Relating vs. Revealing through Photography
What the photograph reproduces to infinity has occurred only once: the photograph mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially.
Photography has one essential characteristic: it cannot dispense with reality, even if it is clearly a reality interpreted by the photographer and hence subjective. Although photographers may have so extraordinary a capacity to visualize that they can completely transform the reality they photograph, they must nevertheless start from a real basis. Photography may investigate, interrogate this reality, or simply take it as a springboard for constructing a personal story encompassing one’s surroundings, what one is. But even the personal worlds photographers imagine and seek to express in their photos are necessarily inseparable from reality – a given that is extremely fascinating to consider.
Lara Gasparotto does not limit herself to documenting but employs the methods of a discipline that has the power to penetrate the visible to the point of infusing it with allegory. The everyday world coexists with subjects linked to nature and new horizons; apocalyptic visions coexist with places of solitude and chaotic obsessions. Hence frozen, suspended images, some monumental, others ‘improper’. It almost seems that Lara Gasparotto confides her reasons and the peculiarity of her gaze through visions allowing places and characters to appear that, as Susan Sontag observed, are realistic, though the image of course is not.
Gasparotto’s way of composing images – of men or women, a room or a bed, bench or tree – never resembles reportage. It hinges rather on the ability to perceive the instant; the viewer strongly senses her capacity to invent and construct stories from a poetic mode of thought, from an idea of what could, and often does, happen. Nothing is left to chance; everything is constructed with a refined method, in the awareness of the distance between photography and painting. In this way, photo after photo, a vision of a world takes form that, from every possible discipline, derives stratagems of reality. Perfectionism, cleanliness and clarity of ideas and execution stand behind every image. Viewers believe they are seeing one thing but are actually looking at something else. Here, in the radical finish, we gauge how much of reality there is in the ‘as if’.
Organized according subject, Lara Gasparotto’s images seem to want to ‘relate’, with the greatest care and absolute respect, the everyday life of the young people of today, children of their time – male, female, straight, gay, drag queen, artist – but also fragments of environments, skies, bed sheets, dreams and travels. Some images are casual, like snapshots taken in ordinary meetings between friends. Others are more carefully thought out, sumptuous and splendid, like film stills. The story they tell is instead an intimate flow of thoughts, emotions, contradictions, desire for beauty, fears. A collection of bodies lost in private utopias, a precise, intimate, categorical vision of a personal world.
On the whole, people do not seem to be truly themselves in photos. Yet, in Gasparotto’s images they do. A narrative cohesion and an aesthetic emerge through her portraits of existences. Her photos always capture emotions. She seems to be a part of the suspended atmospheres and alienating, indefinite dimension of her images, whether portraits or landscapes. And everything seems to move along the thin line that separates reality from imagination, delineating her perceptive and always coherent point of view. Melancholy, irony, staging and linguistic heterogeneousness: these, in short, are the elements that make up the poetics of a photographer who choses to portray people she is personally involved with, thus creating extraordinary images that evoke a world of interconnections.
With the invention of photography and cinema, perception of the external world underwent a sweeping change. Individuals were able to witness things and attend events that occur outside their immediate vicinity, in a sense overcoming the limitations imposed by time and space. Taking this into account, Gasparotto’s images introduce a paradigm shift in the concept of reality. In looking at her works, we cannot help wondering about the various forms of relationships: between individuals, between individuals and nature, trees and sky, objects and people, viewer and work. Her photographs present a wide range of subjects and processes. Nonetheless, their common denominator lies in the fact that they are always about the gaze. And indeed, in their variety and beyond their specific subject matter, these photographs are aligned on a single front: the dialectic relationship with the complex theme constituted by the terms to ‘see’, ‘look at’, ‘recognize’ and ‘be part of’ what one is capturing on film. Her works cast doubt on visual habits with an awareness of the fact that an ‘image of light’ cannot be an authentic document.
From the start, Gasparotto’s approach to photographic expression has been diverse in its choice of subjects and visual languages, in a mixture that not only has an instrumental and communicative function but also represents a value that distinguishes her entire oeuvre. This versatility, so important to her poetics, clearly emerges in each of her images. Hers is a unique vision, characterized by a dark romanticism and a poetics all her own that involves the subjects in a shared game of representation. In this way, what pleases the artist enters into dialogue with the mise en scène of her photographs, always independent and poetic, but seemingly constructed by multiple hands from the subjects represented. These become part of an intimate process that leads to a kind of self-portrait, couched in the visual definition of the subject through the pose, gaze and choice of setting. Everything enters into the creative act, and Gasparotto’s artistic concept is suffused with the melancholy spirit with which she looks at and interprets reality.
Lara Gasparotto does not consider that there are degrees of truth and authenticity. What truly interests her is the end result: viewers must enter into the image and forget they are looking at an artificial composition. They must enter into the world described by a photograph and, to do so, must be disposed to question, at least to an extent, our assumptions about photography.
