Great images are like slabs of the souls of those who created them: interview with Tano D'Amico

Interview with Tano D'Amico, one of the greatest contemporary Italian photographers. We talked about photography and the value of images.

Last March 31, the exhibition “The Struggle of Women” by Tano D’Amico, one of the most important contemporary Italian photographers, opened in Castelnuovo Magra, at the Tower of the Castle of the Bishops of Luni. The artist was present at the opening, and we took the opportunity to talk briefly with him about photography. We already knew the great photographer, and we also had the opportunity to meet in person the helpful gentleman endowed with enormous passion for photography and very kind in granting our Federico Diamanti Giannini this chat, for which we would like to sincerely thank him.

Tano D'Amico, Roma 1977. Ragazza e carabinieri
Tano D’Amico, Rome 1977. Girl and carabinieri

FDG. Perhaps the most substantial difference between the photography of the struggles of the past, the photography of the great masters (think, for example, of Letizia Battaglia), and the photographs of today, might consist in the fact that in the past there was more often a search for the construction of a narrative, while today the image is used above all as a document, almost aseptic, and this can clearly be a double-edged sword. In the photograph of the girl with the handkerchief lowered over her face, in the pride of that look that resists public officials, there is the story of a struggle, there are the motivations, there are the expectations, there are the desires. There you have it: the fact that today it is increasingly difficult to find images like this, a narrative rather than a document, is because of a lack of will, a lack of ability, because we are no longer able to take in certain stimuli... ?

TDA. It depends on who makes the photographs: there is no poor period and rich period. Photography is the last part of the history of images, so one must always look back. Photography is the film of a whole human journey, of the relationship that there has always been between humans and images. I believe that man became a thinking being, with a heart and affections, through images. The first images of man are abstract, the first men tried not to lose the consciousness they had learned of their rhythms, of the beating of their heart, of the sun rising and setting ... they had found a similarity with their rhythms, because they did not want to lose these relationships. And the first men always tried to portray (which we, on the other hand, have lost with the passage of time) not so much the events, but to perpetuate what the events determined in them, caused in their souls. Here, this is what in ancient times was attempted to fix with images. And this, however, also applies to the great masters: they too did not intend to depict events, but rather what events (but also certain people) caused in them. Great images are like slabs of the souls of those who created them.

Consequently, images that perpetuate an event are what you call “beautiful images,” where by “beautiful images” we mean images that open a window to a certain dimension, that call something to our mind, that stimulate our thinking. Today, however, rather than looking for images that stimulate our thinking, there is a feeling that the images that are most striking are those capable of stimulating not so much the opening of a window as an immediate emotional response...

And this is trouble. Besides the problem of “fake news,” moreover, today we could also speak of a problem of “fake photos.” The only way to oppose this is to produce, precisely, good images, that is, to show that there is another kind of image, and it must be said that people understand this anyway. I have to say that when the images of great masters like Letizia Battaglia are seen and repurposed, people take a lot of notice. And they love them.

How do we recognize a good image? Also because we live in an age where we are literally overwhelmed by images....

It’s true: many people rail against the possibility that everyone has to make images. I think, however, that it is a beautiful possibility. We are living in a very delicate period, like when humanity realized that everyone has to learn to read and write, and learning to read and write is everyone’s right. We were all sent to school when we were little, and one of the first things we learned is that writing is difficult-we go to school for the first five years to learn how to write a little letter to our mother for Christmas, and it takes five years of schooling to do that. I believe that slowly mankind will realize that making beautiful images is difficult, and to make them, as well as to recognize them, you have to go to school, to school from the great masters of the past, to see how others did it, how others dealt with affection, love, war, how they were able to tell their periods without harming and without bringing damage.

You said that the image is born from the dissatisfied, and in this regard you often cited the example of the Triumph of Death preserved in the Palazzo Abatellis in Palermo, one of the most powerful frescoes in the history of art, where the authors of the painting portray themselves together with poor people who ask death to end their suffering but remain precisely dissatisfied. Here, today many instead seek reassuring images, seek escapism, seek disengagement, as an antidote to dissatisfaction....

And this happens because not everyone can take the luxury of seeking images, but I remain convinced (indeed, for me it is a dogma) that the image has always been the refuge of the defeated, the dissatisfied, but in the beautiful sense of the word: let us not confuse the dissatisfied with the envious. Image has also been the language of the victims and the defeated, because it is an abstract language, and many times the feelings of defeated peoples, defeated classes, defeated human groups have appeared in images more than in the written word, because the written word has always been controlled, has always been the preserve of those who dominate. Everyone has had full control of the word, but fortunately they have not always had (our times are an exception) full control of images, because the image is elusive, abstract, beautiful.

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