META-ILLUSIONI: the garden of impossibility
“History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.” (Julian Barnes: The Sense of an Ending)
Or, to quote Magritte: “This is not a pipe”
To introduce to or explore the world of so-called “conceptual” photography appears anything but easy, because the photographic medium has ever since its early years been considered a means suited, par excellence, to reproduce reality.
We remember that it was precisely the introduction of photography which caused a crisis for painting as a medium and for all portraiture art of the 19th century, as it was capable of reproducing reality as it “really” was and not as it was, in some way or other, elaborated by the hand and mind of the artist. If we examine the semantics of our language we realize that the term “objective” has many meanings: “objective” is an object used in photography, or in other words an object which is “focused” on something and serves to define it, characterize it and reproduce it; “objective” means known, recognized by society as something accepted to be real; and finally “objective” is also the end purpose and aim of an activity or thought. The very same word is therefore used to define real situations or objects, a cross-section of reality, and at the same time to identify the object which, in photography, in a fraction of a second freezes a fragment of life and reality and, as we say, immortalizes is or gives it an atemporal dimension.
The great photographers of the 20th century from Robert Doisneau to Cartier-Bresson, to Steve Mc Curry’s images and reportages of war, to the photographic exploration of the human body of Helmut Newton and Robert Mapplethorpe, showed reality by transposing it to photographic paper, immortalizing an instant of reality, a human sentiment or the human body as object, that is to say objectified in an action.
After about two centuries of photography of “reality”, we are today witnessing the creation of a photography which bears witness to unreality, or meta-photography.
The surreal, the deformed side of reality, the invention of a scenario which does not exist or exists in different forms, comes into play to render a message subjective, or perhaps we should rather say to communicate a personal image of reality that is no longer limited to the surrounding reality but may range
freely within the bounds of the author’s imagination.
The artist-photographer elaborates reality, overturning and distorting it, entering the world of falsehood to oppose truth and follow a dream, and touches the chords of emotion.
It is a matter of a neo-surrealist meta-photography in which the “concept”, the idea, become the only basis and purpose of the photographic shot and the dominant element of the reproduced scene. It is no longer reality which determines when the image is to be taken, but the idea that has to take form and that shows the photographer when to activate the shutter, just as it determine the form and guides the brush in the painter’s hand. The essential element is no longer the photographed object, but what is to be found behind the apparent representation of reality which, in the final analysis, has nothing real about it any longer.
It is a matter of working through “visual hybrids” which entail transformation (C. Greig), distortion and duplication of reality (P. Soussan, M.Machu), to adopt a new perception of a different reality; or a “perceptive photography, a photography which offers a new and hitherto unexplored vision of the things of the world” (P.Soberon).
It may be a reflection on space and the way it changes, (N.Evangelisti), but also on the way time, objects or the way we perceive them change.
The spectator feels deceived or unsure about what he is really looking at: reality or unreality? Is it a matter of a view, of a horizon? But is it a real horizon or a conceptual one? The eye is bewildered, and the mind begins to roam in unreality: the eye casts doubt on vision, and the mind reacts by seeking refuge in an emotional space.
Everything is permeated by subtle ambiguities and transmutations; vision plays on the dichotomy between identity and memory: a research aimed at identifying an objective, known reality and a continuous loss of this identification; the loss of objective references eventually overturns the codification of perception in the sense of an uncertainty about the actual identity of what one is gazing at. But on the other hand, is it not true, as J. Barnes observes, that “what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed” and that we live on “approximate memories which time has deformed into certainties”? The question begs an answer: and what if we were to look at things from another angle? What if I were to go beyond icons and symbols, to explore a new universe? What if I were to look at a fragmented, fractioned, distorted and manipulated reality? A reality which is “different” from the one I am used to, and which I in a certain sense “expect” to see? May I discover new and different truths? New sensations and new perceptions of myself?
This is one hypothesis, an attempt to involve the spectator which these artists pursue; an aesthetic and conceptual adventure which begins with vision and ends up with touching chords of pure emotion, of extreme fascination.
“If I can’t be sure of the actual events any more, I can at least be true to the impression those facts left (J. Barnes).
Bibliography: Julian Barnes: The Sense of an Ending (Vintage Books, 2011)