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.
The Thing Itself
Every once in a while I see some pure organic form; a tree, a rocky outcrop, a body of water, a hillside, which makes me pause to regard it just for its own sake. I read the history it suggests, look at the scale it has achieved, or lost, over time, and during this consideration I sometimes get the sense that I am witnessing, “the thing itself”.
‘The thing itself’ is a wonderful photographic idea, one I learned about from John Szarkowski when he was director of the photo department at MoMA, where it came up a number of times in conversation and in his writings. It is the distilled essence of something, whatever it may be, that shows itself to us as yet again another version of the magnitude that objects may possess. This tree did that for me!
When I wandered into this ancient Roman church’s grounds I first was stopped by the sheer size of the trunk of this Plane tree. Maggie and I linked arms to see how far around it we could reach – yes, two tree huggers – and calculated that it would take five of us to encircle it. Now that’s a tree! And how long had it stood near that old pile of stone, probably just a fraction of the time the building has been there.
I felt again, as I often seem to experience, a sense of awe in the company of whatever it is that calls my attention, and maybe that is the deepest part of my photographic behavior; the willingness to give myself over to simple awe. Finally, as I turned from the tree I saw the figure of the tree not in the photograph; the arching limbs casting their shadows over the old wall. Again, a moment to really look hard at simple things; those dusty, burgundy buds promising a springtime of flowers while winter light warms up old stone.
Photographs made on the streets of a city like New York, or any dynamic urban place, usually require an immediacy and responsiveness that often leaves one somewhat uncertain of what the whole image might contain, or how it may ‘work.’ Of course this is part of the mystery and risk of making photographs.
So when I found myself in Bonnieux, a small village in the Luberon valley of southern France, a place where not much was happening, I realized that I must adapt to the pace of the locale and ‘feel’ out the temperament that was required to simply be there. I understood that I had to learn how to see what there was there that stopped me for whatever reason. I guess my first lesson was that ‘awe’ comes in many different, and unexpected forms, and will surprise me if I simply take the time to stand before it and allow myself to be taken in.
On a late afternoon walk around the village on the first day these small gestures; an accumulation of a few stones by someone’s hand, and the peace of an empty street at dusk, said to me, “this is where you are, make the most of what you have.”