Redescribing the Present, preface to Il Paesaggio Normalizzato, 2008
by Massimo Sanna
“ … the fact that photography conveys phenomena
in terms of sense is a possible
yet not necessary condition for its existence” ¹
A photographic image is an index ², therefore in some way it always presents something that is or has been
there. A photographer must always have a reality in front of him to operate and all he does is the result of
an interaction between what is real, the instrument and his eye.
This is history, it has always been, but, paradoxically what can seem a limit (the use of an instrument which
builds the image), in photography represents an amplifier of creativity. In the sense that technique has barely
changed from William Henry Fox Talbot to today, even digital technology – according to Claudio Marra – is
only the photographic process taken to its extreme in terms of quantity and quality, what makes each snapshot
different from another one is only the point of view (or the area, the region of points of view as Gilles Deleuze
would say), the culture and, why not, the photographer’s talent. Talent that dialogues with technique and with
what can be seen or we want to be seen; a practice of redescribing everything: man, the territory, emotions by
means of description, documentary and artistic creation.
It isn’t strange that many authors have wanted to dedicate great space to the analysis of the territory, the
anthropic landscape, the context where they live considering all the possible implications that this analysis
might imply, but especially showing one thing – which can be information and/or art – that in any case is
something that everyone perceives in the same way as real or related to reality. Let’s now come to the point
regarding us, “The Normalised Landscape” is a photography exhibition with various goals and intentions
related to the landscape, the city and photography.
The Internal Edge
This exhibition on Cagliari originates from the collective need of four photographers,
Mimmo Caruso, Nino Corona, Massimo Drago and Antonio Loi, and a critic, Massimo Sanna, to reflect on
the possibility of opening a new vision of the landscape.It isn’t presumptuous, but after saying and doing
everything in relation, until reaching minimalist annihilation, maybe there still are spaces to discover or
develop. Resetting takes place when, along with some types of conceptual art such as Land Art, the landscape
is reduced to essentials until it shows deserted bitonal moors in black and white and full-colour; it is perhaps
the highest moment of conceptual photography and, at the same time, the moment of greatest distance from
any type of formal satisfaction whatsoever.Now, to paraphrase Arturo Carlo Quintavalle, who was greatly
interested in landscape and photography,
we need to give a new attitude to our gaze, concentrate on the emptiness and absences as well as on what is
redundant and monumental. This new attitude originates from the thought, from intellectual photography,
showing a reality, an index, that was already interpreted by the photographer.
An active interpretation, reconstructed and deconstructed, like what is done by sociologists, architects,
urbanists and artists that already provide the spectator with a diagnosis and a cure to solve the problem.
A landscape that is born again from the ashes of what has been done or seen so far; from the romantic origins
to Robert Frank’s criticism, according to which a shot (of any type) can no longer contain the space and the
contradictions contained by reality. Caruso, Corona, Drago and Loi have created a procedure needed to make
a city visible according to other aspects; they suggested guidelines that are born from a collective discussion
branching off in different directions.
If on the one side we observe a landscape of here, made of close-ups, details and centrality, on the other
hand there is a landscape of there, which locates the city on a far horizon.
Crossing is conceived as an itinerary (or a series of itineraries) that the visitors of the exhibition can easily
recreate, thus seeing Cagliari according to their expectations and taste.
The geographical borders of the neighbourhoods have been abolished in order to describe the surrounding
environment, trying to create unseen perspectives, with a miscellany of images on display which mirror
themselves.In this case, if the deconstruction was carried out by Caruso, Corona, Drago and Loi (with the
intervention of the critic), the final reconstruction will have to be carried out by the observer.
The Inside of the Edge
Cagliari is in an atypical situation, compressed between the Mediterranean Sea and the hinterland,
and is a small city and a metropolis at the same time.
This allows for it to be portrayed according to what we want to let appear, but this condition also poses
interpretation issues regarding the relationship between the existing landscape and the landscape that
doesn’t exist, objective and subjective, i.e. between the city as we see it and the one which is seen and
revisited by the lens and furthermore, between the geographical landscape and the emotional landscape
which is inhabited and lived in: this is the concept of the normalisation of the landscape.
