THE ITALIAN GENTLEMAN: WHERE SO MANY THINGS BEGAN
The year, it was probably 1987. I made this photo, on my first trip to Italy. My best friend was getting married in an old family villa outside of Florence. I'd been living in Boston in a mostly unheated loft above a dim sum restaurant with a roomate who kindly let me live there. We paid almost nothing in rent. To deal with the lack of heat we hammered a hole through wall to the central heating chimney in the center of the building. My bedroom faced east into the rising sun each day facing the old leather district, which was becoming a hub of photography studios. In winter, coming out of the shower, my body steamed in the cold. I adored living there. I worked as a photo assistant and a stringer for the the wire serves and later for the Boston Globe.
In Florence, the summer heat radiated up from the cobbled streets in thick waves. I was at a complete loss. No Italian to speak of. I was so broke I couldn't shop but didn't care. I'd come for the wedding and to learn to see the world. To learn how my eyes, my heart and mind might possibly work together. I didn't know if they could. But that question burned a white hot fire in the center of my being to find out. It was pure obsession.
My camera, which I still have and love, was an old Yashica-D 2 1/4. The lens I think had no coating. But I swear that magic pixies lived inside that little box. My own tiny camera obscura... a bag of Tri-X swinging in a bag on my hip.
This day, my roommate and I were grouchy with each other. Terrible traveling companions as it turned out. We still hadn't figured out that we might wander around without clinging to each other like two lost little boats trying to find the harbor.
And then, I got really lucky. I plodded heavy footed up the street, camera dangling. I felt a tingle. I looked down into the ground glass and turned slowly. I looked up. And there was this man, leaning laconically against the wall, a plume of smoke snaked up through the air. He looked past me and then right at me. A challenge in his eyes. The lines of the street, the angles of the window just past him, the shadow in the foreground, the light hitting the buildings behind, all like magic strings pulling me into the frame.
I know he knew I was making a photo. I felt I barely had time to focus. He stared still, but the rest of him somehow so languid. All that space and light. Everything felt... complete. I summoned my courage and pressed the little button down. Click of exposure the slightest of a sounds, the tick of an insect's wing, the church bell on the hill sounded in great sonorous waves pouring past me, over me. It was complete. Everything felt whole in that moment.
This print was made while I was an artist in residence at Polaroid many years later. It's a photo of the photo made with the kind of Polaroid film that had to be peeled apart to reveal the negative inside. The emulsion could be lifted ever so gently up and applied, floated really onto another paper. (In this case an Arches cold press paper with deckled edges) I love how this version became its own piece of work. Each transfer is so unpredictable, the result unique. Not so unlike the same feeling I had making the original photo.
I never know what the next moment will bring. (Do any of us?)
I love this image and this process and this print. It speaks of travel, of time gone by, of slow summer exploration, of being young and just going, of walking and witnessing, celebrating the beauty of the man and the street and the light, of being on the edge of the rest of my life.
I am offering this unique piece of work to that person for whom those feelings resonate, who remembers your own first trips, of being in the edge of the unknown and falling into beauty, of wanting to celebrate life. For your wall (or perhaps a friend) to see and love each day.
The image size: 9"x8"
The Arches paper size: 1"5x11"
$500. Venmo, Zelle, PayPal
Local Chicago delivery complimentary. Domestic shipping $30 Intl Shipping based on location.
Contact me to purchase and arrange your shipping.
Thank you so much. I hope the piece speaks to you as much as it does me. Wishing you beauty.