Silke’s friend Caroline in our kitchen in Paris.
One of the students in the workshop, Frank Zwart, made this image in an abandoned teachers’ dorm at the San Lodovico convent, where we were staying, in Orvieto. Frank is an architect, and took special care in composing his images. He used a tripod, a tilt-shift lens and a level to create this image, which is two files perfectly stitched together. The light falling on the statue of mary, who is precariously balanced on a stack of paperwork, the rhythm of the arches, it all comes together into a beautiful piece of art. one of my favorites from the week’s work.
Our annual workshop in Orvieto, Italy, was, as usual, as much fun for me as it was for the students. One of my favorite exercises from the week was making a daily still-life. We each had to come up with a few images in our rooms at the San Lodovico convent, a complex of medieval stone buildings and chapels built into the ancient fortifications of Orvieto. I made a simple studio with a chair, a black t-shirt, and the room window. My favorite image from my efforts was this one, of Silke holding one of the fresh plums from the fruit bowl at breakfast. Over the next week or two I’ll add some more images from the week and some of the best student work.
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The Times published a piece about the new gardener at Monet’s home in Giverny today, and oddly enough, he’s British. Here’s an excerpt:
No one has made much ado about handing over an iconic French garden to an Englishman, the new gardener said. But he does blanch when asked if parts of the garden — with their wild tangle of flowers — reflect more of an English style than the formal, symmetrical style of French gardens.
“Oh, you must not say that,” he said, looking just a little bit panicked. “It is a unique garden, neither French nor English. It’s an artist’s garden, a dreamer’s garden.”
“This is France,” he added. “They cut off people’s heads for saying less than that.”
We went to Giverny last weekend to visit Claude Monet’s house and garden. Over 17 acres, the artist directed a crew of as many as 15 gardeners to create subject matter for his paintings. For the last years of his life, he focused intently on the reflections and form of the water lily pond. In the summer, there is never a peaceful moment in the garden, while the gates are open.
Thousands of tourists, many delivered in giant tour buses, reverently file along the narrow paths, looking at flowers and trying to see what Monet saw, when he saw his garden. It is a beautiful garden, and immaculately maintained, but not so much more so than many other gardens of its size and scale. What makes it a place of reverence — a sacred space — is the collective agreement that beauty exists here. And that comes from Monet’s stamp. The subconscious reasoning goes, He saw extraordinary beauty here, therefore, I might catch a glimpse of it too.
Even with the crowds, it’s possible, simply because we think it is. And because in this garden, we take the time to just appreciate what is in front of us in an attentive way.
It was my third trip; the first time as a writer and photographer on assignment, the last two as a tourist among tourists. As much as the garden, I like the train trip to Vernon, the careworn bar across from the station where you rent extremely marginal bikes, and the beautiful ride to Giverny. It only takes a half hour, riding along the Seine, on a bike trail that crosses horse pastures and manicured backyards. On this trip, I had a deflated tire by the time we’d crossed the Seine, and a sweet Norman woman brought all four of us to her house, and produced a tire pump that didn’t work, and then pointed us to a gas station with one that did.
In the garden, standing on a path near one of the famous Japanese bridges, a guy with a massive Canon Mark VI mounted on a tripod said to me woefully, “That bridge is never going to be empty, is it?” and i said no. He wanted to get the picture Monet had painted, one with no people in it, with calmness and harmony radiating off the canvas. But Monet had 40 years to study the beauty of this garden — without busloads of tourists pressing through — and we only had a few minutes.
Too good to pass up.
Visited Vaux le Vicomte chateau south of Paris with friends last weekend. Brilliantly designed gardens, all culminating on a monumental statue of Hercules; a testiment to the vicomte’s inflated view of himself. His ambition made him a rich man, and offended the king, who had him thrown into a cold stone jail cell in the Alps for the remainder of his sad life. Better to be poor and free …