Shadows of light
Landscape photography is freedom. It does not include any effort to convince anybody of anything. It is not obliged to do, or support, or demonstrate anything. It has only to show itself, and the feelings of those involved, either the creator of the images or the looker.
Black and white landscape is also a transformation of reality. In no other field of photography the visionary process penetrates so deeply in the final product. It is not only a factor of transformation of a colourful world in a monochromatic final product. It derives also from the fact that the photographer controls everything: framing and lighting at the moment of the shoot, and the palette of greys in the subsequent processes that bring to the final product, the print that is presented to the viewer. As Jeff Wall has taught us, since the beginning of visual communication monochrome has been the domain through which thought is being visualized.
Eighty years ago, Ansel Adams theorized the capability of the photographer to preview and control the different shades of grey in landscape. The main reason is that black and white landscape is made essentially of black, white and the greys in between. The capability of the photographer to control all those factor is a powerful weapon in the creative process.
At first glance, the process is simple. Light is white, the absence of light is black. But nothing is so simple, and this case is no exception. Light has also a modelling capability. Shapes take form with light emerging from black. Light shapes: lines, volumes, shades are guided by this interaction. The vision of the photographer is a structure of natural elements emerging from black into light. Something very near to creation, if we don’t mind the equivalence. From this point of view, Ansel Adams showed us a technical process that is also an aesthetic one.
There is another step in the white/black, light/darkness equation. Black is not only itself. It also hides details, shapes, lines. Through the control of the extension and the nature of black, the photographer is in control of what will be seen and what will be only guessed. The first part of Stefano Ciol images is an exemplary anthology of this process: hide, show, choose. In contrast, the final part of the book is an anthology of the absence of blacks; of whites and greys fading into a candid nothingness. We can read the book as a transition from black to white.
Normally we accept as given that landscape photography shows itself, and has in itself the creative and formal values that capture our eye. Still, there is another hidden question that this book brings to the attention of any of us. What does landscape photography tell us about the world we live in? How does it affect our vision of the world? And does it brig us nearer to the understanding of the nature of things?
From this point of view, the response must be personal, and depends upon the experience, culture and beliefs of any of us. We can believe in the world as a creation we all belong to. Or we can feel the world as an universal organism that, again involves
us all. Any in-between nuance is possible. In any case, landscape photography makes this process more evident. Once again, the perfection of the technical process, the control of the image by the photographer has the capability to achieve a deeper feeling of our belonging to something greater, more solemn, universal. The technical ability is instrumental to a spiritual road, and this should make us reflect about the unity of different knowledge and personal beliefs, something our civilization has always great difficulty in dealing with.
The most prolific contemporary writer about landscape photography is an artist, Jean Paul Caponigro. That should not surprise. It is a constant of the history of photography that the most valuable things about the medium have been written, or said, by photographers. They simply know the process more deeply than any historian. And the process is, more than in any other case, the message.
In one of his writings, Caponigro suggests the equivalence between two apparently different activities, landscape photography and pilgrimage. Pilgrimage, says Caponigro, is one of the strongest manifestations of human freedom. «Pilgrimages satisfy the desire for self-improvement. Pilgrimages make one a better person for having made the journey. We make a commitment and fulfill it. Our contact with a special place or thing distinguishes and ennobles us. After the journey, we can say we went directly to the source» (the complete text can be read at www.johnpaulcaponigro.com/lib/statements/pilgrimage.php).
Landscape photography, arguments Caponigro, is a form of pilgrimage. We choose to go to a place. We explore it, confront it with our knowledge, beliefs, and with its history and deep nature. In the end, we are enriched in the process, and visualization is an essential part of this enrichment.
I think the best part of Stefano Ciol’s work is the capability to make these schemes clear. It makes us more conscious of the visual nature of a world we all belong to. As a natural consequence, this should make us more respectful, more careful of what surrounds us. The tecnique can become visual enrichment, and this can become a spiritual meditation about the nature of things. Creative freedom is indeed a very long road.