< Human all too human

by Elio Grazioli and Riccardo Panattoni

in Elio Grazioli, Riccardo Panattoni (curated by), Fotografia Europea. Umano, troppo umano [European Photography. Human all too human], Damiani, Bologna 2008

Much has been said about the body in recent years, this due to a renewed cult of the physical, its dissolving into the collective imagination and, lastly, due to themes linked to the so called “post-human” and “post-organic”.
From showgirls and tall slim hedonists, from Second life to plastic surgery and biotechnologies, the body seems to be a plastic and mouldable object, instrument of pleasure and performance, equipped with prostheses and integrations. But are we dealing effectively with a body or rather with the idea through which to imagine it and consequently imagine ourselves?
At the same time it has been tortured and killed by new diseases which are in turn changed with a powerful symbolic nature. New weapons, new wars, new misery have done the same, setting before us a body that is tormented, worn-out, racked, at the limit of what cannot be looked upon, like the images they never showed us.
From yet another viewpoint the body is assumed to be something that must be looked at objectively, with scientific detachment, like an object without life and humanity. Inert body, cadaver, under the knife of the police doctor that so many TV series have presented as a modern day hero. A glance that in no way feels free to enter into the body with a suspect casualness.
Photography has recorded and sometimes anticipated all these themes in its own singular way: classic reportage realism, symbolism rendered topical, direct manipulation of the image and creation of impossible or futuristically imaginable bodies. With regard to all this, what remains of the body? Of the represented body? What is there of the body in the image, the photographic image in particular?
Identified with a skin, an organ, a woman’s body, manipulated in every way since the first historic avantgardes, the photographic image has its own body, mostly invisible in its materiality. On the other hand, what consistency, what depth does an image have? Yet every time we look at it also and always look at its body, even without realising it. Certainly it is a body that has changed as much as the human body: new techniques, new materials, new supports, right on down – once more – to the apparent immateriality of digitalisation.
By now we have grown accustomed to this too, through numerous exhibition and books that have explored the subject in depth. Are there any references left that can raise other equally topical questions on both the body and the photographic image?
Instead of focusing on the image of the body or of imaginary or speculated bodies we were interested in the more concrete, sensorial aspect of the body, in particular multi-sensorial and three-dimensional. The photography we have drawn on is a photography¬† which solicits the other senses, especially touch, which breaks through the modernist, two-dimensionality of the pictorial model and instead refers to the concrete effect, right to the hyper-realist limit, of sculpture. Technically it is called “haptic” effect, an effect by which an image solicits the sense of touch through that of sight, which may be understood in two complementary ways: one as an invitation, a stimulus to touch, to interact and to act; the other as active presence of the artist within the image, its implication, its intervention. This may be obtained through a special way of representing or through special treatment of the image itself, or precisely its body.
All this involves special conceptions of the image and of photography, conceptions that for many reasons are little associated with, if not opposed by, those favoured both by modernism – defender of the pure visual model, of two-dimensionality, of metaphysical distance – and by postmodernism which has resolved reality into image, simulacrum, virtuality, flow. (…) On the basis of the foregoing, and resuming the set-up of the last event, we selected several projects by italians photographers whose work seemed in a determining way to enrich the inquiry into the body identified herein. (…) In this section – which we decided to call “images of bodies” – an inevitable paradox could not be left out: that of absent bodies. Benedetta Alfieri photographs “body adornments”, objects connected with the body but shown without it, resuming a form and traces that it has as if forgotten. Photography too is like these objects, and precisely in relation to a body that is not here. But the added fascination of these images is given perhaps even more by the discarting, the taking away, by the work of difference and at once of cleanness that absence demands if it is to be shown in an image. (…)

Reggio Emilia, on April 2008
© Elio Grazioli and Riccardo Panattoni