I went to visit with my friend, the photographer Paolo Ventura, in his studio on the far side of Tuscany. At some point he took a seat on his own hand painted set where he usually has characters from the 40’s and 50’s playing out his stories and dreams. In fact he usually plays some of the characters. But here he was just himself, and to me he looked like he belonged there in that barren, spindly, woodland, almost like a lost traveller in a dreamscape, or a contemporary version of the sage sitting alongside the road, which one finds in those School of Siena paintings of the 1500’s. Slightly wild-eyed or mad, or possessed, which he is.
Yes! We had heard bleating and strange noises coming from the sheep pen up the road. Unusual for middle of the day when the sheep are often lying about or huddled under a tree in the shade. Maggie went up the hill to see what was the matter. A wolf had gotten into the fenced in enclosure and killed two pregnant mothers. I raced up to the pen to see for myself.
There are no words that can make it become something other than what it is. And a photograph is simpler still; no tricks of the light, no angle that dramatizes it to make it more horrific or sad, just the plain fact of what a slaughtered animal looks like in the moment after its death. Sometimes just bearing witness is enough.
I never was one to photograph wars, or the depths of poverty, because I couldn’t stand the idea of making esthetic decisions about framing when dealing with such enormous human events. It was different when I went into Ground Zero for 9 months, that was all Aftermath, and as such it needed the record to be made for posterity, but to witness slaughter and disease and human wreckage and while doing it make something beautifully framed seems beyond my capacity.
Libera, a 70 year old contadina (farm woman of the old school variety from the time of serfs and padrones) is still working the land by hand. We stop by every few days to pick up tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, onions, and whatever else is ready at that moment, not to mention oil and wine when necessary. It is a great pleasure to see her smiling face and experience her generosity, both so easily given.
Here, I was driving past on my way home and stopped to chat for a moment, and just the simplicity of her presence, her earthy stance, the old wall behind her, the ordinariness of it all made me reach for the camera. These simple moments are precious, no attitude, no becoming something she is not. She’s just there, rooted to the earth, part of the spirit of the place.
Laughter, sunlight, a naked kid, a moment of joy made out of the simplest connections. The connection is ephemeral, but the energy in the frame comes from the connection of moments between the people, which will dissolve in another second of so, and yet the camera, with its fraction of a second capability, sees into those moments and stills them into the distillation of the larger moment. The human moment. That’s what it’s all about.
A Brick Beach is what Siena’s main piazza reminds me of. Thousands of people can fit into this fan shaped, south sloping, herring bone patterned arena, and they do, every day during the tourist season. It is here that one can walk among them and feel free to photograph everyone. It has that special vibe where no one feels taken advantage of by a photographer’s curiosity. I used to bring my street photography classes here back when I had a photography workshop from 1995 to 2001. This was always a great place to look at life in all its surprising and playful combinations.
Father and son out for a 30K bike ride stopped by for a glass of water and a hello. It’s Gianni, our closest friend for 20 years and his son Giovanni, who we know since he was 5. I make photographs of Gianni because he is always so expressive in a purely Italian way. And funny too!
Every gesture, which is such a complex part of Italian expression, is is rich with undertones and expletives, world views and commentary, and every conversation circles around to the state of being of contemporary life, mainly in Tuscany, but also in the larger world. Physical gestures are the matrix of photographs, and even when you know someone well it pays to keep reading their animated expressive side for clues to their persona.
This road is one we have walked on almost every day for the last few years. The land rolls and dips and changes color with the seasons and the light. Some days it has a piercing blue sky and on others it is rain soaked and leaden, or rain bowed and glorious, and it never fails to lift my spirits. I salute it by raising the camera in acknowledgement, and saying thank you.
There are 2 kinds of light; natural and man made, and often we find ourselves in the presence of both but fail to consider the photographic possibilities that their dissonance presents. I’ve been looking at this phenomenon for 40 years now, ever since I started using the large format camera in 1976, and I am always pleased to take a few moments to look hard and see the ways in which the color temperatures of the light play against each other. There always seems to be a photograph out there.
A documentary was being filmed by Ralph Goertz, the head of IKS – Institut für Kunstdokumentation – in Dusseldorf. We had been working on this for several years and he came down to Tuscany to film me working with the view camera along the coast. He’s made over 70 documentaries about artists, but mostly about photographers. He’s an amazing, easy going, and balletic filmmaker. Last year, at my Retro show in Dusseldorf, the film premiered at NRW Forum where he was also the curator for the show.
It’s always fun to turn the tables on someone who is filming you and do it back to them. If nothing else it becomes a record of the moment, and that has value too.