Who could imagine circumstances under which classic tales of myth and legend, the madness of artists and the making of an iconic film would all come together on a shoot in a stone quarry in Les Baux-de-Provence?
I could claim prior knowledge and mythic prescience in seeking out the location for my latest series of photographs Eurydice in Provence, but I won't presume such boldness. Simply because it was the power of confluence and the vagaries of happenstance which brought all these disparate and time-elliptic forces into play on this humbling journey of artistic self-discovery.
Provence is Provence. What can one say? The light, the moods … aromas and flavours that have inspired artists over many centuries. Remember the place is quite unique in a manner of speaking. And It was this uniqueness which first drew me to the idea of extending my “Search for Eve” to another plain, a territory with more poetic tinges; exploring elements of nature and colour as distinct from the bare but beautiful crags, arroyos and canyons of New Mexico, where I photographed my last series. Some place where nature and man have combined to bring the magic of feminine beauty together through various mediums, and in wondrous pastel colours: the sunlit pinks and the shades of scarlet, hues for which the region is famed. Be they fields of sunflowers in Bonnieux, wheat fields at the foothills of Lacoste, a stone quarry near Saint Remy, the salt beds of Camargue or a simple old Provencal Mas found beside a byway near Arles.
Having scouted for locations in head and in heart, followed the footsteps of great photographers of yore, from Peter Lindbergh to Lucien Clergues and more, as well as consulted various professionals in the know, I happened upon the Carrieres de Lumieres (The Quarries of Light) as my starting point. A little stark perhaps, but then with such wondrous colours, shapes and shades in texture and in light, it turned out a perfect setting for seeking mythic antecedents to my narrative.
This extraordinary site was once a bauxite quarry in the bowels of the Val d’Enfer (Valley of Hell); the theme of dark underworlds inspiring such great writers as Dante and Charles Gounod. Jean Cocteau located his 1960 film, Le Testament d’Orphee, in the very same quarry, starring Pablo Picasso in a cameo performance.
As these things are wont to happen, I discovered the ghost of Vincent Van Gogh almost next door, lurking in the shadows, escaping incarceration at the Saint Paul de Mausole mental hospital, just opposite our parked vehicle! Van Gogh, a patient at the asylum between May 1889 to May 1890, managed to paint 150 of his more famous canvasses in this very location. He was certainly untroubled by Eurydice, but more preoccupied by isolation and sadness, symbolic representations of his own ‘underworld’.
Now, you tell me what challenges may have formed and reformed around such circumstances while sitting alone in those creatively-lit caverns; hewn out by the hands of men labouring for a pittance. From time’s perspectives, I could only glimpse the reality of solid rocks and boulders, broken shards of basalt and dust particles, sprinkled through the air but also through the hair of Eurydice by the hands of her unattainable love. Was her enterprise a labour of love, or was she a slave to the sentiment? Not too dissimilar to the servitude of hell as written in the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, the latter locked away in the underworld,with Hades as her guardian and unwanted companion.
At times, I lost myself in reflection and in dream worlds… Was I immersed in a stone quarry or was it some sort of dark mythic location, surrounded by Elysian fields and the deep still woods of the Thracian mountains, where Orpheus played his Lyre? Could I hear the sound of water from a nearby stream, or was it the roaring flow of the River Styx?
I could go on waxing lyrical, juxtaposing myth and reality, ancient psychology as opposed to modern psychosis. But I will spare you, the reader, that labour. Let your own imagination paint the fuller picture at the end of the tunnel; my images can only light the way. Suffice to say that it may be time to revisit Greek legends to power our present ‘underworlds’, whilst exploring grander universal themes familiar to us all - love and lust, love and trust, ‘The Divine Feminine’, human temptation, invincible passion, not to forget mankind’s insignificance amidst the greatness of nature.
Now, enter my imaginary world, each image resonating to the emotion of the space, a time and place - sentiments of the afterlife sprinkled like gold dust, as with any artist’s aspiring dream.