It seems to me that I’ve spent a lot of time talking very seriously about these Romanesque and Gothic churches, so much so that perhaps it may appear that my view of them is pretentious and self-important. I haven’t spent much time talking about how simply beautiful they are.
Trying to figure out a modern counterpart to these churches that evoke the same feeling, I reflected; what about the photography of Julius Shulman, who chronicled (and perhaps helped define) the rise of modernism? His work is extraordinary and it allows us to enter into and understand the works of the modernist architects.
Maybe it was an extraordinary exhibit of a group of Claude Monet’s series of paintings of the cathedral Notre Dame de Rouen in Normandy. He painted the western portal of the cathedral more than twenty times, the exact same scene under different light conditions. More than anything else in my life, that series of pictures distilled how light completely changes the image that we perceive, indeed that light is the only thing that allows us to see at all. PJ and I witness this ourselves when we shoot in Vézelay – the Basilique Sainte Madeleine changes with both the time of the day and the time of the year, always revealing new and more dramatic moments.
But the prize has to go to something much more populist, and less erudite. It is the sheer beauty of watching Zinedine Yazid Zidane play soccer.
What Zidane evokes in me is a powerful sensation of beauty; a sense of physical grace, serenity, and elegance, something almost otherworldly. These are the exact same sensations I get in one of the great Romanesque or Gothic churches, and like Monet’s images of Rouen, the passing moments reveal new and deeper beauties. Perhaps the fact that today is a rainy day in August, a bit colder and rawer than I would have expected after a week of warmth and sun, but until today’s meditation, I never would have guessed that the closest approximation to my enjoyment of the Romanesque comes to me from this great French athlete.