Monday, April 26, 2010


Gilles is a chef in SCAD's cafeteria here in Lacoste. The food is often very good, not like most college cafeterias. Gilles and the other chefs try to find a balance between real local cuisine and food American students will find familiar and comforting far from home. They always have vegetarian entrees, but they seem a little perplexed by the vegans. "No butter? No cheese? Life would not be worth living. . ." I'm only guessing what they think. Gilles speaks almost no English and very few of the students speak any more than the most rudimentary French. What's amusing is that he doesn't let that stop him from going into long, usually one-sided conversations. He clearly has something he wants us to know and he seems convinced that if only he can say enough, we'll eventually understand. He may be right.

The Louvre

One of (or THE?) most famous museums in the world. Literally acres of art go in all directions. Mobs of people make a bee line for the Mona Lisa, passing by more interesting pieces. Two Vermeers take my breath away. The great hall of Rubens is remarkable in its own way- am I the only one who feels that the inclusion of at least one naked breast in every painting feels gratuitous? How many days would it take to see the entire collection? More specifically, how many hours can I take before my eyes glaze over with art numbness?

But, it's relatively early in the day. The mobs have yet to reach some of the less travelled corners. And the light coming in is beautiful. If you want to see more go here.

Monday, April 19, 2010

French Cemeteries

They take their grave sites very seriously here and I've been drawn to document them. Elaborate ceramic flowers, real flowers, plastic and silk flowers, laminated photographs of the deceased, paintings, banners, and many other types of memorablilia appear. I don't know whether this phenomenon is specific to this region or the small towns I've been visiting. I plan to go to Pere Lachaise in Paris to see if one of the most famous cemeteries in the world has displays like these. And I plan to keep photographing them.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Cafe du France opened for the season on April 1. The French don't observe April Fool's Day, but they do have Poisson d'Avril, The Fish of April. The spirit of the two is similar as children try to secretly attach paper fish fish to the backs of their unsuspecting friends and family. However, this has nothing to do with the opening of Cafe du France.

The cafe closes for the season in the fall and locals have to drive to share a glass of vin rouge with their cronies. Between the locals and the students, the opening means an instantly thriving business. That combination also makes for interesting energy inside and out as American students try their rudimentary French and local folks try their basic English. The mood is generally amiable. Rinaldo the bartender manages to serve the drinks, wash the glasses, and keep the peace.

The Polar Bear Club- Provence Chapter

We drove through a rain storm to Fort de Buoux. Unfortuantely, when we arrived, the climb to the top was closed. It's steep and treacherous and the caretaker was concerned about people losing their footing. Since there are no hand or guard rails, the multitude of drops over hundreds of feet requires prudence. There were a number of extraordinary sites left to walk to and explore, however. These three found the allure of a frigid mountain waterfall impossible to resist. I, on the other hand, found it quite easy to resist.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Le Sentier des Ochre

The ocher mines of Roussillon are one of the most dramatic sights I've seen in Provence. For over 2,000 years, people have been mining and using the pigments made from the world's largest known deposit of ocher. There are at least seventeen different hues of the substance and they range from brilliant yellows to oranges, reds, and purples. Besides the colors, the landscape is eroded into a maze of canyons and fissures. You can see more here . And there are some pictures of the village here .

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Wall

It was a fun evening. Faculty and staff from SCAD-Lacoste plus Andrea and the librarian from Savannah, Jessica, gathered for a cook-out. I grilled chicken and everyone brought wonderful food- vegetables to grill, taboule, vegetables melted with chevre, bean salad, pasta salad. We went to a terrace near the top of Lacoste with a view of the valley. The night was cool, but comfortable, and the conversation was lively. Our tables were alongside a thirty foot tall ancient wall, but with the open view to the other side it felt cozy, not claustrophobic.

Throughout the evening, stones, some small, others larger kept falling from the wall. We usually looked to see where they were coming from and we even wondered if students were above us playing a joke. The wall had an odd angle since it had once supported a vaulted ceiling, but, hey, it had stood for 700 years- it wasn't going anywhere soon. It made some of us a little nervous, but others felt there wasn't a problem.

The party finally broke up and we said our good nights and went to our various apartments. Right after Andrea and I walked in our door, Eleanor called. "You've got to come back here right now! That whole wall just caved in!"

There were two steel tables and ten chairs where we all sat for three hours. They're now covered with ten or twelve feet of stone and earth.  In the third picture, you can see the remains of one chair. I'd guess that was the one farthest from the wall. The crater at the top is about twenty or thirty feet across and goes back about fifteen feet. You can see the remains of the wall on the left.

