Festina lente is a Latin translation of the classical Greek and represents both adage and oxymoron, meaning, “make haste slowly”. The Roman historian Suetonius wrote about Augustus, “He thought nothing less becoming in a well-trained leader than haste and rashness, and, accordingly favorite sayings of his were: “Hasten slowly”; “Better a safe commander than a bold”; and “That which has been done well has been done quickly enough." Augustus had gold coins minted with a crab and butterfly to make an emblem of the paradox, though the dolphin and anchor later became more iconic. Throughout history, many have conjured this paradox from the Medicis to Shakespeare.
I was invited by friends Thomas Bartlett and Nico Muhly to make a film for their song “Festina” which is included on their album Peter Pears: Balinese Ceremonial Music. I’ve been shooting high-resolution stills using a Canon 5D and intervalometer, which allows automatic exposure. Hundreds of thousands of these photographs are “stitched” into moving image. I’ve filmed for the past five years: the city at dusk or rural, glittering stars as well as over a hundred sleeping people, capturing the sleeper’s gradual transition from self-consciousness to surrender, public persona yielding to private face. This uniquely intimate form of portraiture suggests the universal escape of dreams while also revealing a rehearsal for death.
I’m also intrigued by the way these digital images sometimes evoke the Hudson River School of painting for which this region is famous. I own an old farmhouse in Greene County New York where all the rural footage was shot. My mountain location often means I am photographing tiny, incremental shifts of our mercurial weather and light. The final two shots (merged by a dissolve) convey something more painterly than photographic as the lens is overwhelmed by the rising sun and burns to white or the rising “morning star” (Venus) becomes strange and new in its watery frame.
Thomas Bartlett & Nico Muhly - Festina (Official Video)