Since Joe’s working from home during the Covid-19 quarantine and I’m in the last stages of completing my Ph.D., he and I decided to expand our backyard potted garden. There’s immense satisfaction in growing your own food, and it’s also a huge responsibility to be conscious stewards of an ecosystem that you’ve established. We appreciate the balance that is sometimes very tricky to maintain. Insects start eating leaves, but the birds pick through the herbs to forage for a meal of grubs or caterpillars. They did this often when they were feeding a nest of youngsters. The lizards eat excess insects. Spiders set up webs and feed off various garden pests. But we’ve also had to wrestle with leaf miners, who decimate the foliage on our cucumber plants. We wrapped the concord grapevine with bird netting, but that meant they couldn’t pick off the borer that’s now attacking the grapevine. And let me tell you all about fungus….black fungus, powdery white fungus, rusty-looking fungus. Basil leaves can get fungus. Who knew? But then you get a bowlful of beautiful vegetables like these bell peppers, and how could I disrespect such a vibrant green by shooting them in black and white.
Ash on an old man’s sleeve
Is all the ash the burnt roses leave.
Dust in the air suspended
Marks the place where a story ended.
T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding,” Four Quartets
While leafing through a recent book on still lifes by The Getty’s Paul Martineau, Still Life in Photography, I discovered a couple photographs that made me realize I had an unknown connection to certain photographers whose work I admire but never saw these specific images. I have purposely created images that are homages to favorite photographers, but there are also images that I’ve created, not knowing that they echo an image created long before mine. Such is the case with André Kertész’s image of a drooping tulip.
My Broken Tulip was created because of the way the morning light hit this unfortunate bloom. The way the light hits a certain object often stops me in my tracks and I run to get my camera. Such was the case with this particular tulip that was long past its prime.
The same is true of an image created by Manuel Álvarez Bravo, another photographer whose work (along with the work of his wife, Lola), I greatly admire. Books, however, have been
a frequent subject in my photographs since I am always surrounded by stacks of them, so it’s not unlikely that I would create a similar image. There are other photographers who photograph books beautifully as well (Morrell, Mansfield), even as they decay (Purcell).
Martineau claims, “The revival of interest in the genre at the dawn of the twenty-first century comes as the digital age is transforming the medium.” My own still lifes feel less transformative, but rather contemplative, leaning back on those from whom I have, knowingly or unknowingly, drawn inspiration.
“I…relish the aesthetic challenge posed by the limitations of the ordinary.” Sally Mann
Ample make this bed.
Make this bed with awe;
In it wait till judgment break
Excellent and fair.
Be its mattress straight,
Be its pillow round;
Let no sunrise’ yellow noise
Interrupt this ground.