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Luca GilliI don‘t want to tell you about the tree and neither do I want to change it into something it isn‘t.
I want it to say something, something that expresses its truth, through me. Wynn Bullock
The Silences of Photography
(Silenzi di forme)
The Silences of Photography
Photography expresses life, witnessing its time, its environment, the happiness and suffering of mankind. But its richness is also its liberty of not having to represent or explain anything or to express it differently! Photography reaches a kind of independency, it becomes an object, a new reality. Silent. But sometimes I hesitate and disrupt it with words, like when looking at certain landscapes.
Is the landscape good or bad? This is what Jean Rolin asked himself a few years ago1 when comparing the rural, noble and generous landscape of ancient times to that of deserts and wild nether regions, and to contemporary, urban and industrial landscapes. There is no such choice in Luca Gilli‘s view. Light and photography are the two excellent tools that allow him to explore the unknown and to reveal its complicity with nature. While being deeply interested in it, for it and in defending it - he is an advisor for the environment, the fauna and natural parks - when photographing it he only takes what he wants. He personally uses and interprets iced lowlands, tumbling cascades, pulsing undergrowth and enchanted glades. René Magritte is not far from this concept with his painting "Ceci n‘est pas une pipe": the photographs of Luca Gilli are images before they become landscapes! His point of view, focusing and snapping, determine what we discover.
Transform the landscape? Go beyond it? Because he unveiled some element of nature‘s mystery and came modestly close to its truth, Luca Gilli can afford to be bold…
You have to approach his pictures slowly and look at them endlessly. Orderly and disorderly. The most important aspect, which is what you are first aware of, is the silence. An enormous, impressive silence that reawakens us and makes us better people. What then hits us is the quality of the light, not violent. And it is the harmonious rhythm, the greys and the whites that sustain a slight touch of black. Then it is the organisation of the shapes, rather strict, that also tends towards abstraction. Divided between the sensual pleasure of the order of things, a curbed lyricism and the need to be part of what surrounds him, the photographer comes even closer. Didactic, it outlines the structured, the sectioned, the opaqueness and the brightness, it enhances the grain of the stone, the uprooting of lichen, and it loses itself in the exuberance of the plants and spongy moss. Lastly it lets us be tempted by the extravagance of an anthropomorphism and indulges in the fate of a dead branch whose bark has already peeled off and become humus. A new life begins.
It is, I feel, important to situate Luca Gilli‘s work in its historical context… in broad outline, briefly, and limiting myself to the landscape, an important element in this context, the most important if it wasn‘t for the portrait, ours and of those we love. Since its invention, photography has been closely linked to landscapes ! It is said that it was in October 1833, during a journey along the banks of the Como lake, having a hard job to dominate his "drawing machine" (camera lucida), that William Henry Fox Talbot started fantasizing on something else and that one day he would call photography: how charming it would be if it were possible to cause these natural images to imprint themselves durably, and remain fixed upon the paper ...2.
In the meantime, huge steps forward have been taken ! Twenty years later, in France, the photographers of the heliographic Mission, Edouard-Denis Baldus, the Bisson brothers, and Charles Nègre as well, give us an idea of just how important our monumental and landscape heritage is. And it wasn‘t long before Carleton Watkins, Edward Muybridge and Timothy O‘Sullivan started travelling through west America, locating the environments to protect (the future natural parks), one of the objectives of the Congress. Although they were somewhat concerned about technical problems, difficult to control and disturbing the poetry, these pioneers are no less fascinating than what they discover - geysers, fossil trees, wild rivers - which they show us just as they see them. It‘s interesting to see that Luca Gilli, graduated in natural science and hard bent on protecting the environment, is concerned with similar aspects today.
