Europe: France, Switzerland, England 1972
On our return from Mexico I found, in the pile of mail awaiting us, a letter from Arles, France and the Recontres internationales de la photographie d´Arles . The letter included a cheque and acknowledged that the three photographs I had submitted for the theme of L´objet had been purchased. I was invited by the festival directors — photographer Lucien Clergue, writer Michel Tournier, and historian Jean-Maurice Rouquette — to attend the festival the following year.
After the rigours of the Mexican trip, travelling in France was much more comfortable and accessible. I quite enjoyed the French culture and the sense of the ancient in time and history. Arles was an important Phoenician trading port before being taken over by the Romans in 123 BC. In Arles we saw an exhibition of Bruce Davidson's East 100th Street, photographs from Harlem, New York in a Roman building next to the Rhône. Later we swam in the Gardon at the base of the Pont du Gard, a 30 mile long aqueduct, built around 19BC with the amazing engineering skill of the Romans. History seemed to pop-up and was there, before me, in visual and touchable reality!
Being in Arles brought back the memory of seeing an impressive Van Gogh retrospective in San Francisco which included some of his Arles paintings. Walking on the same ground was inspiring and some of the work I did there remains important to me and amongst my most unique and personal images.
My French was/is nonexistent so I relied on Gael's adequate French language skills. Without language I felt distanced from the people and I had the feeling of being half there and half invisible. This feeling suggested an extension of the ghostly self-portrait which I had made at Mission Dolores in San Francisco in 1970 (California #3). Also, a psychic-medium had told me a year before that I had been a French psychologist in a previous life and that I had died in Nancy, France during WW I. This added a playful personal narrative to these ghost images — whether this story was true or not.
The selected images presented here were made in the house we rented in Arles, in the Arles area, and in towns we visited in the region including Avignon. After a visit to the nearby Montmajour Abbey, on a whim, we decided to spend the night in the ruins. This abbey had been an important pilgrimage site during the Middle Ages. Also the abbey itself and the surrounding landscape were significant subject matter for Van Gogh.
This area of Provence is known for the Mistral and we spent a sleepless night exposed to this constant and relentless wind. By morning we had a deeper understanding of Van Gogh's tormented mind. The two images (Europe: France #4 & #6) were taken that morning at the Abbey.
We travelled north into Switzerland to visit our Inverness neighbour's daughter. A structure her son, Oliver, had made was standing on the lawn like a sculpture (Europe: Switzerland #11). I asked if could photograph him with his construction (and he chose to wear my hat).
In England we visited Gael's sister and her husband, Lib and Bruce, who were living in an old cottage near Cambridge at Croxton. Gael and I had a brief holiday near the border of Wales where we stayed at a bed and breakfast farm. The last image was made there in the evening when Gael was playing with the curious cows (Europe: England #12).