Franco Vimercati

Franco Vimercati’s deceptively reductive recent photographs, created between 1996 and 1997, recall the early days of the medium. In this series of small-to medium-format images, quotidian objects appear on a dark ground. These subjects—a tin can, a carafe, and a glass—are at times perfectly limned, at other times out of focus, suggesting phantoms, or mere emanations of light. They are isolated, separated from any context, and obsessively rephotographed.

For more than twenty years, Vimercati has chosen to focus his attention on a single object or type of object at a time, presenting each in a seemingly infinite number of possible variations. In 1975, for example, he photographed thirty-six bottles of the same brand of mineral water. Two years later he shot strips of wood flooring; later a single soup tureen became his sole subject for a decade. Variation on a single theme thus seems to be the dominant motif in his work; in this respect, Giorgio Morandi and Josef Albers are his models. Photography as a tool and as a language is important but not fundamental to Vimercati’s work: although his pieces are skillfully realized, they are about neither the object photographed nor the various ways of registering the image. Instead, they address the act of looking. Whether grainy, or clear to the point of hyper-realism, the images force one to focus on an object as it is slowly and almost imperceptibly transformed, so that one crosses a perceptual threshold that leads inward. Vimercati’s use of iteration recalls the serial music of Philip Glass or Terry Riley, or even the obsessive repetition of a word in certain kinds of prayer.

Considerations of form, variation, light “creating” objects, and the hidden life of everyday things are subordinated to Vimercati’s fundamental affirmation of looking as a contemplative practice. The mental process of perception may begin with the recognition of visible form, but here such recognition was a mere pretext for a voyage in which the gaze acquires tranquility and self-awareness. Thus, what may have seemed at first an extremely refined exposition of the medium’s possibilities, presented in an intentionally didactic fashion, in fact demonstrates how photography can alter the way we view our surroundings. This is what William Henry Fox Talbot, the great nineteenth-century photographer, must have found himself unconsciously facing, in his anxiety about dedicating himself to what he called “images painted by the sun.”

Marco Meneguzzo

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.