Penne-d’ Agenais, France 2016

September 19, 2016


This summer we drove south again, crossing to Cherbourg and wending our way slowly down to the old region of Quercy where we met up with our sons and their partners, then with some Canadian friends; we also found time to be alone together, soaking up the warm feeling of being in a place of familiar differences.


Once upon a time we had travelled with a car full of children singing songs to deflect the tensions of being all crushed together as the temperature climbed in those pre air conditioned days. Now we meandered with less pressure to arrive and more appreciation for the changing scene – suddenly there were sunflowers and, a little later, lines of vines.


This summer our trip was presaged by news of murder and tension. Deaths on the seafront at Nice and in a church further north. The news influenced my mood. I found myself seeking out images that expressed uncertainty or ambiguity, wanting to see recent events registered in places and people. As a photographer I was sensitive to my immersion in place, but also registering how my perspective was guiding my eye and my felt state.


Then one day Bridget and I visited the hilltop village of Penne–d’ Agenais. We entered a deserted square. I felt like tip toeing so as not to break the silence. The atmosphere infiltrated my vision. I raised the camera to my eye and saw covered and uncovered windows like eyes open and closed. Something in the scene touched my sensibility, filling it with significance just beyond my ability to grasp. Then there was a shout and a boy hurtled out of a door in the corner of the square to leap upon a bicycle. I sharpened the focus on the windows and pressed the shutter as the boy sped towards me.


The blur of bike and boy left the square and the spell was broken as the square returned to silence and I began to worry about what had been produced in that irreplaceable moment- had I been fast enough to catch the bike/boy combo? Had I given enough exposure? What meaning had been framed by the image?


The image was duly processed. I can’t look at it without feelings of specialness and ambiguity being evoked. It means something to me, but I’m not quite certain what. It exercises power over me but I’m not quite sure how. I still can’t quite pin the picture’s meaning down nor can I lose my interest.


Without being definitive I still return to it as a picture of France at a certain time: my return has something to do with the open closed aspect combined with the rush and the stillness. The symbolism though is shadowy - the translation into language never quite adequate.

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