This year promises again as the big celebration of the portrait since the members of the FEP and the UPP assure us of their participation. What an honor to exhibit among the greatest photographers in Europe, even in the most beautiful of dreams, this common exhibition might seem impossible; now, here we are in the concrete, it is a reality, the summer of the portraits is the most important European photographic festival dedicated to the portrait and exposed in outside: more than 300 photographers come from the 4 corners of France and all Europe will be side by side for a gigantic exhibition that should attract visitors, but also the media, even stronger than in previous years. The theme is, of course, the portrait and only the portrait, in all its freedom, whether outdoors or in the studio.
Looking at a portrait
Frankly. This is no longer the case for continuing to debate the value, meaning, and importance of the portrait in photography. It is not even necessary to take art history courses (and painting) to which the photographic portrait relates and also offered its considerable contribution. Again, and after that is enough, it is useless to continue to quote the first steps of the history of the portrait in photography: from Nadar to Julia Margaret Cameron, to Lewis Carroll, to the card-visit André Adolphe Eugene Disdéri.
Eventually, an original reading and deciphering could be offered, through the interpretation of the history of photography through a different key, simplified in the direct and consequent relationship that some see between technical mediation and expressiveness. It is a sparsely populated territory and, therefore, still allows for the originality of interpretation and codification. For example, one could draw a boundary line in 1888 with George Eastman’s Box Kodak, which sets the boundaries of a “before” and “after” photograph.
Either it is a true portrait (in a pose) or it is a figure located in the space, the human presence plain on both. This presence extends from the recording of life in its unfolding to the representation that encroaches on the portrait. However, to be honest, this is not the right time to do it. The appropriate places and times to do so will be those of the philological deepening which is completely foreign to the unique and captivating presentation of a significant collection of the contemporary Italian photographic portrait.
The only legitimate distinction, here and now, is that which emphasizes the combination achieved by assembling, without any break in continuity, portraits in a pose with road snapshots that can be considered as portraits only because they represent faces. Between these two languages, there is a profound difference that must be emphasized. It is the difference that there is, almost separating them, between the conscious subjects of the photographic action (in a pose) and the unconscious subjects (who are living their life). The first belongs to one story, the second to another. Resembled, however, in a striking way, both contribute to the features of a story that can be considered coincidental (in fact, in the field of the evolution of the photographic language, where and how to place the poses in the street of August Sander?).
In any case, whether it is a portrait pose or a snapshot captured in flight, the mere presence of faces in the frame and in the composition forces the observer to ask questions about the subject, to sense if he is a representation of the surface or the depth. A subject that takes us far and wide.
Let’s stay here, with these portraits. In any case, a reflection of the Italian singer Enzo Jannacci, who can be considered as a contemporary prophet, relieves us:
“Uhe, no guarda la fotografia / sembra neanche a ragazzino / io, io his quello col vino / him, il quino senza motorino”. (“Uhe, no, look at the picture / he does not even look like a boy / me, I’m the one of the wine / he is the one without a scooter.” Shot from: Enzo Jannacci, La fotografia, 1991.)
Maurizio Città Translation