and as I pulled into the parking slot I saw this gnarly, furry, wild haired, winter naked bush, brittle in the last tincture of rosy light, sitting on a brutal pile of rocks behind a scrabbly chicken wire fence. All in all a tough image, one that might seldom hold my attention, and yet…

As I sat there for a moment thoughts of Dubuffet and Art Brut came to mind, and Philip Guston too, one of my favorite painters who never flinched at hard, ugly realities, and found ways to address them in his paintings, ways that challenged the values of the art world at that time. And so the longer I stayed in that moment’s reverie with this scrawny, bristling and blighted image, the more I realized that it was the most exciting thing I had see all day, and in fact was beautiful in its own demanding and difficult way.

I welcomed it.

12-30 Tree rocks L1003773


JUNE 18, 2015

Moving Pieces

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.

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MAY 19, 2015

3 Contadini

Marino, Marino, Maria.

Maria is married to Marino, and her brother, Marino, lives with them. They are in their 80’s and older, and have been together on their farm for more than 60 years. They are the last of a dying generation of people who live on and work the land. They are entirely self sufficient. They are wise and warm, and wily, and funny too, and have generous hearts that have remained open in spite of the hardships they’ve endured by living in a manner that belongs to the early part of the 20th century, or maybe even earlier.

The things they know about the land, the animals, the seasons, the very meaning of the winds, could fill a book. And Marino (with the stick) was a prisoner of war in WW2, and managed to walk all the way back home from up near the Russian border. Each time we visit with them we come away with a feeling that we traveled back in time to a part of Tuscan life that every day is slipping further away.

To make a portrait of these people – as you might imagine they are not aware of the ways in which we moderns make photographs all the time – so to make a portrait that holds their innocence as a value, requires a delicate method of being very present and yet as direct as they are, but also by maintaining a space that doesn’t take anything away from them, nor make them skittish. So genuine Interest in their lives and stories provides a basis for being in and observant of their rhythm. It supports the making of informal portraits.

There is a touch of anthropology in working like this, not that I know anything about that science, but over all these years I’ve learned how to be with people, and to become slightly invisible while being very present. This is part of the ‘way of being’ that photographers develop in order to slip into the lives of others.

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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.

April 904-9 L1027598

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 17, 2015

A Shadow of the Light

A young friend from Paris came for a visit. We decided to show him a mysterious old settlement called ‘the Bories,’ up in the woods above Bonnieux,  Ancient nomadic people, perhaps Celtic shepherds, or so the legend suggests, built stone bee-hive and igloo- like structures, in groups of 30 or more dwellings and animal pens.

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This place, long abandoned, has an air of spirituality and power that is still undeniably present. Each time we visit it courses through us with the same intensity. Over time, other visitors, some artistically inclined, have added things to the structures; woven branch roofs, stone circles, odd objects that set off the modern against the ancient, and other strangely affecting gestures.

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On the day we were there I saw, nestled in a stone wall, this rock on which Nature, in its effortlessly creative way, dissolved a leaf over time and left this negative image. It reminded me of how, at the dawn of photography, the early inventors also made a shadow of the light to mark their moment. If photography is about anything it is about that; light over time.

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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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FEBRUARY 22, 2015


Who did this? Why are they sitting in this open field? Was there any intention behind it? Is it Art? Or is it what it looks like? A pile of dirt and a pile of stones. Why is it so satisfying? The transformation of ordinary things onto objects we call art usually comes from the mind of someone who is pushing the boundaries of whatever materials they are working with.

This push has been greatly aided by photography over the history of the medium, and certainly it has taken a huge leap forward since conceptual art has become part of our culture. Think about how many artists have used photography as their ‘record of effort’, like Andy Goldsworthy for example, who leaves his marks in nature by assembling forms out of ice, or stones, or leaves, then photographs the work and leaves it to decay, the only record of the effort is the photograph which allows us to believe he did that!

All of us have been so cultivated by these examples that we now can see for ourselves surprising incidents, gestures, accidents, coincidences, or any of the numerous ways that chance leaves vestiges of effort lying about for us to claim as our own. This is no different, we might say, than Duchamp taking the toilet bowl as a ‘readymade’ and calling it his art.

I caught sight of these piles on a trip to another town and immediately stopped to walk into the field and consider them up close. They reminded me of a photograph I made many years ago in California while on a Guggenheim Fellowship. But what was best of all on this day was that I got out of the car and stood in contemplation of a pile of dirt and a pile of stones, and the pleasure I got from walking around them and standing on what was once a sea bottom countless eons ago, was what is most important.

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Calif 1971

FEBRUARY 10/11, 2015


If there is one thing that 50 years of making photographs has taught me it is that every moment, no matter what it brings; joy, pleasure, sadness, pain, or the endless bounty of everything else we can feel, it passes as quickly as it came, and the continual renewal of every moment is all we can hope to be conscious of. It is the attachment to things, as if they were permanent, that gets us into trouble.

So, first of all, I am grateful beyond words for all the loving, supportive and generous comments that flowed to me and Maggie today after yesterday’s challenging times. Yes! It was shocking to be setup like that by a band of thieves (we later learned that it’s a honey trap, and that many other travelers have lost their belongings at this roadside attraction). And the Police do nothing about it, figuring, we guess, ‘tourists get what’s coming to them, traveling with all their precious possessions, and the cops know insurance companies will cover the loss, so why bother looking, and, it aids the local economy’. What a way to live!

But, back to your kindnesses. So many of you offered your thoughts about attachment, and our moment of loss, that it made us feel that there is hope when so many strangers offer this comfort so warmly. Maggie and I are already filling the space with new moments, new feelings, working through the lost items and memories, letting things go as we must, and painful as it is at moments, it is also becoming lighter to bear.

Maggie even said to me today, and she lost more intimate, meaningful treasures than my replaceable things, “I say a prayer for those who had to live lives that brought them to a place where they treat other humans like this”.

February 10,

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February 11,

A day of retreat from all the aches of yesterday. As I walked past this stone cap at the end of a flight of stairs it took hold of me and made me pay attention. It made me step out of my inwardness and take in the vast, almost cosmic map quality of this humble stone in which mould, and fissures, and weathering, have made the surface dance the universal dance. As if stars exploded and atoms were splitting, and planetary movements were being etched by time on a glass plate negative. And perhaps that is what time has done to this stone. Simply left its marks while the stone aged.

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FEBRUARY 4, 2015

Out the Window

Some days just slip away, and I wonder, ‘where did the time go’? Interior days in the winter are perfect for dealing with the backlog of work that seems to accumulate so quickly now that we’re  in Europe, new exhibitions and projects which are time sensitive, and then all the catching up with the many things that computers were supposed to make easier for us.

So here it is nearly 5:00pm and I am called to the window by the last bit of sunlight doing its rosy golden number in the deep blue background of oncoming night, and once again – no matter how many times I have seen this – it never fails to make me drift into a reverie about time, and how I use it, and in these later years, how can I stretch it out.

Standing at the window I see that Maggie has lit the candles and the fire is dancing in the fireplace, and then I see the spatial illusion of near and far and behind, which has a surreal, Magritte-like quality; the overlap of the twin fires of nature and the hearth played out on the stone wall, and my reverie joins me to them, and the question of time goes out the window.

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