Perhaps we are all programmed with visuals that we have collected over our lives. For example; this woman carrying a doll at her breast – probably her 3 year old is walking up ahead with daddy – but she, in that moment, for that split second, seemed to be nursing an infant, or holding it madonna-like, especially since I was in Italy where those paintings are innumerable.
In any event I responded on instinct and reached for it to see what it would look like later on.
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 spaces just ring with authority. Even when they might be just a small neighborhood chapel, or a convent, or school, or some old ruin that has the aggregate of time on its side. Coming into this neighborhood in Siena I was surprised at how the building and the ‘wings’ of the subtly curving street so perfectly related to the two doorways of the church, one with that seashell with a madonna or saint, and the other with the wings over it.
Little moments of pause and reflection have been the part of carrying a camera that I probably have learned the most from. Just about everything I know I have learned from photography.
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.
Whenever I see architecture of extravagance; cathedrals, palaces, monuments, etc., particularly from 4 or 500 years ago, I give myself over to the experience of wonder that they produce in me. I love the birthday cake-like fantasía that architects in those days offered their wealthy clients, and that those clients, often the Church, would accept that kind over-the-top decoration, probably as a way to bring the paying multitudes in, grandeur being a seductive call or advertisement for the pageants produced therein.
Looked at today these places still hold up their end of the bargain, as one can see by the tourists regularly visiting these sites. For me though, it’s part of a continuing record I keep of the craziness of a past time, and I wonder what of our structures today might still be here 500 years from now.
We went to Lucca to hear a Leonard Cohen concert and the day started off sunny and bright, then dark and stormy, then back to sunny again, and on and off for most to the day. I always like being out in the weather, watching the way it clears the streets as everyone runs for cover. Sometimes it produces a photograph or two.
On a quick dash to Siena to pick up eyeglasses that had been fixed I had some crowd time on the streets. As always it’s unendingly fascinating to watch our species and witness the parade of shapes, sizes, gestures, makeup, clothing, companions, family, emotions, and all the combinations that, as Shakespeare would say “…flesh is heir to.”
Still Doing It
In the middle of the shoot a whole class of kids walked right through the shot. Not a problem though as it’s always been my way to accept whatever happens rather than trying to control everything. It didn’t turn out to add anything to the work though, just a pause. The day went well in spite of rain, then sun, and then grey, the works; and in fact it added variety to the feeling of the season the client was hoping for.
I worked through more than 20 setups, which is a lot for a one day shoot, but I managed, even though I hadn’t done a commercial job in more than 20 years, and I surprised myself by holding up and running around after all these young actors for 10 hours. I thought to myself at one point, ‘why are they complaining about working after being in one or two setups, I was in all 20!’ In fact, for me the best part was seeing that I could still do it.
Below is a cast and crew shot at the end of the day.
I was asked to shoot something on the set of old New York, and when I arrived I saw that all of Cinecittá seemed to be a crumbling, dilapidated, lifeless place. Film production was gone, a few sound stages were used for TV shows, and the rest of the place had become a tour bus attraction, without much attraction going for it. I scouted the place for locations and everywhere I said I wanted to shoot they said “no, off limits for now.” If not now, when, I wondered?
I finally settled for this street of old New York brownstones and other tenement like buildings. It was seedy and sad, and I told the company that hired me that it wasn’t a good choice for what they wanted. But they insisted, and since I was partly doing it as a favor for a friend, I went ahead, hoping to make the most of the hand I was dealt.
The best thing about it for me was that this was where Fellini shot his films, and more than anything else his presence, even in absence, was the strongest sensation I felt while working there. That out of this limited place he made magic. And that is part of what photography does for me; the limits of ordinary life give rise to magical moments, or unexpected flashes of insight, or quiet moments of reflection on what is right in front of me that fills me with pleasure
I always like to go to touristic places; it’s where the action is, and the crowds, and sometimes a picture may break loose in an unexpected way, and then again, sometimes it’s just crap! Why, because it’s a touristic place!
I wandered around this fountain in Rome for awhile and caught sight of Roman Centurion Guards in plastic sandals and polyester robes, more tourist groups with selfie sticks than one could shake a stick at, the usual set of slippery hustlers working the crowd for whatever they think they can get, and every other kind of modern craziness that tourist sites offer.
But then, on my round around the circuit, I caught sight of the fleshy swell of this woman’s underarm area, luxurious in bright sunlight, so vulnerable, so delicate, and then I saw the domed concrete pillar, and the 2 curlicues of wrought iron, and then her boyfriend’s head, and all of it said to me, ‘look…..at…..that.’ So I did.
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.
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.