Appearences of reality

Appearences of reality

by Alessandro Trabucco

From its very beginning photography has had a very high price to pay for recognition in the world of art as an aesthetic language in its own right, because it has always had to stand up to a direct comparison with the ancient and glorious practice of painting. In those magnificent, extraordinary years at the beginning of the Twentieth century, the birth of avant-garde movements with the experimental work of Man Ray, Christian Schad and such artists as the Russians Lazlo Moholy-Nagy and Alexander Rodchenko (to mention only a few), revealed the expressive potential of the photographic technique, so that it achieved an outstanding position in the artistic world. But the issue of the so-called “duplication of reality” in photography has continued to undermine its creative purity, because it is considered a technique based mainly on mechanical procedures. The observations on style and the considerations on the arbitrariness of the author’s choice of subject and the possibilities of manipulating the final image, both at the moment of taking the picture and during the stages of development and printing, have not been investigated exhaustively enough to ensure the complete independence and self-sufficiency of this form of expression.

 Digital conception and perceptive illusionism

Claudio Spoletini’s photographs show a surprising aptitude to digital conception, as if the author had had a premonition, a sort of forerunner of digital technology, and his vision been projected beyond his time and rooted in a point in the future, a point in history that has been attained only in these last few years. This consideration arises from hindsight, substantiated by the results the artist has obtained through his handicraft, using manual means, and the idea of premonition comes from the fact that the first photographs were conceived and taken quite a few score years ago, when so-called “analogical” photography was the only existing technique available. The use of negative film or slides offered limited possibilities in the “shooting” stage (as is the case today with digital photo cameras) and the differences between the subject photographed and the final print (with many possibilities of making alterations) were all obtained by the photographer’s craft in the dark room. It seems then that Claudio Spoletini’s photographic activity stands in the exact moment of passage between these two technologies, yet it keeps its distance from both, maintaining an aura of mystery about the genesis of its pictures. The artist does not disguise the reality of the toy that is the main subject of each picture, and maintains unchanged its identity as a miniature object; Spoletini takes it as it is, fitting it into the situation that best can be adapted to its specific characteristics, obtaining its perfect integration through a kind of perceptive sleight of hand. Using few contrivances such as the addition of some element picked up on the site, or the use of a simple stand to hold the object in the chosen place, and a careful choice of the best position from which to take the picture, Spoletini manages to obtain a final image that has no need for further digital manipulation, every tiny detail is worked into the preparation of the small “set” and the frame, and so the approach to the creation of the picture remains manual and hand-made. We consequently are back to considering the linguistic value of so-called “analogical” photography and to the issue of the supposed conceptual as well as practical “live take” of the object captured by its lens. The main interest of Claudio Spoletini’s photographic research, from a strictly critical point of view, lies in his independence of the various theories on the communicative limits of this technique and its total dependence on external factors and on the predominance of the subject with no real possibility for modification or  addition. His pictures are certainly a record of something real and concrete in front of the camera, but the decisive factor is the modification of the external facts, a kind of visual short circuit setting reality in a new dimension that comes into existence only the instant the picture is taken, with no possibility of being repeated if not by the artist’s volition. This is the focal point of the question: the author’s volition. It is not therefore  only a matter of placing objects or persons before the lens “in addition” to the existing setting, and as such clearly identifiable; Spoletini’s action is more subtle, camouflaged, at first sight not so apparent, it is not a pose nor an action to be caught in an instant (Bresson’s “decisive moment”), it is rather taking particular care that the “extra” elements mingle perfectly with the surrounding space so that the true and the modified realities become indistinguishable. The act of placing an object (one or more toys) in the foreground and, thanks to an accurate framing of the scene and a trick of perspective linking the different visual planes, simulating its actual presence in the setting, with the correct proportions compared to the dimensions of the real objects with which it is related, is an act that unbalances the visual perception, and stimulates the investigation of a deeper meaning of the image observed, calling for an enhanced effort in the comprehension of the setting.

Spoletini takes his photographs while wandering round the world, carrying his toys for thousands of miles, or picking them up along the way, so his pictures show us a perspective corresponding to the place he is visiting, like snapshots taken for keepsake or documentation of a journey, but without the touristy sense of a trophy of the place visited, rather creating a novel situation, lasting only a handful of minutes, the time it takes to introduce the new elements into the flow of time and space, record their concrete but ephemeral presence with the camera, and then re-establish the former situation, restoring the original state of things: reality to its normal aspect, and toys to their physical status of inanimate and silent objects.

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