The Crisis of Photography, by Italo Zannier

The crisis of Photography

It was Ugo Mulas who summed up in Italy, more effectively than others, the incipient crisis of classic photography (instantaneity-sharpness, verisimilar documentation, pictorialism, etc.) between 1971 and 1972, with his fourteen “Verifiche”, photographs with texts explaining the motivation for the choices made, on the ontological identity of photography itself, after the neo-realistic passion and the media success of photojournalism. Television had become popular by then, and furthermore it was conducting even photography, in its historical evolution, towards other horizons, whereas even painting-painting was entering in “crisis”. The work of many photographers, who no longer seemed to heed the old-fashioned sense of photography as “document”, then began to be defined by the term “conceptual” as well.

A priority guarantee, “He has photographed the situation”, remained an energetic figure of speech. Instead what was looked for, even in photography, was above all the metaphoric allusion, as Piero Manzoni had already done in the early Sixties, with his famous boxes “d’ artista”, of a neo-Dadaist stamp. Mulas in effect constructed a barrier between the two epochs of photography in its historical development, when it had been subordinate to the higher figurative arts, and when it had come into its own, becoming an autonomous language in its own right. Beside – but let it be quite clear philologically – contemporary experiences and research, such as those of Franco Vaccari, in primus, which extended especially to the magisterial Luigi Ghirri (but even in the Superior Course of Industrial Design of Venice – 1960/1970 – , previously an analogous reflection had already started up, as is documented in some pioneering publications – in “Foto-Film”, June 1963, for example-, where there appeared among others some “conceptual” works by Guidi and Cresci, already in an atmosphere of a linguistic “Verifica” of photography).

That said, I think of the work undertaken over the last few decades, with silent tenacity, by Stefano Tubaro, who in turn is endeavoring to achieve something other than the old-fashioned idea of photography as testimony, courageously choosing instead a more contemporary path, in an atmosphere that could be defined conceptual and, why not, philosophical.

Tubaro intuited straightaway that photography is inevitably in line with the other expressive figurative forms, graphics especially, and even his first photographs taken against the light “on the streets”, and then the nocturnal pictures illuminated “artificially”, with the aggressive fluorescent color, so explicitly kitsch, are filled with this conviction, that the image is image and that’s that; what counts is the message, which can call attention to itself even beyond the explicit descriptive narration.

And today – with the blazing “still lives”, that seem alien landscapes, scenes from Atlantis rather than from Mars -, Stefano Tubaro advances anxiously in this research of his, which one hopes he will continue, because it is there that he finds the reason for his identity as a photographer. As a photographer that in turn is in crisis, as was Ugo Mulas; a crisis that today derives, not any more or not so much from the prevailing iconography of television, but from the new era of the “digital”, that offers unhoped-for dreams, which in their excess, however, oblige our sight to always consider the image – even the single image – for its “aesthetic” quality, for its communicative valence, which is effected above all by its capacity to be metaphoric of a concept, of an idea. Anton Giulio Bragaglia, who tried first to express “an idea, a concept” (that of “time”) with photography, in 1912 wrote that, “by means of the photographic instruments one can make art only if you go beyond the pedestrian photographic reproduction…”

Sixty years later Ugo Mulas added, with regard to the work of Ray and Duchamp, which he considered masterly, that “the intervention of the artist was completely irrelevant under the operative aspect, consisting in the conceptual individuation of an already materialized reality that was enough to indicate why it should come to life in an “other” dimension…”. This “other” dimension is sought for by Stefano Tubaro by means of an iconic assemblage, in his captivating mise en scène with “doubles”, assembling sets of symbolic objects, such as an egg, a candle, a book, a crust of bread, a brick…These anomalous elements are brought into proximity, forced to be part of a group, and colored and illuminated in an unnatural way.   Then, in the definitive photograph, they theatrically hold a dialogue with the spectator, in the silent ambiguity of this sort of image.

Of photography, of all photographs, nothing more is asked beyond what we are able to perceive, with our inevitable, although varied sensibility, which is ultimately “culture”.

Even for Stefano Tubaro, “the ‘modernity’- as Giuseppe Turroni wrote about Mulas, in 1959, “is a way of entering into things, to observe them in an essential perspective”; here in the research, in the study, as Tubaro affirms, “of symbolic objects belonging to the traditions and to the culture of the ancient civilizations”. As a sign, however, of a new “crisis” of photography.

Italo Zannier

(presentation text of the catalogue of the exhibit “Doubles”, Artestudio Clocchiatti, Udine 2004)