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iEnzo Bruglieri, Portrait with hand painted backdrop.
© Enzo Bruglieri.

Portrait or virtual Landscape?

It is 1336. The 24th April 1336. Two brothers, Francesco and Gherardo Petrarca, are preparing to climb Mount Ventoux. With them they have a copy of the Confessions of St. Augustine. Not without difficulty, especially by the older Francesco, the two reached the summit on 26th April 1336. Francesco opens the volume that he has brought with him and reads a passage: «Et eunt hominem mirari alta montium et ingentes fluctus maris et latissimos lapsus fluminem et Oceani ambitum et gyros siderum et reliquunt se ipsos nec miratur.» (1)
During the ascent (of which I deliberately neglect here the metaphorical value) Francesco and Gherardo had met an old shepherd who had warned them, as a young man he had climbed to the summit, but he had only got tired and scratched. In fact the landscape, which is so tiring to conquer is a series of natural phenomena in itself. At the top of Mount Ventoux, however, Petrarca feels the need for deeper reflection than what is offered by the view. A connection that puts on a similar level the shadows on the bottom of the Platonic myth of the cave with pictures of the mountains, the valleys, the rivers, human artefacts. You need to reach an understanding that goes beyond the evidence of the divine plan, expressed by the natural world, pushing man towards a deeper understanding of what is before him. The opening of thought that comes as a result of this makes Petrarch write which in the Western world is considered the first reflection on the concept of landscape.
Since then a lot of water has passed under the bridge and speculation on the subject are stratified adapting to the times, but the understanding of the landscape remains a complex and articulated territory. Human settlement offers in this sense the most interesting ideas, both for the consequences that it will reconnect on the environment, and for the implicit suggestions on the perception of the landscape itself. If we assume with Merleau-Ponty that what surrounds us does not consist only of natural things, but also from the products of human ingenuity (2), in the moment in which our analysis pushes to the landscape there are a few stimuli that lead us to range from places that we used to consider unspoiled – but in reality these are not, as Salvatore Ligios argued some years ago with his photographic research (3) – to places where man, while not having physically put his feet yet, has already branded his presence with artifacts.
To even get (see the next issue of FPmag) to virtual places where the landscape becomes a virtual son of a player-demiurge that with the help of sophisticated algorithms generates it from time to time.
For this reason, and with a clear provocative intention, we open this number with a photograph of Enzo Bruglieri, eighty-four year old professional from Benevento, met during a workshop. While showing me his refined fashion images taken in Paris in the sixties, I was struck by portraits dear to the amateur photography world for conception. But what have portraits got to do with an issue dedicated to the landscape, to its human settlement and its consequences? It has got plenty to do with it (provocatively, I emphasize again) because in the background you can see a landscape, distant and vernacular memory of the Renaissance backgrounds. But it is a landscape that today would be defined virtual, since it does not exist, except in the imagination of Bruglieri who physically painted it before placing the models. A simplified version of some phenomena that we offer to our readers in this and in the next issue and that, for the game of connections, we refer to that African photograph which became important by the will of careful and shrewd French curators.

[ Sandro Iovine ]

(1) - «The men, however, go to admire the mountain peaks, towering waves of the sea, the vast currents of the rivers, the extension of the Ocean, the orbits of the stars, and abandon themselves.» Agostino, Confessioni, Bompiani, Milan, 2012; p. 908.
(2) - «The world is perceived not only by natural things, it is also that of paintings, music, books, everything that the Germans call the cultural world.» Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Conversazioni, SE, Milan, 2002; p. 75.
(3) - Salvatore Ligios, Il paesaggio invisibile, Poliedro, Nuoro, 1998.

iMalick Sidibé, Portraits with painted backdrop.
© Malick Sidibé.

A few words about this issue

The issues of FPmag develop connections that link the articles to each other around a principal subject. These connections can be of various kinds and refer to the content of the articles, the thematic affinities, semantic, stylistic, gender, the approach to the subject, even with different media, etc. For this, each issue can be browsed both, in the traditional way (article after article based on the arrangement chosen by the editors) or randomly (starting from any point and then reconnecting wires through logical lines that connect each item to the next and previous). The purpose of this is to suggest to the reader the possibility of developing a personal search simply starting from those that have been our reflections.
In this issue we start from the vision of the desert areas of Namibia known as the Skeleton Coast. Hundreds of square kilometres of inhospitable territory and difficult to reach as much as by land as by sea, yet full of signs of gathered human settlement, looking for their soul, by Edoardo Miola. From the desert of Namibia one passes landscapes devoid (or almost) of human subjects by Wim Wenders, where, however, the presence of cementification by man is overpowering evidence. Wim Wenders with his soundtracks takes us back to the desert with the opening scenes of Paris, Texas, and especially the music that describes it signed by Ry Cooder. From the musical landscapes of the desert land to Martian landscapes of the NASA photos taken on the surface of Mars, the planet where, as far as we know, man has not yet set foot, but has already declared his presence through the details of the machines that have filmed it. From Mars the gaze goes back on earth with an image of Samantha Cristoforetti’s Venice, which propels us to the analysis of photographs on MOSE by Stephen Shore and Walter Niedermayr.
A leap across the sea leads us instead to a shoot taken by Gabriele Basilico in 1992 in Beirut, on a distant shore of the Mediterranean shattered by war. The devastating reality of the conflict makes us go back, two steps from home, in a suburban Milan that very few know and that in many ways resembles places travelled through and shaken by war. War that is not only fought between states and between men, but also against nature that rebels against the impositions and the devastation imposed by the greed of man. There are further examples of images by Gianmarco Maraviglia, showing both the consequences of the reactions of nature to indiscriminate the cementification of the Ligurian coast, and how a year after man has made the landscape resume its usual appearance. From the mud to the sand it is a short step. In a future world, futuristic, created by the visionary mangana Hiromoto, the water has disappeared and the landscapes are only made of sand now. After which, opens the industrial topographies of Hoppé and Robino, who recorded the transformation of the landscape caused by the drift industry. Which in turn is the subject of USiMAGES, a French exhibition destined to collect and show the different processing of thought in front of the industrial landscape. And finally the issue – but not the topic, which will be analysed in the next FPmag – the negative impact of the industry on the landscape, when in the absence of checks and controls prevail commercial interests and vital and fundamental environments such as a river are transformed in places not only devoid of life, but also carriers of death.

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