From Film to Photography
My curiosity pushed me to delve into history. As I was learning how to operate a Bolex and how to shoot with 16mm film, I stumbled across the famous picture “View from the window a Le Gras” by Nièpce (1826/27)
In addition to its significance for the history of the photographic medium, this photograph was crucial for my personal understanding of photography.
It is amazing how this early picture displays the ambition and the paradox of photography: the desire behind the invention of photography is to achieve a perfect copy of reality; the paradox is that trying to achieve the perfect copy, reality is transformed into something else, like abstract shapes out of rooftops. The capacity to be objective -i.e. its almost scientific aspect- was already superseded by creativity and imagination.
The second aspect that fascinated me was the fact that the first cameras turn the lenses toward the world outside and toward the domestic space; I know that part of the reason behind the choice to portray still life was related to the very long exposure of the plates before film was discovered, but I am fascinated by the thought of that tabletop and the category of domesticity. The domestic space is the primordial space we encounter as human beings, it is the space of relationships and of memories.
I decided to go back to that first picture of a woman in her living room, and I started to take other pictures of domestic spaces.
Since then, two books have influenced my pictures: ‘In search of lost time’ by Proust and ‘The poetics of space’ by Bachelard.
‘When from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.’ (In search of lost time, Proust)
Working with still life photography allows me to construct scenes and stages for the camera. While at the beginning I was simply assembling a scene in front of the lens with real objects found at home, I then pushed further the idea of creating and assembling physically a composition made of cut out paper. I was using my pictures as an archive. The challenge was to create a tridimensional object out of flat pictures. What fascinates me about photography is precisely the possibility of playing with this ambiguity. Since we normally trust pictures as the record of something that has been “out there in the world”, I am interested in questioning the relation between what is perceived as present and real and what is actually flat and absent.
The artist that first got me into thinking about the alchemy of film was the British filmmaker Tacita Dean. Toward the end of college I discovered her 16mm films. I mostly empathize with her work because of her nostalgic approach and her way of exploring the potentialities of film: time and space are the two coordinates that she manipulates through her beautiful frames. I came across her work by chance and I started marveling at the beauty and the power inherent in the simple act of recording.
I realized I was not satisfied by theater. What I was looking for was the record, a synthesis of the overlapping of time and space in a single frame.
‘The Green Ray’ by Tacita Dean (2min, Color/silent 16mm film, 2001) is the work that best explains why I got fascinated by film.
Here is how Tacita Dean describes her experience:
“When the sun sets into a clear crisp horizon, and when there is no land in front of you for a few hundred miles, and no distant moisture that could become, at the final moment, a back lit cloud that obscures the opportunity, you stand a very good chance of seeing the green ray.
The last ray of the dying sun to refract and bend beneath the horizon is the green ray, which is just slower than the red or the yellow ray. Sailors see them more than the rest of us, and they have come to signify for some the harbinger of great change or fortune in their lives. For years I have sought out the green ray, peering at horizons for that last fractional second of greenness, not knowing or daring to imagine how extravagant a green splash it might be, but never have I seen it.
And then in the summer of last year, as I set off to a small, near inaccessible village on the west coast of Madagascar to see the total eclipse of the sun, I was as much lured there by a fleeting remark on an eclipse watcher’s website saying that those of us who made it as far as Morombe might also stand a chance of seeing the green ray. I learnt the night before I left, that Eric Rohmer had faked his, and that his cameraman had waited for two months in the Canary Islands for every setting sun before giving up and going home. His post-produced extravaganza was no gauge by which to measure the green ray. I had a quest to try to see, if not film, something that I could not imagine.
The point about my film of the green ray is that it did so nearly elude me too. As I took vigil, evening after evening, on that Morombe beach looking out across the Mozambique Channel, timing the total disappearance of the sun in a single roll of film, I believed, but was never sure that I saw it.
The evening I filmed the green ray, I was not alone. On the beach beside me were two others with a video camera pointed at the sun, infected by my enthusiasm for this elusive phenomenon. They didn’t see it that night, and their video documentation was watched as evidence to prove that I hadn’t seen it either. But when my film fragment was later processed in England, there, unmistakably, defying solid representation on a single frame of celluloid, but existent in the fleeting movement of film frames, was the green ray, having proved itself too elusive for the pixellation of the digital world. So looking for the green ray became about the act of looking itself, about faith and belief in what you see. This film is a document; it has become about the very fabric, material and manufacture of film itself.”
Following this fascination I experimented for a while with 16mm film.
Hello readers! It’s a great opportunity to share my work and my thoughts with you!
Even though I am a visual artist and I work primarily with images, I always find it very stimulating to write about my work. As a Maieutic process, I realized that not only through images but also through words I bring my latent ideas into clear consciousness. I find myself moved first by chaos and intuition, -the exciting part of creation- which then turn into order after some time spent in unraveling all the threads. For me this is the function of writing about art.
With this first post I am going to talk about how I got interested in photography: it is a glance at my education and interests in order to give you a sense of how I ended up working with pictures. As I mention in my statement, when I started college I studied theater, from its history to the design of a set. From the very beginning I have been intrigued by the origin of theater in relation to the representation of space and the possibility to create a physical threshold between reality and fiction. The art of theater has always dealt with the mediation between reality and the attempt to create an illusionary space for the viewer. In theater, the so-called ‘fourth wall’ is an agreement between the public and the actors: it represents the invisible wall that physically separates the stage from the spectator. It is the fine line that stands between reality and the domain of imagination. This covenant between the actors on the scene and the viewer has become an essential element in my way of looking at space through photography.
This picture, I understood later, was the key for the realization of how I was looking at the world around myself: despite the simplicity of the composition- it is just a portrait of a woman in her living room- the picture shows the way I was thinking about presenting a scene for the viewer.
Little by little I discovered that my fascination with photography and the domestic space were already present in that shot.