Paolo Mazzanti - Photography
Copertina del volume: Energia del Tempo


Critical text by Lea Mattarella

When I first saw the architecture framed by Mazzanti's lens it immediately reminded me of Cesare Brandi's travel books. It appeared to me that what it had in common with the great art historian was the same way of capturing and approaching the detail, the same amazed gaze of someone who knows things well but, nonetheless, is aware of a deeper meaning. It's as if they showed the different degrees in which the world may be analysed, as if reality had to be revealed little by little, the stratification approached with no hurry, since, in the end, it is patience and slowness that make the difference.

I stopped loving speed a long time ago: I enjoy moving slowly, my gaze lingering all around. And this is what I look for in art. I chase, so to say, the praise of slowness, with all due respect to Marinetti. Now, I imagine Paolo Mazzanti to disclose the secret life of the things he frames by observing them silently for a long time. And patiently gathering, little by little, what they reveal to him. Milan, Venice, and Urbino have been the stages of his journey hunting for buildings, in a slow pursuit of light, colour, and shape. It seems to me that photography is to Mazzanti the opposite of a snapshot. I imagine him absorbed while taking aim as if he only had one shot left and he absolutely cannot allow himself to make a mistake. He lies in wait: he is a sniper perching on a roof that has to make a direct hit in order to restore the possibility of beauty.

What is his lens aiming at? History, or - and this is really a concept related to Brandi – the history we carry within us as a memory, the only thing we are able to see since it is deposited inside us: it is the trace of a journey. Otherwise, well know places such as the Cathedral Dome in Milan and St. Mark's Square in Venice run the risk of not being seen.

Such images are accurate, as they unfold, they offer rows of columns whose arch we can only guess at, or they present details which, due to an approaching manoeuvre carried out by the artist, they become transfigured, since, in Mazzanti's view, to encircle the object, to assail it in its details is not a way to observe it, to analyse it or to capture it, rather, it is a way to deepen its mystery. Just as with the pictures preceding the series on architecture - those dedicated to the landscape and to the natural life - here too, Mazzanti frames to acknowledge the presence of an autonomous, elusive, and as such, fascinating life. To keep looking for life by digging among the stones, in this case, and among the water, the ground, and the green of the plants in the preceding works. Contemplation exercises.

Something else immediately struck me in Mazzanti's latest works: his upward look. Most of these images concentrate on the top of the buildings, a portion of the world which is suspended between the earth and the sky: capitals, upper doors, lintels, windows, the upper part of arches, the statues dominating the balconies. These are the places where he endlessly approaches the instant and the object in order to reach, most of the time, a "classic" result, a result of formal perfection from which man seems to be excluded. Do inhabitants pass through such places? They almost never do. Humanity's ardour in creating the monument may be perceived, its genius can be appreciated, its labour may even be imagined, but it is a distant evocation.

Today these buildings live a life detached from anything else. And it is such existence that Mazzanti faces, as if he had in mind Marguerite Yourcenar's persuasion according to which a work's true life begins from the moment it is completed, and it is through worship, admiration, love but also contempt and indifference that it reaches its fulfilment. The artist tries to tell the story of the buildings. Rather, he lets them tell it themselves. He creates around them the necessary silence to let us hear their sounds, to free, as Orhan Pamuk says, "the groan to echo in the ears like sleepless woods over the centuries".

Even what he has been able to create on such famous images – from the lace trimming of the Doge's Palace in Venice to the Lion of St. Mark – do not escape a similar fate: pictures start a life of their own at the moment they get separated from their creator, they grow up far away, looked at by unknown eyes that should disclose their most intimate truth. The risk shared by works of all times is to be looked at with carelessness, by distracted eyes. The cure for this is not to be found, as is the case of much contemporary art, in an idea which is able to immediately capture the spectator and to vanish as quickly as it appears. Mazzanti's urge is to show beauty, a necessity that he does with patience and that never makes him hesitate, vacillate. The shot is steady, the light is firm. There is no disconnection between the imagine and its meaning, the pictures are free of that mystification, so common today, which denies the pleasure of contemplation as it holds that a work is good the more complicated, incomprehensible, and inaccessible it is. Here everything is plain: we face the strength of a narrator using our own language. He takes things from far away places making us wish to never let them go. The Venetian gold and azure seem to contain all the East our imagination is able to fathom. It is our imagination that meets up with that of past travellers, merchants of cloth, brocades, and spices.

"Travels and mirages", as the Italian singer De Gregori would say. After all, maybe, if wisely looked for, reality may not be as ugly and predictable as it seems. You look above your head to find that lonely statue raving its incredible truth to the sky. It seems to be there to possess the horizon and to let you imagine it. Anything could turn into an epic poem, a collection of poetry, an encyclopaedia of ideas, a map of unknown depths, the true history of stone heroes, as long as one is able to observe. Everything is still since a rough surface cannot reflect anything. Here, instead, the artist looks for the mirror of accuracy that has always survived, perhaps hidden, but unbreakable.

Mazzanti constructs and deconstructs the architecture he sees before him as if they were pieces of a giant toy. Astonishment and curiosity pulls us towards the Cathedral Dome of Milan where the artist has taken photographs which seem to set the stage for a whole city. Due to a mysterious and unexpected way of framing the sculptures, they seem to move, to gesture, to talk to each other, to live. And they have been there for ages. Marvellous. Ancient spires become skyscrapers of a future metropolis. And you stand there wondering how. The artist has meticulously prepared the perfection of that same moment there, far away from pain and circumstances, carrying us away from arch to arch, from colonnade to colonnade, to a place where the wear and tear does not exist. And to stay there for a while is not bad at all.

April, 2008


copyright © Paolo Mazzanti