Copyright Marco Delogu 2008, Contrasto Books, courtesy Marco Delogu
A photobook is usually considered as a whole and greater than any of its individual parts, so it is unusually for me to find a pivotal photography in the middle of a book and decide that this is where I want to start my review. But first to establish the larger context of Marco Delogu’s Noir et Blanc, which is a fifteen year retrospective that was published concurrently with his solo exhibition in the Accademia Di Francia at the Villa Medici, Rome, Italy in 2008.
Delogu’s retrospective could be divided into two halves, before the pathway photograph and subsequently what follows after (seeing) the pathway. In 2008, Delogu took a departure from his previous body of work of intensely experienced portraits and intimate man-made landscapes. Although his subject of his interest, nature, is a departure, stylistically, he is still consistent with his past.
This singular pathway photograph has strong metaphoric and symbolic connotations, some easy to read, others a little more complex. The pathway snakes up vertically through the middle of the photograph, symbolically dividing the photographic image in half. This photograph also sits in the middle of the book, midway separating the earlier work from the newer work. There are two equal sides of the pathway; perhaps the past is on the left and the direction of the older, more mature body of work in this photobook, and the right side in the direction of the back of the book, where the new body of work is developing.
The framing of this pathway is a downward gaze, without the benefit of a horizon. It could be the study of a pathway, or as a result of this downward look, embodied with a hint of melancholy. The path and adjacent sides fill this frame; it seems obvious that this is the subject for contemplation. The focus of his lens is on the near foreground of twigs, grass and sticks which are clearly detailed. The pathway itself is slowly moving out of focus, becoming less distinct as it ebbs into the distance.
We are not sure what proceeds this place, or is located at the end of this pathway, much like an ongoing journey, we are seemingly drawn forward. You can only be sure of where you are at now in this moment and a hint of where you might be traveling to as the future slowly evolves into the past.
I am reminded of Heinz Liesbrock’s essay of Bernhard Fuchs “Roads and Paths”; “Nature as shown in the pictures is crossed by paths…they provide indirect evidence of the moments of people and human activities. But in the light of the peace of nature here they do not appear alien; rather they seem an integral art of it. They lie silent; no traffic moves on them. And they trace lines that follow the gentle, physical movement of the terrain and they are in seeming kinship with nature. And yet they remain apart.”
This path way is loosely defined, perhaps one that is not frequently traveled, either made by mankind or perhaps by a flow of animals. The trodden leaves and compacted grass, with an occasional patch of hard pack earth, still allow this pathway to be somewhat easily traced. But this is also about a journey that has not frequently made, ill-defined, vague, one that has the potential, as well as danger, that you might lose your bearing. Also a journey along a pathway that has been made before, someone or thing was here before, there is a history, a memory and a past, just not well-defined, with the implications that there is an openness to new opportunities and interpretations.
The body of photographs that precedes this natural pathway photograph is primarily portraits and related man-made structures. A fifteen year compilation of various projects by Delogu, that includes Cardinals, (Italian) immigrants, farmers portraits of the fading horse racing jockeys of Sienna, composers and horses, and ex-death row inmates. Some of these subjects come easily to a photographer who loves horse and resides in Rome.
It is evident in the earlier work that Delogu has been slowing developing a style, one that he appears to be very comfortable with. He photographs primarily with a large format camera in Black and White, frequently using Polaroid positive/negative film. His photographs are dense, with a tendency towards a slightly more contrast image that are moody and rich for interpretation.
His framing has progressively become tighter and that by the time he completes the racing jockeys (the Assassins) project, their faces entirely fill the frame, perhaps like the portraits of Martin Schoeller. Concurrently, he has progressively decreased his field of focus to the point that it captures only a narrow slice of the subject. Information about the subject has been minimized beyond the contours of the face, with direct eye contact of the subject in an effort to capture the “gaze” of his subjects. I have the feeling that it is not that I am just looking, but really staring at a particular point with such intensity that the edges become blurry and lost.
In the accompanying essay by Tim Davis, he states “We will never tire of the infinite ways a figure can be forces into a rectangular frame, and the photographic record of human figuration will each future archaeologist more than the ruined architecture of the entire Khmer and Roman Empires. But photographic portraiture is also bottomlessly problematic. No photograph of a person, being flat, monocular, mere lifeless object, is an interesting as that person themselves, whereas a photograph of an object is just another object. Delogu doesn’t duck from this problem. He is untempted by sentimentality, uninterested in try to force us to feel something that isn’t there. His portraits ask us to reckon with the presence of another being, without asking for insight, truth or even beauty.”
In Francesco Zanot’s essay, he adds; “Time is a fundamental element in Marco Delogu’s work. In can be considered from three different perspectives. There is time in history, in other words the bond with the past of his city: Rome…there is the time that affects his subjects. Their age, essentially. Because the main actors of Delogu’s photographs are scarred by the passing of years, the relentless marks of time etched on their bodies. They are fatal photographs. Direct. And, finally, there is the private Time. Most of the people portrayed have crossed, in some way or other, the author’s life or that of his family, either personally or through the category they belong to. Delogu uses photography to reconstruct his own biography.”
What follows the mid-point pathway photograph is a series of studies of nature, starting with intense studies of dense earth. Slowly the viewpoint is raised to include the horizon and sky. There is also a transition in the color of these black and white photographs. Initially, similar to his earlier portraits and mankind structures, nature is rendered in higher contrast, dark and moody tones.
In his afterward, Clement Cheroux observes; “At first sight, it seems that these are straightforward grey monochrome some with more shades of grey, others with fewer. But if one looks more closely, the pictures appear, rich in minute details which unfold in a vas palette of greys. They are in fact pictures of small portions of ground in the Tuscan countryside which, when the earth doesn’t show through, are covered in leaf litter, grasses, leaves or twigs. These pictures, taken during long walks in the countryside broken up with more contemplative pauses, are the result of tipping the camera towards the ground; a position which removes all horizontality and contributes to a certain effect of abstraction.”
Concluding with the Natura Bianca series, nature has almost become a pure abstraction of light with slight tracings of organic forms dancing in the wind. They transcend any literal translation, essential becoming poetic passages about time, memory and light. Light has becomes Delogu’s subject.
For me, this entire book can be stated as a serial progression of dark to light.
This book is beautifully printed by EBS in Verona, Italy and includes an interview with Delogu by Alessandra Mammi, and three afterward essays, by Francesco Zanot, Clement Cheroux and Tim Davis.
by Douglas Stockdale