I have often wondered what the term abstract means in photography, a medium whose laws maintain a deep, inseparable connection to the Real. I think it indicates the abstraction from the river of time, an immobile, suspended temporal fragment: an infinite, absolute present. Nevertheless, the photographic medium is capable of indicating an abstract vision of the real, and as it alludes to non-retinal interpretations of the visible, to super-perceptible forms, it can convey mental images that find their symbolic recognition in the Real.
The Horizons are scriptures of light, self-generated during the process of loading the camera with film, beyond the consciousness and will of the photographer. They are perceptible manifestations of light inscribed on the photosensitive surface, before it records the first image taken by the photographer: they are images prior to time, in latent form, already active before the encounter with the gaze and the experience of the photographer.
Every Horizon is a scrap of the photographic process, the initial segment of the film, developed together with the entire strip of sensitive material to reveal all the exposed images, its 36 true photographs. ?This is an “off camera” process that happens “in camera”: a paradox that produces pre-photographic images, directly inscribed by light.
With the term Horizon I indicate the result of an act of appropriation; those films are not mine, my authorship here lies in the recognition and attribution of meaning to the photographic object, not in the shot. My object is not the world but the language, the code of the visible world. I am interested in latency and the revelation of the image, its perceptible manifestation, the possibility of an apparition, the icon that arises from the intimate relationship of light, time and matter: the chance occurs.
In my view, the Horizons are the last “true” photographs of the 20th century: there is nothing left to photograph, Google tells us that the entire skin of the visible has been mapped, just as the whole chain of DNA has now been written and encoded. Scientists say that only 4% of existing matter is visible and thus, I infer, also photographable, while the remaining 96% is classified in part as Dark Matter and in part with the even more enigmatic term of Dark Energy. These terms seem to imply a reality that exists but is not evident to media based on the use of light, and perhaps not even susceptible to representation through analytical thinking.
If the Horizons are the ultimate photographs of what visibly exists, its summation and reduction to the roots of language, they also offer a more “objective” image of it, in which the object and the image of the object coincide, generating a model of reality that is the edge between light and its absence, between material and language. Language and subject seem to no longer require an object outside of themselves through which to establish a dialogue: it is the language that speaks (to us).
These works represent a borderline between photographic objectivity and abstraction, where the latter term indicates not a non-referential image, but pure interpretation of light, revealed by photographic means. My will comes into play in the choice of how much white (excess of information) and how much black (absence of information) to include in the image, the positioning of the threshold, the line that physically separates the light from its absence, the latency from its manifestation and, ultimately, the power from the act.
The Horizon indicates the here and now (hic et nunc), while alluding to a possible elsewhere. Every Horizon is a threshold, the real and immaterial place that unites what it separates. I photographically represent a process of experience and transition that I sense everywhere, meditative, timeless. All life is a continuous crossing of thresholds.
“Men have created an image of everything”
(The angel Raphaela to the angel Cassiel in Faraway, So Close by Wim Wenders, 1993)
The visible has been completely mapped; the whole planet is covered by images: the heart of the problem is the Subject: he who sees, how he sees and, above all: what he sees. In my view, in Photography the symbolic relationship is no longer between the image and its referent, instead it is between the image and the gaze of the person who stands before it and becomes an active, aware part of it.
Meditations, black backlit mirror photographs, are abstract, self-referential, atemporal, aspatial chromatic structures: meditations on Photography, the Subject and Reality.
The black is the result of total absorption of visible light, a metaphor of exposure to all the images of the World. This excess of information has blackened the photosensitive surface, making Reality retinally invisible, in a sedimentation of total black.
The image of all the images reflects the face of the observer and makes it visible in the moment the viewer stands before the image. The work is backlit and produces light in the opposite direction from the direction of observation, towards the wall, behind the black mirror: the emanated aura reveals the face of the viewer.
Each Meditation is a blind gaze and, at the same time, a chance to be able to see, a light negated and revealed, the absence from which a presence is born: the meaning of being resides in the gaze. The image emerges from the ashes of the visible, from the end of any possible photographic representation. I place the observer before himself, so the image, when looked at, looks back.
Mirror Thresholds, my latest works, are not made using the traditional process of printing on photosensitive paper, but by directly inking highly reflective surfaces. Since these systems of inkjet printing do not use the color white, which in photographic terms is the color of the paper itself, where a traditional photograph would be white the reflected image of the subject appears. This white/mirror produced by the absence of information, or in some ways by its excess, simultaneously represents what lies inside and outside the work: precisely where the surface is without image (virgin, in the absence of color and ink) it generates light and reflection.
I want to shift attention away from the referent, reduced by now to a distant background noise of retinal vision, towards the Subject, he who sees: from the time and space of the shot to the hic et nunc of he who comes to terms with the reality of the work. The present time of viewing, the place in which it happens, reveal the meaning of the gaze, offering a new horizon of interpretation for thinking on Photography.
The image is presentation, not representation: a relationship in which the Subject sees himself and the other-than-self –the world and the image of the world- at the same time. So the physical space that hosts the process of the gaze becomes, in turn, the active element that puts the Subject in front of himself; the observer who glimpses himself in the act of looking is part of the visible and, at the same time, of its interpretation.
I am interested in the Reality of the Image, that which is charged with meaning in the present time of experience: it is as it happens. The work pertains to the individual and to his awareness: the artist is the medium between Reality and Subject. The image is a vibrating threshold between elsewhere and present, the invisible underlies the visible: images are its symbolic forms of interpretation.
Silvio Wolf was born in Milan in 1952, where he lives and works.
He studied Philosophy and Psychology in Italy and Photography and Visual Arts in London, where he received the Higher Diploma in Advanced Photography at the London College of Printing.
From 1977 to 1987 he used photography to explore the laws, language and two-dimensional nature of the image. His work has moved in directions different from those of tradition, which favoured the documentary and narrative value of the photographic image. Instead, he has pursued a more subjective, metaphorical view of reality.
In this period he made polyptychs and large-format works which have been shown in Italy and abroad, including Aktuell ‘83 in Munich and Documenta VIII, in 1987, in Kassel.
From the end of the 1980s to the present he has gradually introduced new languages in his work, using the moving image, still projections, light and sound, either individually or in combinations.
His works have moved away from the pure two-dimensional format of photography to involve architectural space and the specificities of the places in which he operates, creating multimedia projects and sound installations. In his site-specific projects, as in all his photo-based work, the issues of limit, absence and elsewhere are always central.
He has created temporary and permanent installations in galleries, museums and public spaces in Belgium, Canada, England, France, Germany, Italy, Korea, Luxembourg, Spain, Switzerland and the United States.
In 2009 he was invited to participate in the 53rd Venice Biennale.
He teaches Photography at the School of Visual Arts of the European Institute of Design in Milan, and is Visiting Professor at the School of Visual Arts in New York.
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