Milan

Marina Ballo-Charmet

Galleria Alessandro De March

Artists working in photography often adopt an analytical method in order to filter out the chance nature of the moment and arrive at the substance of a subject. Marina Ballo-Charmet makes use of what might be described as an “encyclopedic” system, choosing a single subject to study in an enormous number of shots—as many as three hundred in a single outing, depending on the project—but printing only a very few carefully selected frames. While she presents her studies with a distant gaze, there is also a social component—an attitude that relates perhaps to her simultaneous career as a psychologist in a hospital. Her new series, “Parco” (Park), 2006– , takes her to green spaces in cities throughout the world, where she shoots during office breaks, weekends, and holidays, when people head outdoors for recreation.

The viewer’s first impression might be that this is a work of sociological analysis; in fact, one can identify different social and ethnic groups from her subjects’ clothing, attitudes, and even from the plastic bags that contain their food. But this social focus, so common in recent photography, does not seem to be the artist’s principal goal, even if it obviously is one of the work’s components. A second glance triggers our historical memory of images, and so we try to recognize artistic precursors. A dog in the foreground, groups of villagers stretched out or seated around a tablecloth, intrepid swimmers who plunge into artificial ponds, improbable outfits one can’t help smiling at: These bring to mind works of art from Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, 1863, to Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 1884–86, to Duane Hanson’s Tourists, 1970. But once again we sense that we have not reached the center of the matter; the cultivated stance that links these images back to art history’s great flow of images is nothing but a way of marking time, an attempt to find meaning in the face of something that remains elusive and that allows almost no formal pretext for this way of looking.

Ballo-Charmet creates extremely harsh images, not so much because of her subjects, which have always been ordinary and quotidian—before the parks, she photographed cities and people, though in the latter case focusing on microscopically portrayed, inexpressive body parts, such as the joining of the neck to the jaw—as because of her manner, which seeks to avoid any possible formal cataloguing. Her approach is not brutal, but it is inexpressive; it does not fall into the categories of either the banal or the unconscious, to which other recent styles in photography have accustomed us. The position of the camera, at ground level, creates a visual effect that is the formal result of a precise mental attitude, namely a sense of participation. We viewers too are crouched down in the park, along with all the others; we too have our minds emptied of all thought and filled with a flow of insignificant images; between us and the world there is a no-man’s-land that occupies much of our horizon—and at least half of every photograph by Ballo-Charmet—which we cannot put into focus, physically or morally.

Marco Meneguzzo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.