I have been thinking about the connections between photography and the Italian Christian folkloric legend, La Befana (derived from the Italian epifania) celebrated each year on January 6. La Befana has similarities to Santa Claus in that she brings presents for children, and similarities with the Halloween witch, in that she is an old woman wearing a tall hat or a scarf who flies through the night on a broomstick, sometimes with a cat, silhouetted against the moon. Legend has it that after the birth of Christ, the Three Kings stopped at La Befana's home and asked her to join them in their search for the baby Jesus. She declined because she had too much housework to do. Later, she regretted it and set out to find the baby Jesus and bring him gifts. Angels from the star of Bethlehem gave flight to her on her broom. But to this day La Befana continues her search for the baby Jesus and brings all the good children presents on her way.
How is La Befana related to photography? Bear with me, there are connections.
Much has been written about the meditative process of photography. Photography requires being mindful, letting go of the past and the future, transcending the materials, and "becoming one" with what is seen through the lens. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi wrote about this state in his book, "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience." Minor White comes to mind.
I've often wondered why La Befana was, in effect, punished - she never found the baby Jesus - especially when the Three Kings were rewarded in their search. I think maybe, like many myths, La Befana has a lesson to teach. Women have traditionally been tasked with attending to the past and the future, witness the housecleaners and administrative assistants, the majority of whom are women, who clean up the detritus of the past and schedule the future. The work that is considered important, that is chronicled in history, that is regarded as feats of presence and flow, is credited mostly to men. Women continue to be in the minority in the fields of art and photography. No doubt, it will require societal changes to equalize this (reproductive rights, availability of education and child care, equal pay for equal work, etc.). Changes within the family and the individual can be just as difficult; if we are barely conscious of them, gender roles remain entrenched. In many parts of society, being conscious of gender roles is perceived of as evil, or at least distasteful.
Often, when I am overwhelmed with work it seems that my priority should be to clean up the mess and make a plan. The story of La Befana suggests otherwise.