Photoplay – Raffaele Gavarro

Not just plain reality

Contemporary photography is developing a new trend that seems to seek emancipation from the faithful reproduction of reality that has always been this technique’s most evident characteristic. Among the many causes for this change, the principal reason is probably the increase of devices for image manipulation offered by the new digital technologies, which being simple to use have multiplied the possibilities for experimentation and expressive autonomy, granting a new freedom of expression in using the photographic media. It is interesting to note that technologic innovation has started to affect the imaginative sphere, and even when electronic procedures are not directly responsible,  they have nevertheless become a term of reference in the construction of a picture.

These photographs by Claudio Spoletini look like digitally cut and pasted pictures, a typical Photoshop job, instead they are the result of authentic little stage sets, of patiently waiting for the right natural light, and the use of an appropriate wide-angle lens. There, I’ve already disclosed the technical secrets underlying these vaguely surreal images, and by satisfying your curiosity too soon have risked losing your attention.

But obviously the main issue is not the way in which the pictures are obtained, but the explicit attempt to deprive the observer of his capacity to distinguish between reality and figment. And isn’t that something happening to us all the time? Viewing the world through the medium of images that are manipulated and transmitted with that time lapse that is inevitable even in a live broadcast, be it ever so minimal, and knowing it to be so, we react to what we see by absorbing all the information and evaluating the multiple interconnections not as belonging to reality but to its image, that has become an equally credible parallel dimension. Even though we are aware that everything we see is not necessarily the equivalent of reality, it is enough for the broadcast image to be credible for us to invest it with a perfectly coherent independent dimension.

With delicate irony, apparently just a “divertissement”, Spoletini’s Photoplay images touch precisely on that sphere of responses. Each of the associated elements is real, but they come from opposite extremes of reality. On the one hand the landscape, the town, the actual place, and on the other the toys, a parody of that same reality in which they are incorporated with almost perfect credibility. I say almost, because the carefully researched proportions that keep the toys in harmony with the surrounding spaces are connected to their undeniable identity as toys, exposing the true essence of what we perceive. Naturally the recourse to antiquated toys, much less easily camouflaged than modern ones, is of significant assistance in their detection. The picture in itself is credible, but the reality it implies is not.

The emphasis on this dichotomy becomes a mental standard to bear in mind, to test those images our eyes take in every day, in which discrimination is not so macroscopic yet no less paradoxical. But above and beyond these considerations, another striking aspect of Photoplay you will undoubtedly have observed is the use of landscapes, the urban views, the spaces that provide the background for these small objects. They are always absolutely empty, with no human figures, perfectly immobile in an indefinite space and time, conveying more an emblematic prospect than a documentation of actual space. And in fact references to classical and late romantic landscape painting are easily discernible, and still more precisely to metaphysical painting, such as some of Sironi’s city outskirts, or echoes of Edward Hopper’s American scenes. These references are of course absolutely free from even the slightest  touches of  irony. It is in fact by deliberate choice that the structure of these works follows the rules of pictorial composition, thus attempting to invest the pictures with a specific identity that sets them apart from the daily flow of images. But this approach is basically due to the modern tendency to unite in a single context aspects of different origin, aiming to achieve a simultaneity that takes no heed of the grammatical and syntactic differences in the diverse modes of expression, but only of the need to reach a specific end. Not only the visual arts, but also literature and music are affected by this process, that having swept away the rigid confines of quotation, and surrendering to the predatory instinct, is activating new energies and causing profound changes in all modes of expression.

Hence Spoletini’s work photographs a place which really exists, reformulating it through the memory of another image, which only in this way can accommodate that toy that in the end alters the very nature of its realism.

Among all the Photoplay pictures one in particular, the one with a palace on the banks of an undefined lake in the North, presents the single elements of the set without the illusion of continuity characteristic of the other pictures. The fish-shaped form floating on the waters, the landscape in the background, and the intervening water, which with its reflections expands the space separating the single elements. This picture is a key to the interpretation of the others, but also an implicit declaration of dissatisfaction with reality as such, amplified beyond all expectation by the photograph.

(April 1998)

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