The project Oltreluce started in 2003 as a part of Massimo Drago’s personal research. It was presented for the
first time at the IV edition of Fotografia, festival internazionale di Roma. The series includes 25 frames produced
in a darkroom, without using a camera. This technique, called “off camera”, has been used since photography
was first developed (see Henry Fox Talbot’s photogenic drawings), although its expressive and artistic potential
was fully acknowledged and exploited only from 1920s and 30s, thanks to Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Man Ray and
Luigi Veronesi. This process was also used up to the 1960s – 70s in advertising, graphics and illustration.
Widely historicised in the artistic context, it is now an integral part of the history of photography.
Mobile Images, preface to Oltreluce, 2006
by Mariolina Cosseddu
Massimo Drago’s mobile and disembodied images, permeated by a cold and evocative light, are the result
of a refined work carried out in the darkroom, a delicate and accurate operation requiring lenticular timings
and unpredictable solutions.
This practice, which belongs to the history of photography and since the ‘30s has been theorised as
“photogram”, is now an old and outdated method, thus elitist and nonconformist compared to the more
sophisticated contemporary technologies. Turning it into a modern research instrument and a field still open
to unique experimentations, as Massimo Drago does, necessarily implies an ideological and aesthetic stance.
First of all, it means valuing an artisan procedure which in principle refuses elaborate digital representations,
and also means working in an intimate relationship with shapes and things, in order to investigate their truer
and less apparent nature.
It is worth mentioning that as early as 1936 Laszlò Moholy-Nagy defined a photogram as “a totally
dematerialised weapon in the battle to reach a new way of seeing things”. There is no doubt, in fact, that the
procedure of creating light and shadow images on sensitive materials leads to creations that are not narrative
and not logical, similar in many ways to abstraction and visionary imagination. It is no coincidence that
Laszlò Moholy-Nagy himself considered a photogram as “a painting built with light”. And light is, obviously,
the main agent in the process of transforming and changing shapes. Crossing the substance, rays of light shape
the object in transparent silhouettes, which reflect in fascinating changes and unsuspected metamorphoses,
contrasting the dark emptiness of the surface.
Massimo Drago’s work sets itself in this dimension; he has long since been attracted by the expressive
opportunities offered by research in the darkroom and obtains wonderful creations which have the flavour
of true epiphanies.
Objects, screened by white light, allow us to witness the passage from stillness to a light and suspended motion,
from stability to the fluid absence of weight, from finite to infinite, from invisible to visible.
If we observe photogram number 3 we will find it hard to recognise in the luminous symmetrical indentations
a branch of leaves impressed on light-sensitive paper. Thus the banality and misery of reality exalts itself in ways
that return dignity and beauty to unaware daily details. Simple leaves or meaningless blooms, negligible details
of a reality that isn’t usually considered, change into absent-minded aspects of a corpuscular world, vibrating
with a hidden life revealed by the light. The shapes thus obtained expand or double themselves,
contracting or multiplying as if observed under a microscope or through a powerful system revealing unknown
existences. This emphasised and amplified reality becomes exciting when you perceive the natural element that
the photographer’s ability has extraordinarily changed into milky and evanescent chiaroscuro figures. As in the
poetic fading of lonely leaves in image 4. In photogram number 8 we can instead follow tones of light that
increase and decrease, become more intense and then fade following sweet and cadenced rhythms or, in number
11, the luminist contrast imprints lunar flashes on minimal thicknesses of veiled shadows, with the final effect of
circular moving entities. More spectacular, in images 23, 24 and 25 the nearness of the object describes an
intricate network of lines and irregular filaments evoking skilfully woven fabrics or maze-like spider webs
created by a fervent nature. As correctly noted by Luigi Veronesi in a 1956 essay: “In a photogram objects once
again find their primordial expression, we can see them beyond their real shape, in images which do not appear
but are real and change instantaneously when a thread of light moves, even if minimal”.
In Massimo Drago’s research the deriving unreal vision is not tantamount to eluding reality, or concealing it or
denying it, but quite the opposite: transfigured fragments are the excuse for our gaze to go deeper, where it
does not usually go, to cause wonder and amazement where there are only humble remains. The deriving
aesthetics, which is formally never obvious, on the one hand creates abstract, lyrical, free and often
incomprehensible pieces, on the other hand celebrates the magic of technique and the hidden beauty of life.
In reality this work ultimately seems to me a discussion, not that open, on the origin and nature of a language
which has its own laws and procedures and of which Laszlò Moholy-Nagy wrote “The photogram, that is the
luminous image obtained without a camera, is the secret to photography.”
Text for the exhibition, Fotografia, festival internazionale di Roma, 2005
by Piero Pala
“Fiat lux”. Let there be light. Light is at the beginning of all things. It generates life and lights the way.
Light rises from the east and frees humankind from darkness. At the origins of photography, “a discovery by
means of which nature, and no longer man, becomes a painter of itself”, light reveals its mystery, becoming
the protagonist of a prodigy which “operates in a moment, prompt as thought and fast as a ray of sun”.
Experimentations off camera have also constantly accompanied the evolution of photography from its outset,
from H. Fox Talbot’s The Pencil of Nature to Christian Schad’s Schadografie, to Man Ray’s Rayographs, to
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s experimentations, up to Veronesi and Migliori’s works in Italy.
Massimo Drago’s work explicitly refers to this history, restoring the ancient and obsolete skill of artisans, a
calculated slowness in procedures which favours a reflection on the image and its use. He contrasts a world
overflowing with glossy images to be consumed quickly with a minimal universe, made of delicate nuances,
mysterious auras, delicate chiaroscuro contrasts to be contemplated following a paused rhythm, slowly, as
if out of time and space. He eliminates all the unnecessary frills that hide photography, taking it back to
a “Ground Zero” with an apocalyptic and reckless flavour. The perception of his work takes us back to a
mystical dimension, where we can once again find the serenity of a dreamlike gaze, far from the typical
western perspective rationalism, and the nostalgic reflection of a fantastic and fairy-like world, far from
all contingencies, all necessities and urgencies. These images recall a mythical East, but there is a true
and urgent hope in the light which illuminates things and finally frees men from darkness.