As I am teaching a workshop this week in New York, I thought it only fitting to return to Paris. It is a city that feels old but is constantly new. While having grown up in Manhattan, I find it difficult to find old places that look new.
Despite all my years of visual study, and looking at suburban malls, gas stations, vacuous exteriors, forlorn and abandoned wrecks of towns and buildings, violated landscapes, I have never gravitated to the modern depiction of important photography. Since the seventies, when serious photography began to record the malaise, and ugly vernacular that surrounds us, curators began to support these photographs as great art. The more distraught, isolated, vulgar, disenchanted, disembodied the subject, the more the photograph is applauded as original and the makings of great art. To my mind I am not sure what kool-aid everyone is drinking, but it is definitely spiked with a misanthropic spirit.
No matter how many times I go to the mall and drive down strips of concrete America, I don’t ever feel anything much more than wanting to throw up. I don’t need a photograph to tell me how empty part of our culture is. I need a photograph to lift my spirit to lead me to the world I want to inhabit.
Now that brings me back to Paris, the city of love and glamour. France is a country that knows how to create and nurture women, and it knows how to shape it’s trees into a shrub. Nothing is too sacred. Top off a trees head, confine it to a small space, sheer it to within an inch of it’s life, and you have the wonderful French Pollarded landscape. It is order from chaos, confining and containing a tree’s natural inclination to spread its branches.
I, for one, love what the English and the French have done to their gardens. It reminds me of a woman in a public space dressed elegantly, proportionately, timelessly, and with style.
It is a world I love to go to. This workshop took place at some of the French Royal Gardens that surround Paris. Over the years of teaching, I have often been asked by students to shoot a picture while they have the opportunity to observe. Somehow me talking is not enough, they want to see it. I don’t blame them. I could easily be a charlatan, compositing and retouching all my pictures. In fact, perhaps I would never leave my living room and create and illustrate all these pictures from a mysterious box with wires.
To overcome everyone’s concerns I have learned it best to spend one afternoon of the workshop, where I, master Yoda, make a picture and everyone watches. Unfortunately this produces a problem, as I am only able to do one thing at a time, either I shoot or I talk, but the two do not coincide. So as I shoot I focus, I become unaware of all around me, and need to be in my own little world. So I usually do not spend too much time on this, as the workshop is for them.
This picture was made the second day of the Paris workshop. The model was Brazilian, and it was spring just as it is here in New York today. Everything was lush and vibrant with almost a fluorescent green, coating the new growth on all the pollarded trees and shrubs.
I love the scale and beauty of what man can do. The landscape is large, almost enormous, yet intimate. For whatever reason, I immediately placed this model, dressed in black, amongst all this green.
This was my picture at the workshop. It is more than just a picture, it is an undivided focus on beauty. It is my attempt to redirect the participants and the viewers to a man made world that is not banal and ugly, but rather aspiring and beautiful.