A man sold a bunch of parsley to a robust woman. The woman laughed and talked as she gave him the two dollars that the hand-painted said she owed. She continued her conversation with him while she walked away, getting getting louder and louder in order for him to hear her. Soon she was out of shouting distance and disappeared. Then it was quiet. A brief lull filled the air. The vegetable stand was deserted for a moment but the peace wouldn’t last. The next rush of hungry buyers were but a moment away.
A return from a trip always reveals new things about home. The imperceptible cadence of life seems to have moved at a fast-forward pace upon our return. This is especially true if one has traveled at the change of a season. Autumn seems to have progressed more quickly when we return to a yard full of leaves and bare trees. Does life move this fast when we watch each leaf fall from a tree?
I try not to visit the farmer's market on an empty stomach. The overstimulation of so much fresh, ripe food causes me to buy too much stuff. I lug it all home, as happy as a pig in pile of corn—all self-satisfied and content. But, by the miracle of time, alchemy and a big fridge, too much of the bright and colorful produce transforms into a khaki-colored sludge. This may be good for the compost pile but, at today's prices for organic produce, the green in my wallet disappears faster than the green in my refrigerator.
The market has always been a source of photographic inspiration to me. Life swirls around me as I poke my camera into produce, flowers and food stands. Every so often an ordinary moment of human behavior and interaction stands out as something significant. Why does ordinary life seem so extraordinary in the two-dimensional world of still photography? I suppose this is the great mystery of photography and why it compels so many of us to look at our world through the lens.
Cherries and asparagus always meet at a certain time in spring and a particular market in San Rafael, California. As if in a May-December romance, the asparagus is on the way out while the cherries are on the way in. They sit adjacent to one another among a sea of produce stands. Their rendezvous is but a short one and lasts only a week or two. The the asparagus quickly disappears along with the people who sell it. The cherries are left to fend for themselves but their season isn't a long one. Soon they make way for the stalwarts of summer: tomatoes, eggplant, basil, and sweet corn.
Sunday’s farmers market during the summer is always packed. It’s that
way in the summer. No one can resist the fresh corn or the plump, red
tomatoes. And the peach guy has about twenty samples on which some
people gorge for about twenty minutes. They look like overgrown
chipmunks, cheeks full of peach slices and the juice dripping off their
chins. The long days attract mothers and their strollers and fathers and
their sons. Mixed among the seasonal hoards are the regulars who I see
week in and week out, even in the lean months of January when broccoli
seems to be the only star of the market.
"Not yet?" I asked.
I'd thought this would be the week. It was early March and I was eagerly awaiting asparagus season. I'd turned the corner towards a long row of stalls at the farmer's market. My favorite vendor became visible. My heart sank as I saw only potatoes displayed at his stall. Asparagus season was not yet to be. It would be another long week before the lovely spears would trumpet the true arrival of spring. Forget the calendar, fresh asparagus in Northern California tells me that spring is here. But, it wouldn't be this week.
It had taken two days to prepare the food for a lens-based show several us had curated back when we were graduate students at JFKU. Curating a show is the only way to learn the art business and there are myriad mistakes to be made in the process. The first mistake of my fledgling career was to put the food in a separate, secluded room away from the artwork. You want people to mingle amongst the art, not somewhere else. Worse than that, I'd forgotten about the Shrimp People.
I saw three big cameras at the farmer's market this weekend. They seemed to transform the photographers into something imposing and separate from the life of the market. Lenses are getting longer and bulkier. It used to be that a zoom lens was an extravagance—it was most certainly a tradeoff in quality. Back in my youth, most serious photographers used prime lenses because zooms were so unsharp. Now everyone seems to use a zoom lens. I do, though with ambivalence.
There are times in a photographer's life when the light is so exquisitely right that it aches. When the right light combines with a compelling subject one can feel an alchemical change occurring. Clicking the shutter becomes an intoxication, something we must do. Endorphins rush into the brain. It's heady stuff.