People do the craziest things! And I’m glad of it! Where would photography be without the daily dose of little lunacies? Running mothers, in marathon training, pushing baby strollers in front, with dogs trailing behind, people slurping enormous ice-cream cones, or carrying far too many things while reaching for their car keys, or the many multitasking visual moments that are indescribable until you actually see it happening. All minor events, yet with great visual potential. Like this guy hitching a soon to be uphill ride beside a little 3 wheeled Api in Tuscany.
Only the camera can tear a thousandth of a second out of the flow of reality.
‘Table Top’ used to be what still life work was called back in the 70’s and 80’s when I did some advertising photography. I never shot that kind of stuff because I was a ‘location guy’ and couldn’t find any interest in being inside a studio. But sometimes, when sitting across a table from someone; a friend, family member, even a total stranger, whoever it may be, there is a moment when some connection just begs for a photograph.
Her steady look and directness, with no projection of the kind of beauty she is capable of and can often express, was what I responded to as we sat around the breakfast table. These simple, intimate moments are rich with possibilities.
Some friends came down for Maggie’s birthday a couple of years ago and brought their teenage daughter with them. We have known her since she was a few weeks old and have seen her through all her phases so far and hope to watch her for as long as we can. These yearly or sometimes twice a year sightings are a little like watching a stop motion movie where we see the spurts and leaps as if it was a continuous sequence.
She’s about 16 here and looking leggy and beautiful. I feel fortunate to have witnessed her through all the years and seeing this image, simple as it is (we were walking in the medieval part of our town in the evening) made me feel that I should collect them all and make a little book for her at some point in her life when it would be important for her to look back.
A blistering hot summer day at the Tuscan shore. After a swim and a short nap I opened my eyes and saw the light coming through the umbrella, and then the pure blue of the sky. My first impression was of being under a sundial and that it was around noon, and sure enough, it was.
I love the amazing amount of information, even in such a simple image as this. The difference in tone and color between one side of the white nylon and the other, the subtle density difference between one end of the shadow and the other, the way the sliver of blue hovers above the black frame of the umbrella and then continues beyond. It is this kind of ‘describing’ things to myself that enlivens my attention and keeps me interested in the things that might easily go unnoticed. It’s this ‘paying attention’ that makes photography such a vital form for me.
The world is crazy! I walk into a shop that has both junk and antiques in the doorway, and inside was a picture of someone’s mind, a mind that developed over many years of selecting things, and those things shape the point of view of their world. Sometimes you see great visual style and recognition, and other times just a mash up of stuff as if its a rolling wave of junk that landed in somebody’s place.
So what to make of a dead cat with a slivery, papery, wooden looking surface, whose shape is still prowling and leaping at some long gone invisible prey. And it leaps over a rolled up modern poster, onto a scale with old weights and a huge wheel. On the shelf above it rests a stack of folded cartons, and above that is a strange cutout shelf that was probably made for a sink, by the shape of it, and then, above it, the kicker of it all is a chaos of wrought iron stands, and chairs, baskets and shelving. Is it a photograph? Or an inventory? I stepped back to look.
Perhaps it’s simply a record of a moment of surprise, one that keeps my mind and eye alert for the next strange thing that comes along. This game of sight of ours is often about staying ‘tuned’ to our own instrument, and being ready at a moment’s notice to play beautifully.
Being read a story in the late hours of a warm summer day is a little like being a kid again and submitting to the pleasures of the tale and dreaming while listening. Those evening readings were pure joy and often, while Maggie was reading, I would photograph her, or sometimes make a video so I could hold on to the sweetness of the memory of that time in our lives. That was the year we decided to come back to live full time in Italy.
The halo of light around her head in the darkening of the day, and her physical concentration and intensity, like an actress preparing for a role and searching for the ‘voice’ of the character, kept me glued to her every nuance of gesture and tone. Little observations like that, even with someone you know well, can give an ordinary moment meaning.
This image reminds me how much work goes into a ‘work in progress,’ and ultimately how much of it gets tossed aside. While I was making the picture a day work Maggie was working on a novel and I had the daily pleasure of hearing her read the next chapter to me. And I saw how, over time, the chapters kept being rewritten, polished, and edited again, and again.
The process of building the character’s lives, framing them in the moment the story takes place in, weaving history into the overall design, as well as the impending future, and all of it kept together in this version of the manuscript sitting on the table while Maggie was rereading sections of it. Standing nearby I was reminded of the lengthy give and take of any process driven effort we may make, whether it is an unrolling daily sequence of photographs, or the continuous adding of words on a page.
All of it requires a belief in the primary instinct behind it. I have always trusted my urges in this way, and gone forward into the discovery of what may come from simply following the guide that arrived, seemingly, out of nowhere.
Italian families! So much affection, gentleness and concentration on babies when they come. On our way home from the seaside we stopped to see an old friend whose new son was drawing all eyes his way just by being his bubbly small self. Or was he so happy just because of all the attention pouring into him? Probably goes both ways in that circle.
Shooting little kids may seem like easy pickings, but they shouldn’t be seen only as ‘cute,’ like kittens, or beautiful, like flowers, they are amazingly communicative and expressive little beings whose personae, and expression, although limited by their size and verbal skills, still make them interesting subjects. Witness those Diane Arbus photographs of kids in which their fears and pain make them powerful subjects. I always thought those images of hers were a big step toward a tough body of work in an area we think of as cliché.
Every so often I am reminded by something I see right in front of me, of Saul Steinberg, that great New Yorker magazine artist who did the famous poster showing New York City and the avenues going west to the river and then beyond to the bleak view of the distant American emptiness. His characters often were shown in ridiculous outfits and social postures which showed us all how crazy we actually look while we think we are pretty sophisticated.
So when I see someone like this guy on the beach, a faceless, strangely shaped human being, Steinberg pops into my head. Of course I love the pair of hands under the sunny towel and the way they relate to the figure of the man, although I couldn’t explain how they relate, except to say to me they made sense, photographic sense, in that something happens when I look from one to the other, a kind of connectivity between the hands that you don’t see and the pair that you do.
At the little beach side hotel we were staying in – a real Italian family kind of place – the husband and wife chefs turned out homey and delicious variations of classic Italian cuisine. We went in to see them at work and were so taken with their honesty and sweetness that I wanted to give something back to them, so I invited them out for a portrait.
I couldn’t ask for a more playful pair of lovebirds. He simply found her irresistible, she was his ‘dumpling,’ and he couldn’t keep from snuggling and hugging her, even dancing around together for a moment. I suddenly felt that their restaurant (sadly they didn’t come back the next year, business being really tough in Italy’s economy, and we really missed them on our next visit) was their little theater, and so I photographed them on their ‘stage’ set. It’s one of a lot of frames I made, but it’s easy affection and real warmth keeps me engaged.