How do we carry out this procedure aimed at normalising the landscape? In the first place, by means of
definition and analysis; then restarting it and redefining it starting from zero; most of all, in the exhibition
we are presenting, we want to start a journey that others have described as of parallel order, i.e. visually
display at the same time all theories – even if conflicting – on photography, the landscape and the city.
Working in parallel with Nature, even if the city is nature in a broad sense, in the sense that the machine
shows us a landscape that we are not usually able to capture daily as we are not used to reflecting.
Or, as Mimmo Jodice would say, “people almost don’t feel the need to stop the landscape, (…) they don’t see
any more, they see distractedly, they are bombarded by a thousand visual stimuli”.
As if to say that in a society of images there is no time to linger on the value of image unless we regenerate
our gaze. Requalification and regeneration, in an etymological sense, since what matters is understanding the
differences the landscape shows us, be it anthropic or natural. Horizontal and paradigmatic differences, those
that insist among simultaneous contrasts presented by places, and vertical and syntagmatic, which exist
between photographers and what is photographed.
To support this we mention an interview made by Quintavalle to Luigi Ghirri where he says that: “presenting
a place again by stopping it, isolating it from its context with photography, means rediscovering the place,
re-educating people to watching (…) and the job we do has this very important meaning” ³.
We are back to the Place where things lose all their aura, all ambiguity, and present themselves as they are
and as an existential continuation of who does and who watches. We therefore reach a direct comparison
between snapshots showing glimpses, if not typical, recognisable – even if analysed with a new eye – and
images typical of an ideal city, starting a dialectic which becomes visible thanks to the different ways of dealing
with Cagliari: black and white, central perspectives on one side are a significant part of the exhibition and face
the saturated colour and architectural geometries typical of a modernist city. Between these two extremes are
non-places, perennial and present, emptiness and fullness, given by the above-mentioned urban compression.
On the one hand, the continuous open construction site, on the other hand the inner suburbs, typical aspects
of a desire (or need) for a permanent urbanisation. The city does not evolve upwards, and as it waits for new
buildings, it leaves spaces in it that still have to be filled and wide untilled fields as if we were in the
countryside. All this is in direct contact with new creations, which do not exist yet. All the areas once occupied
by factories and plants, today humble because inactive and moved beyond the borders of the town, are now
abandoned and nature has taken advantage, taking back the aspects of the countryside similar to what can
be seen beyond the hinterland or, in most cases, replaced by hypermarkets.
Topography is the Territory
If in visual arts and in literature we find representations by means of symbols and icons, this does not happen
in photography because, in the true sense of aporia, it is first of all indexing and not iconic: it is both meaning
and signifier, technical mean, reference, content and shape.
This also happens in landscape photography, from Pictorialism to New Topography. It is always contiguous and
adjacent to an existing reality, contradictory or aporetical, like the contemporary world.
A map is not the territory, as Joseph Kossuth said correctly, because it cannot comprehend it, but only look like it
and describe it; it is a convention, man’s creation, the result of manual ability and reasoning.
A map becomes the territory when we delegate a significant part of what we do to an instrument which records
reality; a medium which shares our creation, the final part of the studium. Caruso, Corona, Drago and Loi worked
in the dark, they did not divide the city in intervention areas, but often operated on the same spaces, making the
frailty of the fracture between Objective and Subjective perceivable; the images are different, but can be similar
(Caruso can look like Corona, Drago can look like Loi, etc.).
In a sort of optical unconscious, in the relationship between man and machine, the contradiction (or relation) is
not solved in favour of one of the two; it is a symbiotic relationship and the final result is due to the interaction
between the medium and the author. And the collective result is organic, although the physiological differences
in style are clear in the four individual itineraries, showing a landscape which is both weak and strong.
¹ Rosalind Krauss: Teoria e storia della fotografia, Milano 1996, p. 22.
² When we use the word index we refer to the definition given by American philosopher
Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), i.e. a truly modified sign which has a common quality
with the object, as opposed to the icon, which is what it is, but is similar to something else.
³ A.C. Quintavalle, “Viaggio dentro le parole: conversazione con L. Ghirri” in Viaggio dentro
un antico labirinto, Brescia 1991.