The wind came, a sirocco, an African wind that crosses the Mediterranean and blows sometimes for days, driving people a little crazy with its relentless howling. It starts innocently enough and then just keeps coming until you can’t stand it anymore. Here at the beginning of the blow it darkened the skies and carried a smell on the air that might have been some of the desert’s dust still bearing the arid scent of ancient sea bottom.
Photographing the elements is something I have been trying to do for a while, but in another form, simpler, purer, without the horizon to make it familiar, just the phenomena of each of the elements. It’s not been easy to make them interesting, but I still work on it whenever the potential image appears. Yet, when the wind blows and the sky goes heavy I respond wherever I am, because that is all we can do; to try to be in the moment, in the place where we find ourselves.
Maybe it’s the season changing, but something from the landscape kept coming over me. The summer had been a brutally hot one, and the land baked day after day, and seemed to be unyielding even though wheat and sunflowers grew abundantly. Perhaps it’s the first few cool days and the light’s new, revealing power that made me conscious again of the space I live in.
I walked in the freshly turned land and could sense my small scale relative to the land’s vastness, and tried to make a photograph from that gut feeling. I ask myself, and have for many years now, ‘can I photograph from the gut with the eye being less of a primary force?’
The light in the house has changed too, and turned the tall space of what was once the hayloft into a camera obscura, projecting the arched shape of the window on the wall for a 20 minute exposure, in which the form of the acacia tree outside drew itself across the wall like a silent movie screen playing a slow motion fade out.
It’s lovely to see how natural and simple the principles of photography, before it was photography, continue to make their presence felt. I can easily imagine how in earlier times, say the 15th century (probably well before that too), people had these same ‘momentary visions’ come and go inside their homes, but were unable to hold on to them until Louis Daguerre and William Henry Fox Talbot figured out how to fix the image for later study.
I have to admit that the death of my brother has thrown me. Add to that my long return flight to Italy, and jet lag, the arrival of guests tomorrow, and my need to go ‘On Press’ early in the week, and I can see that the time needed to really devote myself to thinking, posting and writing over the next few days, will be tough to find.
So I’d like to put up a suite of days to give me some breathing room.
9-19 Dear friends arrive with baby Chayton.
9-20 Gianni brought this character to stand guard.
9-21 Chayton and Pasta form a lasting relationship.
9-22 An older woman slipped on the moss in the old Roman hot springs. But was OK.
9-23 Our dear workshop cook, Lisena, made a homey Italian family dinner for all of us.
This time 2 years ago I was working own a set of still lives of objects I made in Cezanne’s studio in Aix-en-Provence. I remember putting them together in a large test strip to see how they printed, but also to see if they had any power, or were of interest to me. Putting things up on a wall and living with them for a few days has long been my method. That way I can catch glimpses of them out of the corner of my eye as I walk past, or I can sit and stare and wait to see if something comes back to me. A new idea, a critical thought, a moment of pleasure, all the things one hopes their work will do when out in the public space.
It was early in the day when I pinned the strip up and the room was shadowed. Then I went to town to get groceries and some other errands, and when I came back the sun had crept around and was washing the wall with a pointing finger on one of the objects I liked best. I felt that little kick to my heart, the flutter of excitement when something seems to resolve itself and offer a new possibility and the enthusiasm to go forward in that direction with full force.
The little saw-toothed fringe along the tops of Tuscan hills has always pleased my eye. This particular passage is one that I drive by several times a week and it gets me every time in every season. Why? Why do some places have that power, even when it is a far away and slender note of attraction? Perhaps it is just that, the minor tone in the major space, and yet…it pulls at me, not just my eye, but all of me, with that gasp of recognition that this place, right now, right here, adds something to my life.
At this season the land offers up the harvest, and after the cutting it often looks flag-like with its stumps and stalks now revealed in ordered rows and burnished colors. All the florid heads of sunflowers, wheat or corn have been carried off and the land waits for the turning under and then rest.
These wide views are deceptively simple and seem not to amount to much, but I like that spaciousness with the panel of the land below and the top of sky, and the narrow, glowing strip in between. As a small print it seems to be just like it looks, distant and familiar, but in a large print the space comes alive as every stalk is clearly rendered, and the march from the frame edge to the field of color is a visual journey. It’s not for everyone I know, but having made simple images with the view camera I know how the image expands and converts itself into a surprisingly tangible experience.
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.
Coming back from a late walk on our country road we heard the rasp of a motorcycle bearing down on us fast, I whirled, camera blazing, and gunned him down. Well, it wasn’t as wild west as all that, more like; I turned, guessed at the aperture and speed at that hour, something the Leica is great for and allows intuition and memory to serve in the moment, and made 3 frames of him coming past us, and the lovely hour, and the sweet space of the road curving away into the hills.
It was one of those magical moments when the quiet of the past is settling over the land, and then the intruder – mechanization – comes bursting into the silence, but is gone in a moment leaving behind a slowly returning quiet. I felt that this photograph meant all that to me, even though it looks like a road at dusk, with a headlamp on a motorcycle blazing into our eyes.
There is nothing the Italians enjoy more than eating. And when they can gather at some long communal table and be eating outside on a summery evening, they love it! It’s a way to meet new people, or be with old friends, or simply take a chance on whatever life throws their way. It’s a custom that goes way back and small towns all over Tuscany, and I’m sure all over Italy, continue the tradition.
I always find something to shoot when I’m there, portraits of my table companions, the behavior of the young kids who are doing the serving, the musicians who stroll on through, the dancing later on, and sometimes fireworks.