Bowl in St. Francis’ Chamber, Le Celle, Dortona, Italy. Marrch, 2010.
The Catholic church has a new Pope. It seems germane to post this image, made in a stone-hewn chamber in which St. Francis of Assisi is said to have spent many hours in seclusion and meditation. I am not the praying kind, but, Pope Francis I, because you walk into a challenging job, and for the sake of many millions who look to your leadership, and for the potential your office has to alleviate poverty and call on national leaders to greater selflessness, I wish you all the best and hope humility and kindness guide your actions.
This photograph may be unrelated to the Pope’s calling. However, I wonder about that as I consider why the image seems so strange to me — it came from nowhere except the place. I almost do not recall making the photograph, except for thinking if the exposure had been adjusted enough for bellows factor and reciprocity failure. Formally, it is extremely subtle and almost not there. Photographically, it is almost abstract and difficult to understand as an image of something. The light seems artificial but was not; it too was hardly there. It is humble, and unassuming; almost a throw-away. The line, if I may call it that, of focus drills its way across and through the stone wall. The bowl supports and contains darkness. I keep thinking of the labyrinthine machinations of the papacy. Or of the spiritual quest. Beware the desert.
“Part of the fascination with gardening is that it is, on the one hand, a practical exercise of the human body and, on the other, a direct participation in the ritual of birth and life and death.” — Stanley Kunitz, from The Wild Braid (p61)
The creative process is just as much about the destructive process. Much of what I am trying to understand, especially with this body of work, is how we may be engaged with this cyclic process at every level and every moment of our being. We may be negating visual data in order to make sense of only that which seems essential and worthy of the central cone of vision. We certainly sift through thoughts in similar fashion. What if, however, the negations offer clues to a more profound image – one that Julian Jaynes alluded to in his idea of the bicameral mind? What if the bridging between negated and acknowledged is far more important than attention given to either (discourse)?
Blossom. Wall. Near Le Celle, Cortona, Italy. March 2010.
It is strange how the work has already been done, but it takes a while for mind to catch up, to see what was seen; a mode of growth that may be particular to photography (what do you think?). This image, and several others made around the same time, have only just begun to fall into place for me. And the falling into place began a month ago, on a field trip with my students to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, after having seen, first-hand and in the hand, a mass of gorgeous prints by Paul Caponigro, Helen Levitt, Edward Weston, André Kértesz, Paul Strand, Harry Callahan and Vivian Maier at one of the South’s sweetest photo treasures, the Lumiere Gallery. What was seen is about being in the garden, the one that Stanley Kunitz, and in a very different way, William Blake, worked in.
By the way, with digital ‘bokeh filters’ being so popular via apps such as Instagram and other digital tools (such as Lightroom), it may be of interest to some that this image was made with an 8×10 inch camera and all the strange zones of focus in the photograph are rendered entirely by camera movements. It is, as such, a “no filter” photograph.
Kiran. Cortona, Italy. 2010.
scan from 8x10in negative
All the Fayiumi portraits are, of course, defined by the compressed space of the mummy casing. Strange illusions arise from this: despite a slight reduction in size, the ancient portraits seem life-size, and despite the diminished background, the have a tremendous amount of presence. I think the eyes, and the way we are hard-wired to attend to them, have a lot to do with this illusion.
This portrait of Kiran was taken in my studio in Cortona. His eyes are certainly the most captivating part of the image, but the points of focus that they provide also help create an illusion: the rectangular splash of sunlight on the floor seems less behind him than hovering above him. I have the luxury of working on a larger plane than the Fayum painters, as well as the joy of celebrating life rather than packing my images off to the necropolis.
Here are three men, letting their space become mine, and yours. The photographs were made over a span of some 20 years with a large format camera. I am becoming increasingly puzzled and intrigued by the idea of connectivity, or rather, the vaporizing of the individual. This puzzlement makes sense against the backdrop of certain ideas like Emergence theory and Thomas Lovejoy’s ideas about Gaia. The psychologist G. H. Lewis is credited for having coined the term ‘emergence’ and clearly describes what I think of when I make my best portraits [caveat - I am no scholar, and have learned about the origins of "emergence" from this entry in wikipedia!] (my bolding below):
Every resultant is either a sum or a difference of the co-operant forces; their sum, when their directions are the same — their difference, when their directions are contrary.Further, every resultant is clearly traceable in its components, because these are homogeneous and commensurable. It is otherwise with emergents, when, instead of adding measurable motion to measurable motion, or things of one kind to other individuals of their kind, there is a co-operation of things of unlike kinds. The emergent is unlike its components insofar as these are incommensurable, and it cannot be reduced to their sum or their difference. (Lewes 1875, p. 412) (Blitz 1992)