Tuscany - Inside The Light
(upbeat orchestral music)
We've already talked about how to make a book. And once you've figured out how to make a book and you have a subject that you like, you might wanna have a collaborator to make the book with. Someone who writes better than you or someone who's a good inspiration to make a book with. In this case, we've made a book. This is my wife, Maggie Barrett. We've made a book together called Tuscany, Inside the Light. We were commissioned by an American publisher a number of years ago, and when the time was right, we came away to Tuscany and we had to find out how to make this collaboration work in the most advantageous way for both of us. So maybe you'd like to tell a little bit about how it was for you at the beginning.
Well I think the challenge for me, I mean, obviously, Joel's work stands alone. There's no need to explain a photograph by Joel Meyerowitz. So for me, the challenge was how do we make this a collaboration and each come from our own genres and make th...
at third voice? So whenever we were out in the countryside and we would see something together and have that gasp, we would both stop and Joel would set up his camera and I would uncap my fountain pen, and Joel, obviously, was taking the image of the thing that had made us both gasp. For me, I had to go, if you'll pardon me, Joel, a little bit deeper because I wanted to articulate what that gasp was really about. I mean, it's very easy, isn't it, to just look at something and say, "Oh, that's beautiful." But what does that really mean? So I wasn't interested in the least in describing the image that Joel was shooting. I was interested in looking at my own response to it and figuring out what was the deeper meaning of that image for me?
And I think that makes a pairing that's really very important, because certainly, I'm dealing with surfaces and resonance of light and history and nature and time. These are all somewhat intangible, in some ways, but a photograph makes them tangible. And very often, when we were gasping together, (laughing) or feeling the awe of the simplicity of a place, we would take a moment together to kind of just look at and talk our way through the place. Like isn't that wall of ivy in this late, evening light on a fall day, isn't that rosy light incredible? You know, so we could have this communion and agreement at the same time, and then the separateness would be absolutely part of the mystery of making the photograph and describing the place in two personal ways. And you know, we accumulated probably 400 pictures--
A lot of pictures.
Over the course of a year of coming in each season to Tuscany and experiencing the change in the seasons and the change in our lives.
And this work happened at a moment that the world changed. It happened in 2001, when the World Trade Center towers were destroyed, and we were held back in going off to doing our work, but then, when we finally went, we both felt that there was an opportunity to put something good
Back in the world, don't you think?
Yes, I think that, at first, we were somewhat embarrassed about dealing with beauty at a moment that was so horrific in time because beauty is such a cliche, but then we realized that beauty is so vital to our existence. It's the balance. So again, for me, the challenge was to describe the beauty in a way that went deeper than that superficial level that we all respond to. You know, there's nothing wrong with saying, "Oh, look at that. "Isn't it beautiful?" But if you're going to make an interesting collaboration, then you want to dig a little bit deeper than that. (upbeat orchestral music) So it wasn't just the moments that we actually stopped and had the gasp and then stood side by side, each articulating what it was that we saw. Those moments, of course, were the most important, but the collaborative process afterwards is something that can be very tender, especially with a couple. Because you have to be prepared to get rid of your little darlings. I mean, I probably wrote (scoffs) couple a hundred pieces for this book. You made probably 400 photographs.
Uh huh, uh huh.
Obviously, you don't use everything, so then you have to get together afterwards and collaborate in that part of the process, and you have to be able to listen to each other because the pieces that you finally choose need to not only support each other, but they need to add a profundity to the collaboration.
Would you agree?
Yeah. And they have to move through time and the space of a book in a way that keeps the reader interested in the discoveries that we made and in the discoveries that they're going to make as they look at each photograph, you know. And one of the things that I think Maggie really understands is so difficult is that when people look at books and photographs, they tend not to read what's written. They just go to the pictures. But it's important to make the essays or whatever you do in the collaboration so present that people find the equality in the two, and they want to hear the voice of the other participant in the collaboration. Finding that, I think, is a really, you know, it required a kind of understanding with each other and a willingness to sort of step back. I mean, there were pictures that, really, I loved, and Maggie felt, well, you know, it doesn't support the rhythm of the book and in a way, I was able to hear that and to step back a little bit and say, well, you know, then what do you think does? And in this way, we really have the true
Nature of collaboration.
I think that's a very important point for everybody, you know? You want to save your relationship. Treat it respectfully.
But also, each collaborator has to have good enough work that it stands alone. For instance, if I take the text away from this piece of this ivy-covered wall, it stands alone. The photograph doesn't need explanation. My piece also stands alone because I was not describing the wall so much as where that image took me. The evening is still. It is every evening that ever was, then a sudden shiver stirs the poplars and the air is filled with dust, lit by the orange setting sun. A stair to no where anymore prompts a flight of the imagination. Who tromped those worn steps, trailing a hand on the warmth of the iron railing? Where do they go when they turned right at the top and disappeared into an opening in the maroon ivy? So again, you could read that piece and I think you would be placed there and your own imagination would provide the image, but when you see the two things together, you have, what? How would describe the profit in of that?
