Art & Culture

Published on May 10th, 2015 | by Pascal Ordonneau

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My Italy, By Bernard Plossu, photographer

As far as a lover of Italy is concerned, all images coming from this country, photos as well as paintings, novels, every piece of art that puts Italy on the forefront, that tells of its enchantments, that searches for its most concealed and most charming secrets, have (in modern words) a very strong competitive advantage.

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Photo by Radiolv.fr.

But, please, forget for a while works of art Italian photographers who gave us munificently and sometimes amazingly vineyards of Italy and the Italy of vast fields on the hills or across the plains, who laboured as peasants would have drawing a piece of art, as if the Italian countryside was a natural form of landscape art. They showed to what extent nature in Italy is domesticated, structured and put in order by human spirit. In other words, nature in this country has become a by-product of culture!

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Bernard Plossu. Photo by Radiovl.fr.

Please, forget everything that you have been told about Italy and photography, and art as well – this chronicle is about the passion of a French photographer, Bernard Plossu who fell in love with this country.

Whenever people fall in love with a country, a woman, or a poem, it is hard for them to take a standstill, to stick to a stable view and shoot a photo in a very thoughtful manner. Wouldn’t it be fixing a movement? It would be as if you were freezing what is burning. Bernard Plossu was not willing to convert “his Italy” into a simple photo book. He had many reasons for this: he knew how tough a partner Italy is! It attracts painters, photographers, novelists, and poets. It suggests the stories it wants told, the images it wants appreciated, and as such, it overwhelms any attempts for artists to remain free and keeps them far away from original works.

From this point of view, the exhibition in la Maison Européenne de la Photographie is a kind of a notebook where the photographer captures sketches of people and architectures, of churches and small towns. A notebook of which pages would be shown separately as if they were verses of a poem that have burst out during those peculiar moments when one looks at Italian scenery and experiences intense emotions, pleasures, joys and smiles.

Every image, photos in black and white or coloured prints, are shown in small and even very small formats. Sometimes exhibited photos are the size of a postage stamp! Most of them are shadowed with a very dark touch. Shadow, black, grey, small format – these qualities provide Plossu’s photos with a hint of intimacy. They are tales that the photographer is telling to himself. Some of these tiny images constrain the viewers so they get very close to the prints and take their time to see, and in a sense, to read them.

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Photo by Radiovl.fr.

Are the images produced to reach the perfect perception of them? Are they depicting objects, posed in the midst of the image and enlightened with artistic limelight and shadow, as strictly artistically balanced? An American photographer once said that a professional cannot shoot a photo without having it “centred” even if he is in the midst of fights, combats or catastrophes. Definitely, Bernard Plossu has nothing to do with this sentiment. You can find an example in “Volcano Isle” 1988. This photo doesn’t show any perspective, as if it were a lousy shot. In some cases, you would think that the photo is a kind of an amateur work: Bernard Plossu has nothing to do with “le beau” and “le montrer beau”. He is not concerned with these splendid photos of splendid landscapes and churches and Palazzi. He simply shows images that he finds very moving in the precise moment when looking at the Vulcans or other landscapes.

Black and white colours are mixed in grey and result in subtle nuances or deep shadowy pictures – would it be this quasi-dark grey picture that would depict the contrast just before twilight in Bologna? Or would it be this photo, splendid, delicate and gentle, that would capture the Piemont region, depicting a landscape with trees overwhelmed with a subtle mist? While capturing objects or traces, Bernard Plossu has the habit of moving the shadows into the limelight. Shot in Lucca 2099, a thin figure, light and fragile, appears to be standing alone on the pavement of a sunny place (a parking lot?) that has turned into white hot metal. This photo, shot at a low angle, is framed with a blind and with a plain black colour as a border to contrast with the white place crushed with sun. Bernard Plossu’s unique ability in this work is to make this silhouette stand out as the very subject of the photo.

Dreams? Or, all of a sudden, an image would have come out and imposed itself. A very demanding image you should capture, quickly, in a blink, in spite of its fragility. As is the case with “Colle di Maddelena” 2009: snow is white and abolishes all forms and shapes. However, it reveals itself, gentle and smooth, open to writing. Some traces, some shreds, sketches of trees… some birds are flying, black spots on a white sky.

Dreams? Coloured dreams. For pleasure’s sake, says Bernard Plossu, meaning without any order nor any decision-making. Unless you have come up with the idea that for some Italian cities, moments cannot be shot except with coloured films just because these cities are decorated, colour is not a the sole key. At least, for Plossu and his subtle photos, there is also some chemistry to it. This addresses a developing technique called “procédés Fresson”. As such, both art and technique are combined to show Italian cities in very nuanced colours, i.e.: no violent yellow or flashy reds. Colours are still and pastel and stand very far away from Martin Parr!!!

“Liguria” 2008 and other shots of landscapes prove that coloured films are not just dedicated to capturing photos of cities. The image of Ventoteni Island combines and contrasts the blue of the sea and the sky with the red and white tiles of a terrace. In Livorno, a subtle palette of yellows and greens is mixed in such a way that it rids the place of banality with a poor staircase in a modest building.

One once said that Boudin’s skies have reached the peak of the sky representations. However, one can now say that Plossu’s images of the sky are not bad at all and might be solid competitors to Boudin’s!

How to end this chronicle that has been written under the charm of Bernard Plossu’s works? Just a word to tell you that there is a kind of a “cabinet de curiosité”: a place where very small images are exhibited. In fact, this is a “cabinet de lecture”: Plossu’s works intend to draw our attention and demand that we do not just ‘see’ but also ‘read’ his Vulcans, his cities, his skies, and his very subtle palette of greys.

Headed Photo : www.espritsnomades.com


About the Author

40 ans de banque chez plusieurs établissements français et anglo-saxons ; il est l’auteur de plusieurs livres sur l’économie et la banque, d’un livre de voyage, d’un roman et d’un livre sur l’Allemagne. Il écrit pour les journaux et la radio, dont les Echos, le Figaro, Huffington Post, Radio France International.



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