Making images or being images, what’s the difference? I took this photograph from four years ago after a little research of stories created “on the road”. Seeing it again I am struck by the girl posing smiling with one of the melons fallen from the container of the truck that had overturned along the highway to Siena a few hours earlier. Who knows if she thought of being portrayed like this herself or if it was suggested to her. To her left, another woman is taking a picture of the pile of fruit and of the truck lying on its side like a pachyderm. The cones around, the deviation signs and the cork on the ground say that many people have already passed by, setting it up hour after hour with new clues. If you close your eyes you can also see the flashing blue light of the ambulance that, arriving at dawn from the north, leans alternately along the guardrail, more difficult to find it on the bark and leaves of the walnut trees but if you focus you can do it. If you close your eyes you can also see those of the driver who is now resting peacefully in a hospital bed; eyes that were full of fear when he tried to take the wheel again while the car swerved in an instant. To find out why, we will have to wait for him to wake up and tell first to the officer in charge and then to his wife and daughter who arrived from Bari what happened. But if you want in the meantime, you can invent it yourself and get them to arrive from Krakow too. However, if you close your eyes you see everything, maybe even the sea. Is our making images a way of finding an access key or an attempt to distance ourselves? What would be the right way and who knows if there was someone behind me to take the picture of her, taking me into the story as if in an endless matryoshka. If today I were in front of that scene I would take the photo again and why? For whom? Would I try to take, as many others did, the still-fresh melons in that free banquet prepared by chance after making sure the driver was no longer in danger or would I not even stop? But most of all I wonder what difference there is between the moment in which we find ourselves in front of a fact that strikes us or we feel a strong emotion and we decide to turn them into a trace and when instead we leave them inside us; is this really where the crossroads “between memory and oblivion” occurs? Up to here you have been brought into a story that can easily be thought of as a scene, but what happens when inside a photograph there is ourselves or someone we know personally? We are equally able to conceive it as a scene, a thought, as a writing invented by someone who was beyond the device. Similarly, what could we think of if we read a written sentence or saw a drawn or sculpted face? Yes, I think it is possible but it is not simple for various reasons, first of all the fact that for us, today, photography is almost always understood as a reproduction of reality and although different meanings have been attributed to it over time in the common thought, more or less for a hundred years, it is a document.
But what are we really experiencing in this last decade in which digital technologies have allowed the invention of so-called social networks in which we circulate millions of contents every day? Recent studies have shown that humanity over the past 9 years has produced 80 times more data than we have been able to produce from prehistory to 2012. (Data refers to all types of human content and production). It is a disconcerting fact that should lead us to reflect on the meaning of what we do and how we do it and photography represents today, for better or worse, the most used tool despite being proportionally the least studied. To understand, it is as if the whole world spoke the same language without ever having been able to study a grammar. But if it is true that we can talk, who says we must study? Some experts have opposing opinions. On the one hand there is someone like De Bernardinis, professor of film history, says that “today man lives a permanent condition that is neither of the gaze nor of the vision but is that of being seen; men receive nothing in return also because they give nothing in return”. Others like the Spanish Fontcuberta think that this digital era and the massive diffusion of photography are allowing a rapid emancipation and an increase in awareness of ourselves in relation to our image. Personally I cannot say if this is true but studying every day many aspects of this matter, I am led to ask myself some questions. How come we daily feel the need to show ourselves to the world, even sharing what we eat on these virtual spaces or whatever else happens to us and why do we believe that the immediacy of sharing is an extra value? It is weird, but it seems as if this way we are going to build a sort of eternal present, a sort of timeless time. As I write I think back to when as a child, one evening, I saw my grandmother kissing two black and white photos that she had framed on the bedside table before sleeping; one was the picture of her parents and the other was the husband’s long dead. To my “Grandma what are you doing?” she said, “Sleep, mind your own business!”. I don’t remember the thoughts I made at the time but while starting to get passionate about art and images and at the same time starting to make them myself, that incomprehensible gesture over time got added to the phrases heard and slowly everything made sense. “No I always look bad in photos”, “photograph her who is photogenic”, or even “why are you taking these photos, you have to ask permission!”. How many times I have heard in the years “A good photographer must know how to capture the moment”. Who knows where this meaningless phrase comes from, everyone knows it without ever having studied anything about photography. We don’t seem to realize it but the images have an enormous power and we probably don’t know how to utilize them well yet but they change with us over time and the more we will be able to express ourselves with them and we will be aware that through them we pass ideas, the more they will have a meaning.
If we think about what happened in Paris in 1839 when photography was patented, it is easy to think that we are in a completely different era but maybe, thinking about it, the situation of the past is not so different; that photograph allowed ordinary people for the first time to have a trace of existence, which until then was the exclusive possibility of nobles and clergy thanks to the commission of a very expensive painting. The painter was paid to show someone’s prestige by posing. Maybe we, with our technologies, are doing a similar process with millions more images; the substantial difference is that at the moment our stories are almost always written by ourselves and live on a virtual network.
In 1845 they had to chase a man on the sidewalk. That man left the photo studio of Nadar in boulevard des Capucines after leaving the money on the table near the front door. He had no idea what he was going to find and he just went to see the freak show a friend suggested; standing in front of the big wooden box with the lens he heard the voice of the other person who from under the black cloth told him to stay very still with the bust, a second later he had seen the explosion of the lamp and was happy, had paid for it, for a bang and a spark. Who knows what he felt a few hours later, returning to the studio and seeing for the first time in his life the image of his face printed on a piece of paper. But basically, what does really happen every time we decide to make an image and what do we ask to whom sees it? Do we care to know all this?
Forty years have passed since the release of a cult film like Blade Runner and thinking about it, it comes back to mind Rachel, the beautiful replicant who, to prove to the policeman to be human, shows him the polaroid of when she was a child.
Thanks to Ilaria Motta and Chiara Fanasca for the translation of this article