I think, as you said earlier, the third voice. That union of image and words that gives the reader or the viewer a kind of new understanding of the potential of something as innocent as that. See, the picture is really innocent. It's just of a wall and a stairway. It could be the most boring thing ever, but by having the two things together, a kind of music between the two arrives, and I think the viewer gets this extra benefit from it. (upbeat orchestral music) When you work with somebody in this collaboration, you both grow at the same time and thus, the collaboration deepens the project that you're working on. So you build on top of each other's efforts as you try to find a kind of union of them. So consider it a real positive to do a collaboration with someone. Maggie's very capable of collaboration because she's also been an actress and she knows how it is to collaborate with a director and with other actors. So it's a very important asset in a creative life.
Yeah, and I would add to that and say that I think one of the gifts of collaboration is that as an artist, you let go of some ego and (laughs) you know, while the solo act is a very fine thing when it's really on and certainly Joel is the maestro at that, there is something about collaboration that's almost, wouldn't you say a relief? To have an opportunity to share a creative process and be able to say, "We did this together." instead of "Look what I did" is really something very special and I treasure collaboration immensely. (upbeat orchestral music)
We stopped along the roadside just because both of us had the impulse that sunlight, winter sunlight, bouncing off this kind of sandy rolling hill, empty of almost any mark except a furrow where the tractor probably dragged its blade through so that any rain would have a runoff to funnel itself through. That and the purity of the sky made us both stop and gasp and want to get out of the car and just be there with it. And sometimes, that's all it takes. Nature gives a signal, you receive it, you stop, you open yourself up to it, and it delivers itself to you in this clear, simple, profound way. All you have to do is find the right place, where to stand to see it all and take it in.
And what I loved about it was the emptiness of this image. And I really had to dig down to find what was it about, because it's just really earth and sky. That's all it is. So this is what I came up with. (soft ethereal music) Curvaceous hills recline like a never-ending nude, lazing in the sunlight. Barron of any seed or outcrop, the hills become pure form, color, and texture, and oh, what color. At first glance, a sandy gold that seems to graze the retina and once grazed, the pupil looks anew, and sees sage and mustard and ochre and up there in a fold near the sky, a lick of lavender. The earth's crumbly texture made from plowed earth, rain, and perhaps a sprinkling of olio resembles a course, hearty polenta, and so this undulating terrain of texture and color pits itself against the opaque blue of the sky and you long to take a bite. What makes this so immensely satisfying, this marriage of opposites? The one so rough, the other, smooth. Sky, earth, each remarkable on its own. When layered one atop the other, create a profound union. The likes of which we mortals dream. (upbeat orchestral music)
Tuscany is everything. It's landscape, it's people, it's seasons, it's interiors, and one day, we found ourselves in an interior of a building that functions as a kind of cantina. It's where they stored things and they prepared sausages and meats and prosciutto and things like that. And we went upstairs into this old rune of a building and there, we saw an incredible fireplace, probably greater than two stories tall, and a color of kind of an ochre golden color with a worn out red trim, and you could feel time. And so I set up my camera to make a picture of the scale and scope of this place with this radiant luster of colors and a little bit of sunlight from a further room coming into the space, and Maggie, I turned to Maggie and she was in a dream, in a dream, and tell us about the dream.
Well, yeah. I mean, the thing about this fireplace to me is that it has centuries of stories attached to it. Unfortunately, since we took that photograph, some of that's been erased. You know, somebody had the idea to make it all pretty. But when you do that, you lose a piece of history. What we saw when we entered this room and saw this fireplace, what I saw, were all the stories that must have been told around that fireplace. (soft ethereal music) I would have wished to have sat before this one when the first flames rose. Can imagine hands reaching toward the heat, the gigantic shadows leaping out from the hearth and dancing over faces and walls, ceiling and floor. You can almost hear the mighty roar and crackle of the wood, whole trunks burning, the smoke rising inside the ivory skin of the chimney breast. To sit in this immense room is to lament all that we have abandoned in the name of progress. (upbeat orchestral music) One of the great gifts of collaboration is that during that process, you're absorbing some of what the other person does and it adds to your own creative process. For instance, I am, by and large, apart from an essayist. I am a fiction writer, and the visual in fiction writing is super important to be able to place people, to be able to describe place and your characters in a brush stroke in something that's vital to a good story. And Joel, of course, is really a master at the brushstroke of being able to capture an image that's so deep and striking. And I have to say that in our time together and especially in the books that we've collaborated on, watching you and paying attention to the visual detail has really added something to my craft of writing and I think made me a better writer. And I think that possibly, for photographers to work with writers, gives them the benefit of articulating even more what it is they're trying to describe in a visual image. The narrative quality or potential of what a visual image offers.
I completely agree with you because for many years, I believed that a photograph doesn't have a narrative quality.
If it did, then they wouldn't need captions underneath them telling you where they are and what's going on, because really, literature starts on the upper left hand corner, and you read across the lines down the page. But a photograph, where do you begin? You enter in the middle, you enter in the corner. Each person sees something differently in the photograph and begins their entry in a different way. So working with Maggie and reading the texts that is around the image I made has enlarged my way of looking at the world. And I believe, and we've talked about this in earlier modules, I believe that if you can say it, you can see it. And quite often, I do a little verbal in my head so that I can fully engage with all of the elements that are possible in the photograph and stay in touch with the energy that's in there. It's a very important asset in a collaboration to be able to learn things from each other.