A few years have to go by before photography is able to talk to nature with all the freedom of a poet. Walt Whitman and his legendary Leaves of Grass or Henry David Thoreau who wrote: I am its stony shore, and the breeze that passes o‘er; in the hollow of my hand are its water and its sand...3, are the closest relatives to the photographers. It was around 1920 when Edward Weston, still unknown, reconsidered his work quite profoundly, refusing the pictorial currents that were then still dominant, and explored his photographic potential. He met Alfred Stieglitz who encouraged him to express, within these limits, the quintessence of things for themselves, detailing them with precision, with respect - exactly the same as is found today in Luca Gilli. The stone must be hard, the bark rough and the flesh living declares Weston. They can be made even harder, rougher or more alive if necessary. In just one word, we‘re looking for photographic beauty! He finds it and it becomes his "school": in fact it is the inspiration of Group f 64, set up in the 30s, that had travelled across the Californian deserts. Imogen Cunningham, Brett Weston, Alma Lavenson and Sonia Noskowiak are part of this group as well as Ansel Adams, an innovator for his time and undoubtedly the most well known among the American school landscapists. The members of the group defend "a direct and pure approach to photography" which is probably a bit idealistic. The landscape is a sculpture for Edward Weston. But Ansel Adams thinks of it as being ephemeral and subject to light which is constantly changing it… But are these two theories really contradictory?
I would like to have continued with this photographic background, which we have been sifting through while talking about Luca Gilli‘s work, if one last turning point wasn‘t really essential. In actual fact there is an obvious relationship between his work and that of Paul Caponigro, emerging more in terms of inspiration than in shape. Caponigro thinks of photography like music. It comes straight from the soul without calculation. It doesn‘t need formulas or intellectual evaluations… The image is felt, seen, taking shape in the calm of meditation long before the shutter opens and the film and paper are dipped in the trays! Is this what we perceive when we look at Luca Gilli‘s photos? Without any lack of feeling, and far from giving a banal description, these images reawaken, suggest, murmur, emphasise.
What else is left to say? Describe the images is useless and superfluous. They already have their own language. Say other names, evoke other great works would not take us any further away. What Luca Gilli and the photographers we have mentioned here have in common is living a close relationship with nature. They understand and respect it. They love photography; they do it personally and creatively. This is the secret. Nothing else.
Georges Vercheval, honorary director of the Charleroi Museum of Photography
1 - Paysages Photographies / Mission photographique de la DATAR, Hazan, Paris, 1984
2 - William Henry Fox Talbot, The Pencil of Nature, 1844
3 - Henry David Thoreau, Walden or Life in the Woods, 1854
Beyond the mirror
Not of shapes alone, but of feelings and love for "… a landscape - as Lewis Carroll imagines - very similar to ours, but beyond which everything must be very different." In what sense beyond ? After a path a thousand miles long ? Beyond the barrier of oaks which prevents transit and impedes vision of what remains to be seen ? No, being Alice, the beyond refers to beyond the mirror. And beyond the mirror, we can only go with the comfort of our imagination.
Luca Gilli‘s photos do not deceive the reader of this book. Their beauty lies not only in appearance, in great formal refinement, in irreprehensible technique, but also in an ancient feeling that once tied human beings to nature, when woods and water were places where stories took place, where dragons and gnomes could be met, where legends came to life to be narrated on friendly nights, in the welcome warmth of friendly stables. Places where the imagination reigned supreme and where the imaginary was an ear stretched to perceive noises and singing, meetings with fairies and encounters with witches. All this is concealed behind photographs where every sign is "the landscape beyond the mirror". Carroll‘s mirror.
Luca Gilli is a frank person who does not speak a lot, but thinks deeply and has a fertile imagination. Several years ago, his studies already brought him close to nature, within the photographic sphere, using a scientific approach. Today, free of any ties with reality, he leaves room for creativity and fantasy, presenting photographs for a trip beyond appearances. Suffered photographs with long walks and careful attention to every change in light, viewpoints and the different messages sent to the photographer by the woods and water. For those who love them, woods have a communication code, visual and sonorous at the same time. They speak about their lives, different during every moment of the day, and convey the whispers (what remains of the fairy-stories narrated to them by the gnomes, what remains of the enchanted strophes of witches and fairies) and reveal every secret. Yes, Luca Gilli‘s photos reveal secrets of a nature luckily still alive, where each of us, with different feelings, can rediscover his childhood, with its amazements, fears and expectations. And if the traveller is really lucky, behind trees like animals, among inscrutable presences in the shape of dragons, near to pools of water like mirrors, if luck is with him, he can meet Alice listening to the strange stories of the Mad Hatter on his non birthday.
Reggio Emilia, May 15, 2002
The writer has much loved and several times read "Through the looking-glass and what Alice found there" by Lewis Carroll