In June a decade will have passed since I first started Nihilsentimentalgia, so I thought for the next few months I could make an effort to revisit some of my early posts, which were very poorly done.
As fate would have it, it’s now confirmed that my obsession with the idea of authenticity is also at the core of this blog. In my first post, “authenticity” is mentioned in relation to documentary photography. In order to question the mechanism of photographic representation and how reality and fiction intertwine I wrote that “[o]ne of the most commonly used terms to refer to documentary photography is authenticity”, to which I added that the documentary genre has theoretical and semiotic concerns, resulting in images that we read as sentences, often with comas and very rarely with full stops.
Nowadays I do find myself thinking about documentary photography in linguistic terms, as if elements within images could truly be understood as language. It’s not that documentary photography poses a need to construct sentences; rather I think that it works better when we are unable to “read” it, even if we acknowledge rhythms (punctuation) and words (acoustic images).
For instances, when looking at this artwork by Jeff Wall, the man in the right side of the image reads to me like a coma. His presence is what accentuates the narrative aspect of this representation. His presence opens the image to a different interaction with the observer and art itself.
In Robert Polidori‘s artwork the idea that a photograph is a linguistic system in itself gains a different dimension. The presence of signs within his images is so important that it holds an historical significance, a layer that defines Polidori’s imagery. In a conversation with Beatrice Zamponi, he states:
I have never been attracted to the 35-millimeter photojournalism that became popular and prevalent after World War II. The type of pictures published in Life magazine and others has always seemed forced, imposed, and propagandistic to me. Of course Cartier-Bresson was a humanist, but he used photography in a decorative key that I feel was not emblematic of the social reality in which he lived.
By “decorative” I mean that the decisive and privileged moments he loved to seek out and capture were in my opinion statistical anomalies in the unfolding of the time continuum before him. In other words he chose to capture moments that rarely resembled reality, but that were somehow pleasing to his personal taste. There inherently is nothing “wrong” with that. Personally I am more attracted to photographs that attempt to be more objective and “emblematic” of a subject’s qualities rather than a personal subjective interpretation of phenomena.
In Polidori’s photographs of Versailles he chooses to focus on traces of a condition that is both material and immaterial. These images seem to mirror our condition as beings who create and destroy. We are observers but what these images accentuate, as far as I’m concerned, is that we tend to fall pray to the stillness of that condition.
Although there ‘s a documentary context and we are faced with the grandiosity of such a space, Polidori chooses to point to the linguistic value of walls, doors, floors, mirrors, windows, etc. In the images, these elements also refer to the photographic frame, which can either be a trap or a window. These cuts, and the traces of time within the photographs, also define the narrative aspect of Polidori’s photographic language.
As he refers, in the conversation previously mentioned, in order to charge the images with social significance, the author’s focus can be directed to the aesthetic condition of the elements he chooses to represent, instead of trying to represent their significance through mechanisms of a subjective representation. It’s Polidori’s aesthetic sensitivity that makes it possible for us to “read” these images both as traces of Versailles and so many other things, which refer to us.