Eleanor and Peter, who live about fifty meters away, said there was one crash, quickly folllowed by another. I'd guess the wall came down and the earth gave way immediately after.

I timed the walk from that terrace to my apartment when I went back this morning to take these pictures. One minute, thirty-five seconds. We couldn't have been in the door more than a minute and a half when Eleanor called.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Cecile Cottom

Cecile Cottom is married to a friend of mine. Matt Cottom and I both rented studio space in a building in downtown Rochester, NY. It seems like a hundred years ago, so much has changed since then, but Matt and I renewed contact after we bumped into each other in New York City a couple of years ago. I knew he was married to a woman from Marseille and when I found out I was going to be in Provence, I asked Matt for contact information on Cecile and her family. As luck would have it, Cecile was in Marseille and I asked her to come to Lacoste as a guest of SCAD and talk to students about her work and theirs.

Cecile is a talented photographer who works both in the commercial and fine art worlds. She spent two days at SCAD-Lacoste and was articulate and probing in her discussions. Her project, A Priori, is a beautiful document of people born in the 1970's. She takes the simplicity of a static studio portrait environment and, through her sensitive eye, has produced work that has incredible depth and variety, while at the same time is constrained by the limitations she has placed on herself.

Monday, April 5, 2010


I met Laurent in Gordes. He smiled and said Bonjour. We talked for a few minutes and I asked if I could take his portrait. He agreed and it actually turned into a bit of a demonstration for my students as I used my new Einchrom lights. They seemed to enjoy watching me work and we'll talk about what I did as I show them the whole take in class.

That afternoon I was in Gordes with another group of students and I stopped in to see Laurent to tell him I had looked at the pictures and thought they had come out nicely. We again started talking (his English is very good) and he told me about his unusual background. He spends 8 months of the year running his shop in Gordes selling little girls' dresses and other tourist items and the rest of the year he spends in India with his wife, traveling around on motorcycles and promoting dance parties. He's quite open about the unusual life he and his friends lead. He said, "In France I make money. In India I make life."

The Butcher's Wife

On the plaza behind the chateau in the center of Gordes is Couteau-sud, the village butcher shop. One of the proprietors, Madam Estelle Couteau, was quite gracious and allowed me to photograph her. With the help of sign language, we shared enough of each other's native tongues to have an enjoyable portrait session. She told me about her young family and I told her of my grown children. We both spoke with pride.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Fashion Shoot

On 31 May 2010, photographer Corine Brisbois came to Lacoste to shoot the fashions of L'etoile de Marie. The designer prides herself in always using local resources, so the photographer, models, stylists, fabrics, even the people who actually make the clothes, come from Provence. The only outsider was SCAD student Kyle Humphrey, who was lucky enough to be available and assisted Corine on the shoot.

In addition to buying locally, Marie uses only fabric that is grown organically. Her philosophy is that even fashion can be kind to the earth. 

Everyone on the shoot was relaxed and easy to be with. In spite of the fact that she didn't speak much English and he spoke no French,  Corine was kind and inclusive working with Kyle and made it a point to show him results on the back of her camera and explain what she was doing.

Working with wonderful people, on a beautiful day, in an incredible place- does it get any better?


Seductive Beauty

The first day, in all my classes, I talked about working, photographing, in a new place, especially a place as beautiful as Lacoste. It's easy to be seduced by, even blinded by the beauty of this place. The challenge is figuring out how to get past that surface and produce work that has substance.

It's not that there's anything inherently wrong with pretty pictures. They have a place. Certainly I wouldn't discourage anyone from taking photographs that will sell. Our Vernissage is coming in seven weeks and I'll be very happy if my students sell a lot. And making pictures that show friends and family at home what a striking environment Provence is- well, that's OK, too.

The problem is if one stops at that surface and doesn't take the time to explore what's beneath. An artist asking themselves the right questions can help. What makes this place unique? What is special about the quality of light here? What is it like living in a place where one routinely encounters structures that were built years, even centuries before America was even discovered? What are the people like? How do they live? What is the experience of being a foreigner like? How does it feel to be unable to communicate with the checkout person at a grocery store?

At the same time, I know I've been seduced, too. I'm taking pretty pictures with unabashed pleasure.

I admit it- I can't help myself. But I hope I'm also making pictures that aren't quite as predictable.

And the portraits I've begun working on, like Jean Pierre, certainly qualify as a start to scratching to see what's behind that beautiful facade. There will be two posts later today with additional portraits, as well.

In the meantime, if you'd like to see more pretty pictures, go here here and here.