Her photographs originate in the context of her life, from portraits of friends to details of daily life and travels – everyday moments and images constructed by exploring what could be described as ‘identity’, since this is not a single entity but a fragmented identity composed of various facets and levels. All her subjects betray a kind of vulnerability, and what they suggest is immediacy, intimacy and randomness, a perceived and precious randomness. The work of a photographer actually requires a great deal of technical and mental effort, the experience of intense observation, a capacity to credibly convey an existing reality poetically and directly. Lara Gasparotto has in addition the ability to convey the pictorial potential of photography understood in its etymological sense of ‘writing with light’, so it all becomes an inquiry about itself and a reflection on artistic language. The lens is aimed at whatever appeals to Gasparotto’s eye – a hotel room, sumptuous cloud formations, a face, a tree, a cabin, a street, a car, a woman, the sky, a door or another world. An unmistakable narrative that encompasses the beauty of the unexceptional, a mode that remains unchanged from portrait to landscape. Gasparotto has a set archive of images and models to be respected; she maintains a balance between pastime and project.
Lara Gasparotto develops a method and a poetics based on a closeness and complementarity between the subjects photographed, images and viewers in a sort of ‘cultural resistence’. She chooses anonymous people apt to create direct, frontal images of their condition, in an austere style of a clarity and simplicity devoid of any form of banality. In a sort of ‘photo-story’, like an extraordinary celebration of the everyday, Gasparotto investigates the elements that characterize the daily life of her generation and the traces of a horizon that permeates the present.
Her travel photos from Ethiopia, the United States, Cambodia, Mexico, Peru, Kyrgysztan and Ukraine show distant places in a vision that never becomes a postcard view. Not glimpses of reality, but rather a series of mental and symbolic constructs of a tradition that began with Flemish painting, a tradition so firmly rooted that we no longer realize it is more a matter of symbolism than of reproduction. The travelogue of the loss of orientation of a wayfarer who, having lost her way, encounters unforeseen people and places.
In a play of gazes, Gasparotto seems to see what few see, and she captures it to show the rest of us. The photos seem to come about in a stroke of magic, and through the filter of sensitivity and empathy, we can see what truly happened in that instant. With the precision of an inscrutable metaphysical roulette wheel, Gasparotto records the instant in its psychological and creative dimension and its ties to the Other and the world. The investigation she engages in is complex, a collecting of psychic materials and meditations that turns out to be a memorable example not only of photography, but also of a deliberate ‘care of the self’, to use Foucault’s well-known expression, understood as an activity always geared to the production of forms. It always seems to be a matter of life and death. In the true spirit of a creator, an inventor of gazes, Gasparotto looks upon every photo as a new beginning, a new venture, and this basic inclination toward experimentation is a key to explaining her devotion to certain youthful ideals and marginal segments of the world. Gasparotto favours the unrepentant and never takes any interest in shock value. She knows that people are more disturbed by subtle images: truly destabilizing photos are the most ordinary ones, where the figures are not ashamed of their appearance and do not seek to apologize. Human nature is in fact a hodgepodge of behaviours, some spontaneous, others assimilated who knows where. Her research focuses on the way her generation creates its own sense of identity, using and recycling behaviours that come from the media and from each individual personality.
For Gasparotto, the gaze is of the instant, or multiplicity of instants, that pierce the continuum of existence, a lightning bolt that irrupts to destroy the fabric of time. All this material keeps the images outside the bounds of a narrative project; with enlightening precision, it constitutes the opposite of a project. Gasparotto feels that one cannot conceive a ‘project’ simply out of a wish to put order into one’s life and way of seeing. What she is ‘relating’ with her images is another story, all the more valuable in a time dominated by one-dimensional thinking, a story far from an aesthetic criterion that would marginalize every ‘different’ form of expression. Like all freedom, the freedom Gasparotto’s photographs shows us is the result of a rebellion: against the predominance of duration, against all the forms of self-narration and narration of the world that duration chains to the economy of cause and effect, before and after, likelihood. In her images, we perceive an affinity with the thought of another great rebel, who also arrived at a true cult of the instant and the techniques of annotating this intangible wealth – Roland Barthes in Camera Lucida. The supreme model of ‘capturing’ the instant, which in turn becomes a highly codified poetic genre, like the haiku of the Japanese golden age, and tends toward the satori of Zen – that ecstasy of enlightenment in which the distinction between subject and object implodes.
Lara Gasparotto’s trajectory is one of independence and faithfulness to herself; hers is the scandal of the moment that unexpectedly exposes itself to the risk of the dark night of duration. More than theory, it is magic. And her magic is to be herself, an anarchic happiness devoid of a ‘project’. It sweeps over us like the tide, like the light of dawn.