Right out my front door! The sheep often come by, bells jingling, dogs herding, and the shepherd, a strong, silent presence who merely needs to move his shoulders, or body, a certain way and all the sheep move where the silent message sends them. Sometimes it’s a whistle, or a precise grunt on his part, and the sheep come to a standstill.
Magical. Like the stuff of fables. But to see it still alive in our world today is to connect immediately to what the past must have been like, with flocks of sheep moving over the fields everywhere, and shepherds, their silent guardians, living on the land with them as a large integrated unit.
The year before, when I encountered him way out in the fields, I made a portrait of him, and when he passed by today I brought it out for him. He looked at it, and I believe he couldn’t quite believe it was him, so unused to a mirror is he.
When I go over my contact sheets (yes, even on screen) I often see connections between things that make me wonder what I was thinking about at that moment. Why did my eye go from something as earthy as hay bales, to something as lofty as the sky? We are like that, aren’t we? But is there a connection that tells us anything? About us? About why our interests range like that?
I’m interested, and always have been, in trying to understand my momentary inclinations to move one way or another, look up or down or askance, because these are basic to our elemental understanding of our visceral selves, and knowing something about that part of our ourselves can guide us further into our own mystery. And from that core may come our best work, our truest image of who we are in our most idiosyncratic manner.
Our fingerprint defines us as different from everyone else on earth. No one has the same lines on their fingers as we do. That difference is deep in our psyche too, and from that place emerges the artist we each can be, we just need to trust that and open up to it.
Ordinary things still surprise me. A hay bale for instance, rolled up in the fashion of today’s farming methods, is often just pitched into the stall for the cows to chomp it down in their own sweet time. But here it unspooled itself when the wrapper was cut, and mimicked the wave that was already set in motion by the winds while the grain was growing in the fields earlier that summer.
While standing in front of it, the ‘object’ it became was satisfying to look at in unexpected ways, and led me to both see it for what it was, and to reconsider it for the other non-objective properties it held. I saw the color it became in it’s season of drying, I looked at the light it appeared in in the darkness of the stall, I thought about the flatness it presented while at the same time being enriched with curves, swirls, and eruptions of forms that splintered out along its edges. All these small thoughts made me stand there staring at a hay bale!
At times I wonder how these simple things have taken hold of me; a city boy whose love of the messy mix of speed and life on the streets has been overtaken by the study of stillness in the form of natural or man made things. It must be a certain time of life I’ve entered. I am taking ‘long looks’ at things that earlier slipped by and now call out for consideration.
In The Moment
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.
If you accept a gift as something unexpected coming your way, like a photograph often does, coming out of nowhere and landing right in front of you. That’s a fine way to live.
These grapes arrived right on the season. I took them.