The Thing Itself
Every once in a while I see some pure organic form; a tree, a rocky outcrop, a body of water, a hillside, which makes me pause to regard it just for its own sake. I read the history it suggests, look at the scale it has achieved, or lost, over time, and during this consideration I sometimes get the sense that I am witnessing, “the thing itself”.
‘The thing itself’ is a wonderful photographic idea, one I learned about from John Szarkowski when he was director of the photo department at MoMA, where it came up a number of times in conversation and in his writings. It is the distilled essence of something, whatever it may be, that shows itself to us as yet again another version of the magnitude that objects may possess. This tree did that for me!
When I wandered into this ancient Roman church’s grounds I first was stopped by the sheer size of the trunk of this Plane tree. Maggie and I linked arms to see how far around it we could reach – yes, two tree huggers – and calculated that it would take five of us to encircle it. Now that’s a tree! And how long had it stood near that old pile of stone, probably just a fraction of the time the building has been there.
I felt again, as I often seem to experience, a sense of awe in the company of whatever it is that calls my attention, and maybe that is the deepest part of my photographic behavior; the willingness to give myself over to simple awe.
Finally, as I turned from the tree I saw the figure of the tree not in the photograph; the arching limbs casting their shadows over the old wall. Again, a moment to really look hard at simple things; those dusty, burgundy buds promising a springtime of flowers while winter light warms up old stone.
Under The Rainbow
I was in the car on the way to Barcelona airport, and as always had my camera at the ready. The day became a day of ‘from the car’ photographs because after I landed in Marseilles I was back in a car on my way to Bonnieux.
That part of the trip was a ‘somewhere over the rainbow’ experience because, as I entered the Luberon valley, the weather, moving fast behind a passing storm, exploded with rainbows, which appeared around every bend in the road. Rainbows are a little like shooting ducks in a barrel since you can hardly ever miss, but at 60 miles per hour the rainbow, and what it is seen in relation to, makes for a challenging set of conditions.
I love shooting from the car because there is a purity to the gesture of reaching for the image. The image is what it is, and I accept it with all its shortcomings, flaws, crazy tilts, fragmentary bits and pieces which fall in wherever they do, and in a way they refresh my seeing and remind me to stay open to the suggestive impulsive side of photography.
By the time I arrived home the sky, darkening then, flared up one last time in pure symphonic crescendo, and then went dark.
The joy of seeing this chorus line of sprinklers dancing along the roadside in February lightened my heart. It’s a nothing image in lots of ways, but the reality of it, and the way it gave me pleasure, transcends the weakness. It seemed to me as if it was ‘light’ that was being sprayed across the fields. That momentary illusion, and the thoughts that trailed through my mind as it was left behind, were worth it to me.
I think that the stimulation the world so copiously delivers in its unbounded and random way, is what makes photography such a powerful medium for ‘ideas’. And for me, through all these years, photography, even though it is made of images, has really been about the generation of new ideas; ideas about life, time, place, relationships, or anything that comes up from that brief glimpse we catch, maybe even just out of the corner of our eye, that makes the medium so continuously provocative.
I feel so lucky!
Serenity after chaos can make itself felt in various ways. And it is needed to rebalance ones state of mind. I found myself drawn to this humble photograph because of the expansive and yet ordinary characteristics it uses to hold me for a moment, not let me move on, and then to draw me in, to transform my resistance into a small smile of wonder at the recognition, once again, that the most we can do is to work with what we have at any given moment.
This is where I am. This is what I see. This is what the world looks like.
A kind of honest appreciation of the fact that the sublime is often hidden in plain sight.