The Old Tuscan Farmer and Every Picture Matters Lesson
On Saturday mornings in Cortona the market comes to the squares. It’s where we buy our produce, and Barbara’s family has been shopping there for seemingly forever. We have a favorite farmer, and when I met him, he was old. Italian countryside old, which means he looks older than he is due to that famous Tuscan sun. Plus farmers always age harder than regular folk do. His stall was attended by his extremely nice wife (equally as old, but very sturdy), and who I think is his daughter in law, along with his son and a few others who might be family but might be farm hands helping to bring the crop to the market. For as long as I have been coming to Cortona, this has been the same. They are very nice, and the old farmer is jolly and congenial, he always has a firm handshake and a grand smile. For the life of me, I have a problem understanding older Italians and we would go back and forth talking and I never really knew what he was saying or if he understood me, but I grew to like him immensely, he became part of what I love about Cortona.
Two years ago he stopped working the main part of the stall, and broke off to the side setting up next to a wall, sitting mostly, and selling herbs in little pots. No more the heavy melons and sacks of tomatoes, this aspect of the business was now delegated to his wife and the kids. His hands would be always wrapped around a cane, and it was understood he was letting the next generation take over and he would just be in charge of a much smaller crop. When asked how he was feeling, he shook his head and said he was fine, but age was taking its toll on the old farmer, and his pride wouldn’t let him stay home, complain, nor stop what he had been doing his whole life. When I was working on my Instant Italy project (shooting Fujifilm Instax photos exclusively) I took a fine photograph of the old farmer and tried to give it to him but he didn’t comprehend an instant photo so I slipped it in his top pocket as the image was developing. I shot a second photograph of him, the one I would keep, but didn’t come out well. Pointing a camera at the old farmer produced a random result because he didn’t keep still and was always in conversation with who ever would be near him. The next year, I came with the Fuji X-Pro 1 and had decided that I would shoot the people I knew, but I would do it unobtrusively and I would focus on thier hands frequently.
I was eager to be shooting him, and as Barbara and mom selected produce I chatted him up and photographed his hands wrapped around his now ever present cane. I made one exposure, that’s all. I didn’t want to be intrusive as he was now engrossed in another conversation. We saw him a few more times that year on following Saturdays but I had my image.
This year we trotted through the market to buy our produce. I looked forward greatly to seeing the old farmer and being in the presence of his smile and hearing his undecipherable Italian. When we turned the corner the herbs where there, in little black plastic pots but he was nowhere to be seen. His wife upon seeing Barbara and mom greeted us, and mom and Barbara had an exchange with her. They asked where he was and I was hoping for another story of what I had already gotten and inkling about. The farmer’s wife looked down, and said something I of course couldn’t follow. Barbara turned slowly to me and lamented, “he’s gone” with a long face confirming what I had already suspected. He had passed 4 months ago, and further details were absent. I hoped it was an easy passing, and I walked away sadly, feeling empty, like a little part of my summer was forever gone, and then I thought about the photo of his hands. Holding on to his cane, and perhaps a grip onto this world for his last year here. The old farmer will live on in my memories and in that photograph, as well as the Fujifilm Instax photo. I don’t have the latter, but I hope his family found it in his belongings and it’s sitting on a hearth in the farmhouse.
Photography is powerful, it can make a man immortal or conjure the emotions of a past moment. As I lamented the passing of my nameless old farmer I knew I would treasure that image for all time. When I made the image I was thinking of how I could elaborate on my style and work that I shoot in Tuscany. When I edited the image I was unimpressed and not too excited about the photograph I had made. Now, with his passing the condition has changed dramatically, the importance of the image magnified.
Never ever take an exposure for granted. What is drab can become brilliant, what is mundane exceptional. Photographs like wine can into something far more important and relevant than what you thought during the 1/60th of a second it took to expose.
Every picture matters.
Image made with Fujifilm XPro1 and 35mm 1.4 shot in film sim B&W Mode 1:1 format. Processed in Snapseed.