What do you first notice when you look at Van Gogh’s Starry Night? Do you see the yellow stars burning in the blue sky? The sleepy village? The cypress tree dominating the foreground of the canvas? The rolling mountainscape?
For me, it is the wind, that swirling force of life blowing above the village and through the twinkling darkness.
I never really understood the context of the wind in Van Gogh’s painting until I stepped out of a train station not far from St. Rémy, where Van Gogh painted Starry Night.
Upon leaving the Arles station, I followed the breeze to the Rhône River. It was there, on the banks of the Rhône, that I accidentally stumbled on the spot where Van Gogh painted his other famous starry night, Starry Night Over the Rhône. But that starry night was calm, or at least it seems so in the painting.
“If your journey fails upon a day of wind,” Lawrence Durrell wrote of visiting Provence in his book Caesar’s Vast Ghost: Aspects of Provence, “it will prove a really memorable experience, for the whole landscape seems to be under full sail, it’s trees and shrubs in full contortion, trying to take off and ascend into the dazed blue sky.”
And that’s exactly how the wind greeted me, except I was the one who took off dazed into the blue sky.
What a relief the wind is, especially in a dry, hot place like Arles. The wind almost makes you forget about the heat. It makes you want to venture out in the heat just to feel the wind against your skin. It cools you down when you stop in the shadow of some building. It did for me, at least.
Durrell also wrote that “sunburnt” Arles was the “Queen Mother” of the old Roman towns in Provence, and perhaps the most “picturesque.”
Picturesque, an apropos description for a town that hosts the world’s preeminent photography festival each year, the Rencontres d’Arles.
So it was no surprise that I found myself eager to spend as much time outside as in the galleries, enjoying the starry nights, the streets, and the wind.
This is the appeal of holding a photography festival in place like Arles, where the picturesque can be found inside and out.
Arles was a jaunt, but I felt “at home” in the town so much that I’ll return for a longer spell soon…
In other news, my book The Hill of the Skull is set to launch on Kickstarter in six weeks.
I annouced the details on the 1st of August on Genius Loci, my other newsletter. But, here are some the pertninent details:
The book (hardcover cloth, ~B5/7x10") features
- 50 full-color photographs
- a 7,000-word story/memoir thing
- an afterword written by Pico Iyer
- a 2,500-word conversation I had with British photographer Alys Tomlinson
I call the central narrative a “story/memoir thing” because, frankly, I don’t know what else to call it. But, the story is the beating heart of the book, which means I hesitate to call the book a “photobook.” This really is a singular project.
Please help me spread the word!
Kickstarter is all-or-nothing. If we don’t generate the funds to publish the book, it doesn’t fly.