Photography is a constant presence in our lives since magazines illustrate have begun to change the methods of communication, leaving to the immediacy of images what was previously conveyed by the word alone.
A fundamental text by Gisèle Freund, Photography and society, offers an interesting critical path in the history of photography and the impact exerted by this society. Photography is often simply attributed to a descriptive role, as a passive formula that limits itself to recording reality and freezing certain selected moments, those that are believed to be the most important and representative.
The same happened in photography, which is better defined as familiarity, that peculiar form of private documentation that for a long time has equally selected the snapshots of life worthy of being impressed on film (birthdays, weddings, holidays, etc.), and which with the passage of the cheap disposable camera to the digital photography has seen considerably expand its range of action, collecting more and more futile snapshots, enriching digital galleries, considerably far from the form of art.
Yet those billions of images that have been created by photography have become a mass pastime and have not been confined only to the private sector from which they must have had a decisive impact in contemporary society, defining aesthetics by influencing professional photography itself.
We wake up in the morning and alongside our dream visions reside the images that crowd the screens with which we interact in a few seconds. In today’s society of images, communication is mainly entrusted to moving or photographic images, accompanied by some captions that indicate their content, stimulating the user’s imagination and intuition.
In advertising, the copywriter and art director duo helped to define the laws of the market and the methods of dialogue with the users-buyers, they codified a way of communicating that is expressed in the brevity of the moment, at the same speed as the creation of a pic.
It is no coincidence that when it comes to photos the keywords that spring to mind are instant, instant speed, and the speed of execution is the peculiarity that distinguishes it from other forms of visual communication and a foothold for those who still question its artistic value, which deepens the debate on the mimetic value of the photo.
The photo as a frozen instant, a portion of space immortalized in a precise instant, and eternally present, motionless, like a fragment of the timeline that at the time of the click is extrapolated from its context.
Limiting oneself to this definition of a photo reduces it to a mere usable surface, denying the dialogic power of a photo, the active impact it can have on the world, and its constructive role in reality. Furthermore, the idea that the photo is inevitably realistic may waver, a central aspect in the debate between representation and copy in identifying the artwork.
Photography is certainly realistic, even within its perimeter offers the user a form of reality with which he enters into a relationship of mutual exchange; even the deliberately surrealist image remains tightly anchored to the real on which it fluctuates, drawing on its shapes and geometries, re-proposing its own lucid and complex reality, and that first level of reality remains as a static substrate and essential presupposition of the fantastic, the imaginative, the free imagination.
Everyday photography appears to be bluntly realistic. Behind its creation there is no staging, there is no image processing, and we dismiss it as images taken, it marks a precise compositional idea and therefore more natural, simple, identified as a slice of reality.
Up left/Right: William Eggleston, Down Left: Saul Leiter – ©All Rights Reserved
In some ways it is so, nothing like non-professional photography can give us an idea of a specific historical period or a specific culture, because the form of a selection of the images to be photographed is less painstaking and not guided by editorial needs, unlike those of a professional.
It is undoubtedly true from a historical point of view. Photographs from the private sphere are exceptional documents, they reveal details of the culture and customs to which they belong that news photography or professional reportage can hardly grasp.
Just browse a family album, a school yearbook, old travel slides, or millions of photos born from tourist forays around the world. There are cultural differences in the way of dressing, in the poses of the subjects. For example, smiling in the photo is an important element not common to all cultures. Historically, private photos are real-time capsules, which, taken with relaxed lightness, can become objects of collection and be exhibited with renewed artistic value.
This is the case of the interesting Anonymous Project, founded by Lee Shulman following the purchase of a pack of 35 mm Kodachrome slides on eBay. The project was born with the desire to preserve from wear and tear photos from the last century that are devoid of copyright, photos of private parties, children’s games, and intimate moments usually perceived as unimportant. But scrolling through the images, one is catapulted into a magnificent world of intense colors reminiscent of the style of some of the most esteemed contemporary photographers. It is also the celebration of unsigned photography. The user, observing a photo, enters into a relationship with it, creating a dialogue. It relates the user’s experience to that of the photographic subject.
Pictures from Anonymous Project – ©All Rights Reserved
Everyday Aesthetics focuses on precisely those phenomena, events and objects that crowd and characterize our daily life and the relationships we establish with them. Starting from the coincidence between experience and aesthetics, promoted by Dewey, despite internal differences, in general, the aesthetics of everyday life identifies an aesthetic experience in every form of experience, whose crystallization coincides with the work of art.
An experience is a dynamic plane of interaction where the different vectors, be they animate or inanimate, connect and influence each other. Similarly, photography is not just a flat surface, the passive object of someone else’s act of observation. The photo has an active role in the world, it influences it, it determines some aspects of it due to the reciprocal influence that is established with the user, and this is even stronger with intimate photography, which is part of our daily life.
Family photography is transversal, it is present in every cultural and social context, today more than ever it is at hand at every moment in the era of smartphones, and it is the essential basis of every form of professional photography, on which it continues to exert significant influence.
Nan Goldin has always defined her work as an endless reportage about the story of her in-laws told in images. Her work in terms of narrative does not differ much from Jessica Dimmock’s The 9th floor. In terms of style and color choices, the work of the two narrators is easily associated, but there is one key distinguishing element.
Nan Goldin merely captures a few moments of everyday life with her family, while Jessica Dimmock decides to tell a story, which takes place over the years on the same floor of the same building. It is a family story of addictions, abuse, joys, sorrows, and love, but as much as the photographer has lived this same reality for years, she remains an external narrator, a kind of big brother capturing moments of specific pathos.
Goldin has immersed herself in her everyday life and, like any of our camera-loving family members, collects precise moments, also selected.
The difference is that she does not limit herself to specific holidays, to standard poses that belong to our cultural baggage, symptomatic of genuine happiness and widespread well-being. The Goldin family photo book also includes those moments that are rarely considered worthy of ending up in the family album or of being shown in choral slide viewing evenings.
The aesthetics of the everyday image have not infrequently defined the photographic style of various professionals, in the search for that calmness of the simple, of the obvious, by the usual soothing of Kodak films, disposable films, and cameras that enriched the hands and gaze of the casual traveler or the assault tourist.
Artists such as Martin Parr, William Eggleston, Saul Leiter, have talked about the beauty of the moment stolen from the lives of others, the possibility of extrapolating harmonious images with perfect balance, among strangers distracted by the frenzy of their common life, or the thunderous color of travel of pleasure. They did it as external observers, as every conscious photographer does, wielding the camera not as aggressive, as Susan Sontag would say, or perhaps talking to the camera and providing it with the opportunity to speak to the world.
The photo that is born in a private emotional context has an unparalleled intimacy. The author of the family photo is part of the narrative context, in which he moves aided by the mechanical eye to record moments moved by a sense of nostalgia: that instant of his life will have disappeared the moment he takes the photo. It is an unrepeatable moment of intimacy that has a moral value higher than any formal photographic construction and that the professional photographer manages to achieve when he decides to tell his story, and it is perhaps what we are able to perceive in immense works such as a Journey to Italy by Luigi Ghirri, Gianni Leone and Enzo Velati.
Family photography is distinguished from any other non-artistic form of the lack of a precise narrative purpose and a complex illustrative will. It is not a story created for the purpose of documenting and conveying an idea, it is a preventive act of memory, which, aware of the extinction of the instant, attempts to make it immortal.
Thus events, a birthday, or travel often follows the same poses, with the slight variations given by time and fashion, it is only when the story of the main characters is definitively finished, that it will be possible to combine the pieces of the family collage.