Tuesday, September 30, 2008
from Christina Olson: Her World
"Alvaro chose life on the Olson farm. His brothers had married, so it was he and Christina left at Hathorn Point. Friends and neighbors remember going to see Alvaro for the wonderful vegetables in his garden - his famous peas - and the fresh eggs. He seemed to provide for everyone around him. Although he prospered at farming, his priority was always to take care of his sister, Christina.
"He spent his days working in and around the house, gradually letting go of the Olson farm. He mended the house and barn with contrived repairs. Missing or rotting clapboards would be replaced with mismatched boards and broken windows would often be stuffed with Christina's old rags.
"In time, the Olson house was not the family home that once existed - it became a large house that was difficult to heat and repair. The upstairs was not used, except by Andrew Wyeth for studio space. The front entrance stored wood and remnants of the past. Keeping some of the original characteristics of their childhood home, the barometer still hung in the front hall.
"Alvaro died on Christmas Eve, 1967. Christina died the following month, on January 27, 1968. They were laid to rest in the family cemetery at the base of the hill, overlooking the water, with a view of the house and "her world."
"The World of New England is in that house - spidery, like crackling skeletons rotting in the attic - dry bones. It's like a tombstone to sailors lost at sea, the Olson ancestor who fell from the yardarm of a square-rigger and was never found. It's the doorway of the sea to me, of mussels and clams and sea monsters and whales.
"The shadow of Christina's head against a door has a ghostly quality, eerie, fateful, serious, a symbol of New England people in the past - as they really were. There's everything about Christina - her hand pushing a pie plate toward you, or putting wood on the stove. There's a feeling that, yes, you're seeing something that's happening momentarily, but it's also a symbol of what always happened in Maine. The eternity of a moment.
"I've seen Olson's from the air on the way back by plane to Pennsylvania - that little square of a house, dry, magical - and I think, My God, that fabulous person. There she is, sitting there. She's like a queen ruling all of Cushing. She's everybody's conscience. I honestly did not pick her out to do because she was cripple. It was the dignity of Christina Olson. The dignity of this lady."
PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Reflections While Shooting at Olson House, Part 12
The idea for using apples came from Gary who produced a beautiful shot with, as I recall, 3 apples. There were apple trees out back, a pail in the shed. The next morning I gathered fallen fruit. Gary shot across the entry hall toward the stairs. I wanted to shoot the length of the hall as I had on the previous day. I'm not sure why I was so set on shooting it that way, but I liked the strong light reflected from the painted wood, and I was in "rigidify" mode with an idea that kept me from really exploring other possibilities.
Tillman told us that he thought the floor had been painted by Christina. It is the color of a hazy sky and has painted brown leaves falling through it every foot or so. If Tillman is correct, here truly is Christina's World, the art work of the artist's muse. Tillman said that nobody had yet solved the problem of shooting the floor.
I wasn't really trying to solve the problem of the floor when I shot this, only use that glaring light, but now I'm eager to shoot Christina's upside down world. In a period when I lost my sunlight I made some experiments from the stairs that hold promise. I vowed to get back to them and never did.
The problem with shooting the hall my way, Tillman quite accurately pointed out, was an ugly building across the lawn and excessive glare through the door. Tillman identified the problem and then stood in as a solution, "Teacher's Dismay."
Earlier I had a reflector to bounce a bit of light back into the bucket, but when I shot this I'd already returned it. Another tool to make part of the kit!