Pictorial is a style in which the photographer manipulates the picture with the intent to strip the original image of the impression of reality (the “hic et nunc”), and to project it into a timeless permanence that has an artistic value.
At the dawn of photography history, from about 1885 to 1915, a group of photographers – the most famous of which was Alfred Stieglitz – rejected the idea of photography as a mere, mechanical, recording of reality.
At that time photography was not yet legitimated as an artistic form, so they employed labor-intensive processes to emulate painterly effects, often evocative of Impressionism. The movement was greatly reduced in influence as Ansel Adams and his followers insisted that photography was a fine art in and of itself and it didn’t need to imitate paintings.
“Pictorialism”, as an idealistic instance to re-create beauty, never ended. Today post production techniques applied to digital photography have encouraged a revival of this trend.
A key concept is that photography is always a creative perfomance, and it may never be identified as a objective reproduction of the real. So, just like Impressionist artists, image re-touching is justified by the desire to convey to the viewer the same subjective “impression” and feelings aroused in the artist by watching Nature.
It’s very interesting to remember, what new photographic cameras represented for the Impressionist artists in 19th-century: a new tool to aid them in their painting “workflow”. Those artists used the photo of landscapes to trace the underlying structure, and then leave rein to their creativity.
That was the method my father, a painter, taught me when I was a child. After teaching me the basics of composition and perspective, he invited me to choose a subject, then shooting some photos (first with a Polaroid, then with a film 35mm SLR). Lastly he reworked on canvas (oil or acrylic) the images we chose.
The same way today I often do for the painter Alessandra Parravicini, or with the poetess Eleonora Bellini: I try to provide them images as a source of inspiration or suggestion. For more information, refer to the Mimesis project.
Coming from a tradition of classical culture, I believe that photography is, like any other art, a form of “mimesis”. Not imitation but creative re-interpretation of reality. One of the most famous contemporary Italian photographers, Ferdinando Scianna, once said: “I find that a photographer is an interpreter, it’s like a pianist. The photographer interprets the world, looks at him, tells him, retrieves the fragments that, little by little, can make, over time, a story”.
Just like the Impressionists aimed to break a certain tradition, when I try to instill a “pictorial inspiration” in my works, I do not want to re-create a contrived and artificial imitation of painting, but something original, walking on the thin edge between two, different, languages. So this is not a return to a movement of a hundred years ago, but a research with attention to details, and in the end a mode of telling, and sharing, my personal “sentire”.
Carlo Milani. The charm of reality
Before the advent of photography as we know it, many painters had decided to address the issue of landscape with a realistic approach more directly. We are in the eighteenth century and the reason of obvious influence of the Enlightenment, it was all in the need to deal with nature in a direct way, forgetting the strong symbolism that characterized its predecessors bringing them on the road to a transfiguration of places.
The “Vedutismo”, as it was called that painting movement that developed extensively, especially in Italy, was also helped by optical instruments such as the optical chamber, allowing you to project the image on a horizontal plane of reality captured by a lens. This tool allowed the painter to get tracks from which to draw sketches with unrivaled prospects. This is the reason why talented authors like Canaletto, Francesco Guardi, and Caspar von Wittel were able to paint with great skill realistic giving us glimpses of Venice and Rome quite similar to those that would have been obtained by the photographic process if only it had been already invented.
It’s curious that centuries later a young author as Carlo Milani follows the same route as opposed, this time equipped with highly sophisticated technological tools, to go in search of new visions. He, however, do not go beyond painting, but evoke it in quotes.
So, it’s not a coincidence that the choice of the exhibition title has fallen on Vedutismo 2.0, in order to emphasize an ideal continuity of purpose and a common desire to surprise the viewer, albeit in a gentle way.
The subject is no longer an italian city of enchanting beauty but a british town – Flatford in Dedham Valley, not far from Cambridge – where lived and worked John Constable, the greatest English landscape painter.
Carlo Milani moves within a game of suggestions: on one side produces balanced shots to resemble paintings, inducing its observers to believe it is really a painting. On the other side, he introduces elements such as human figures that bring images back to a more realistic vision. He looks for serene moments of everyday life, enhances the beauty of the parks in striking colors, dominated by all possible shades of green, even seems to take over the slow pace and the pleasant flow of the river.
After having highlighted all naturalistic aspects of this place, the photographer moves his and our attention guiding us through the streets, with attention focusing on the bricks that cover the facades of houses, and finally in squares where locals stroll quietly, unaware of that witness of time, who impressed their gestures and movements in a rectangle of photographic paper, on which they are intended to remain.
Because, just as in the paintings in the past, contemporary photography knows how to be a witness of his time: thanks to qualified photographic gear and sophisticated post processing techniques, the author can finally propose images of great refinement. Carlo Milani performs these operations with ease and simplicity and that’s why his images are buying our eyes a particular value. That’s the charm of reality.
At first impression, the research Carlo Milani is presented to the viewer as an accurate representation of landscapes more or less familiar to us. The refined technique of execution as well the post production make up the photographic surface as a canvas for a painting, punctuated by splashes of rich color. At a closer look , we realize that the representation of these landscapes is not only accurate and studied in detail, but it is also a kind of time travel. Milani, in fact, depicts life experiences (eg, a mixed marriage in the British town of Cambridge) and bucolic landscapes (eg the Lombardy countryside) as if they belong to past ages. His photographs remind us , not surprisingly, a seventeenth-century painting of a Renaissance flavor… we think of the Carracci brothers , where it emerged with the intention to establish the nature of light and color, the great protagonist of their pictorial representations. In this sense, Milani, in an attempt to do justice to a “pictorial” photography, creates a mix of modern technology and old content, including contemporary medium and historical substance.