For his first Fantom incursion into photography collections, critic and curator Francesco Zanot visited artist Linda Fregni Nagler’s peculiar selection of old tintypes, magic lantern glass slides, gelatin prints and more… The 9 images presented hereafter were chosen and extensively captioned by both; technically, symbolically, historically, emotionally and carefully.
HIDDEN MOTHER. The presentation of the subject In this old tintype, behind a typical portrait of a baby we see the outline of an individual hiding underneath a dark cloth. The function of this individual corresponds to the function of every photograph: it introduces the spectator to what has to be seen; it puts the subject underneath our eyes. “Hidden mother” is the name by which collectors catalogue images of this kind. A typology diffused in the mid-19th century for technical and aesthetical reasons; long exposures obliged stratagems to keep the subject still while the only visible presence had to be the newborn. “Hidden mother”, by equivalence, is photography. Tintype, 9 x 6,5 cm.
CUTTING MICES. Time (1) The capturing of movement in photography is credited to Eadweard J. Muybridge who had the merit of perfecting the invention of the shutter and was able to obtain clear images of a trotting horse. Many had tried before him but Muybridge’s results could only be compared for the clarity of the outline to cutout paper silhouettes. Thereafter, we talked about “instant photography”, something that according to John Szarkowski does not even exist, as he claimed that all photographs are obtained through a longer or shorter exposure to light, and every one of them defines a quantity of time. Every single snapshot can be divided in two photographs resulting from halved exposures, and so on, endlessly. However, we are inclined to consider the “crucial moment” as a point in time instead of an expression of its duration, and this happens any time two conditions happen in an image at the same time: (1) the presence of an action, even minimal, and (2) the perfect definition of the outline of the subject. This image of a woman busy slicing mice, for the imperceptible lack of the second requirement (the arm that holds the knife is slightly out of focus) shows a movement and thus declares the behind the scene of every snapshot: the duration of the pose. The fact that its quantity is never defined matches our uncertainty in determining if those mice are real or not. Magic lantern glass slide, 8 x 8, frame included
FOUR WOMEN. The framing The frame outlines the limits between inside and outside. Everything excluded is not of interest to us: the framing defines an enclosed, self-sufficient world. All visible subjects, things and people, relate to each other and modify each other. In this photograph, there are two frames. The first is limited by the window framework where two women stand, in a typical 19th century pose. The second frame has the irregular borders of the photographic print and unveils a complex mise en scene directed by the photographer to render the illusion that the two protagonists are within a painting. Now, if we go back and look at their faces, their expressions turn out to be laughs. Tintype, 9 x 6 cm.
THE SUICIDE. Time (2) A man in a white shirt and a tie sits on the ledge of an elegant building. His position is dynamic, as if standing up or going forward. He looks down. Suspension is in the nature of photography. Space and time always correspond to here and now, and we know nothing outside the boundaries of the frame. Every photograph is deprived of its conclusion and of whatever happened before, exposing itself as the medium that frustrates narrative. Hence the paradox of a pure photographic tale, whose progression happens inevitably through gaps and omissions – i.e. given a tale composed by 5 images of the kind 1-2-3-4-5 we could know the content of the figures but that of the dashes separatimg them will always be unknown. In front of this single image we ask ourselves: what tragic event in the life of this man with a white shirt and a tie has brought him to this? Will he jump? Will he die? Or better: is he dead? Gelatin silver print, 24 x 18 cm.
FISHING BOY. Two dimensionality Photography has nothing to do with truth. Notwithstanding the realism of its results and the trust we give them, photography is mostly a two-dimensional representation of an actually three-dimensional reality. By juxtaposing live subjects and a painted background the author of this picture exploits the illusionary quality of its medium. The result is a perfectly credible merge of two levels. The fishing pole pointed towards the landscape enhances the impression of depth; it is the contact point between the fore and the background. The homogeneous colors complete the integration process. Only the white dog reveals the typology of its own representation when, impatient with the pose, he shakes his head. Magic lantern glass slide, 8 x 8 cm., frame included
CHEETAH. The pose The core of portrait photography is the pose. The author tries to recognize the subject; the subject chooses what mask to wear. The advantageous position of the first is evident: withdrawn under the black cloth, with his head down or hidden behind the viewfinder, the photographer uses his camera as a blindfold on the eyes of the subject. To photograph is seeing without being seen. Magic lantern glass slide, 8 x 8 cm., frame included
CROSSED LEGS. Simmetry Perfect symmetry is impossible to obtain when shooting real life. Trying to achieve it becomes a tool to highlight exactly the opposite: unevenness and imperfection. Color photograph 16 x 11 cm
BRANCHES. The backlighting The boundaries between all that is included in a frame are indistinguishable. In this small vintage print a father and his son mingle with the branches of a tree, mimicking the sinuous curve of its profile. Photography is a technological god that embodies and transforms everything. Gelatin silver print 15 x 10 cm.
PALERMO WOMAN. The choice Contrary to what one would believe, the defining character of photography is oblivion. Most photographs are thrown away before they reach a stable form or become part of archives, analogue or digital, without any chance (or reason) to perform their function: to be observed. The nature of photography seems to be waste. According to figures, especially after the widespread use of the digital, photographs are shot to be erased. But photography does not stop with the shot, its gestation stretches into the selection made from contact-sheets and previews. Choice relegates photography to its destiny of forgetfulness. As in this picture, which was so precisely annotated and finely decorated in the original album. Gelatin silver print 28 x 42 cm., album included