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Antonello Frongia in conversation with Guido Guidi

 

AF: This book presents a sequence of photographs taken over a period of 30 years, from 1968 to 1999, which directly or indirectly refers to the theme of the moon. At first glance, it is a collection far removed from the iconography for which you’re known. We could say that you’ve always looked at the things you come across walking, and that you can physically touch, while the moon is by definition the symbol of distance, a romantic distance.

GG: It’s true that the moon can be a dangerous subject for photographers. I remember that Lewis Baltz once joked about the moon and landscape photographed by Ansel Adams [Moonrise, Hernandez, 1941]. But I was born in the countryside and had time to watch the moon on winter nights, on my way home from the parish youth club. It’s part of my teenage memories, along with the war and other things. There wasn’t much to watch then: the donkeys in the field, the trees, and the moon. I was in middle school and was starting to study. I remember talking to my astonished friends about the Earth, the moon and Einstein. I loved thinking about these celestial worlds. I think that’s where my affinity with a certain kind of American photography, that of Robert Adams, Baltz, and others, comes from. And with their kind of printing, which I’ve always considered close to the celestial and the sidereal – a lunar world, as if seen from a space probe.

 

 

AF: This attraction of yours to coldness doesn’t yet seem evident in the earliest photographs of the series, which date from the late 1960s. On the contrary, there’s an almost expressionistic kind of tension.

GG: The first photographs – the studies of the apple – were conceived in response to an exercise that Italo Zannier set us students of the Advanced Course in Industrial Design in Venice (pp. 6, 7). For another exercise, I made a series of portraits of my friend Mariangela Gualtieri with different exposure times, which I then glued onto a cardboard cylinder and photographed again from various viewpoints, carefully recording the resulting perspectival distortions (figg. 1-2). During the same period, I also made a double portrait of Zannier, in which his face can be seen distorted in the reflection on the curved surface of a glazing machine in the photo lab of the Advanced Course (fig. 3). These works were based on an analytical approach to the medium of photography; first and foremost the need to understand how it worked. During our lesson that day, Zannier had told us about the “Ellero twins”, the dual camera system used by the police for mug shots, in order to photograph the face from the front and in profile. For me it was about experimenting with perspective, not in a mathematical sense, but from an anamorphic point of view. My intention was to be more scientific, but the empirical was automatically transformed into the metaphoric. In the portraits of Mariangela, this sequential approach created a series in which the face appears to change like the lunar phases.

 

 

AF: They are your most symbolic photographs in the book, which allude to the archetype of the moon-woman as a symbol of variability and discontinuity, but also of ethereality and, ultimately, melancholy.

GG: There’s a memory of my childhood here too. I remember that my mother put me to bed one evening; I could see the moon through the window. Before I fell asleep, she took care to move the shutter so that the moonlight wasn’t shining on my face, telling me that otherwise I’d have bad dreams. I don’t know if this has anything to do with my subsequent work, but it’s true that Lilith, the woman who destroys you, is associated with the hidden side of the moon in the alchemical myth. My mother said that she wanted to protect me from bad dreams but, translated, that meant from erotic dreams. I didn’t realize this aspect immediately, but it’s reflected in the first photographs that I took, which were distorted. According to my mother, the moon would have made me have bad dreams, distorting my face, streaking my face; which is what I did myself with the portraits of Mariangela.

 

 

Conversation excerpt from Lunario, 1968-1999, published February 2020.

 

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