Milan

Linda Fregni Nagler, Contemplation of Death, 2014, selenium-toned gelatin silver print on telex paper, 47 1/2 × 41". From the series “Pour commander à l’air” (To Lead the Air), 2012–.

Linda Fregni Nagler, Contemplation of Death, 2014, selenium-toned gelatin silver print on telex paper, 47 1/2 × 41". From the series “Pour commander à l’air” (To Lead the Air), 2012–.

Linda Fregni Nagler

Monica De Cardenas | Milan

Linda Fregni Nagler, Contemplation of Death, 2014, selenium-toned gelatin silver print on telex paper, 47 1/2 × 41". From the series “Pour commander à l’air” (To Lead the Air), 2012–.

“My work is based on the analysis, recouping and recontextualising of pre-existent images,” Linda Fregni Nagler writes in her 2013 monograph The Hidden Mother. Its subject is a homonymous body of work for which the Italian artist focused her gaze on the iconographic conventions found in a certain genre of early daguerreotypes, tintypes, and cartes de visite. All these images depict young children held by their mothers, who remain hidden, outside the frame, or shrouded in blankets, steadying their babies during the slow exposure times required by early photographic technologies. Fregni Nagler built an expansive archive of roughly one thousand of these pictures by persistently seeking out and acquiring them from diverse sources over the past few years. She then arranged the images into a narrative sequence that un-
covers, through iteration, themes of alienation, tropes of portraiture, and the ways in which technological constraints inform representation.

In her second solo show at 
Galleria Monica De Cardenas, the 
artist revealed the series “Pour commander à l’air” (To Lead the Air), 2012–, another obsessive and poetic chapter in her analysis of the early development of the photographic medium. The work’s subject—in no small debt to Sarah Charlesworth and Yves Klein—is drawn from a recurrent image in late-nineteenth-and twentieth-century photojournalism: a person, poised to jump. At the brink of a cornice, at the ledge of a highway bridge, or on a balcony with arms spread wide, these anonymous tempters of fate appealed to public interest when their apparent final moments were caught by photographers and featured in newspapers. Suspended between earth and sky, the jumpers here formed a silent army on the gallery walls.

Fregni Nagler has been collecting these fragments since 2013, rephotographing some of them with a large-format camera, enlarging them in the darkroom, and printing them on telex paper. The resulting blown-up images expose the manual retouchings done with ink or paint by newspaper editors to the original prints, to heighten the drama of the images. By reproducing these pictures, the artist has found herself in dialogue with a history not only of photographers who once captured the tragic and revelatory moments that would summarize, in the public eye, the meaning of an entire life but also of photo editors and their gestures and amendments. She continues a trajectory of production that builds stories from a fraction of a second—a single shot.

Fregni Nagler’s interventions are driven less by an ideological impulse than by a practice of interpretation—they seem to offer a way for the artist to navigate the relationship between art and life. Her search for images and her staging of narratives have, in fact, taken on the rhythm of a daily practice. Yet this routine is also a considered reflection on the amorphous and expansive community of image producers to which each of us belongs—in today’s media-saturated era more than ever. This compendium of black-and-white, often grainy snapshots offered a compact sequence that raised questions about authorship, the concept of an original, and notions of time. Together, the images possess an expressive and evocative power, much like that of silent films. What is the voice like of this man standing at the brink of a cornice? What is the woman at the ledge of the bridge feeling? What can we really perceive in these photographs, which inexorably speak to us of death and yet, in the extreme actions they depict, grasp life in the fullest sense? Fregni Nagler’s work reminds us that seeking truth in images is an old exercise, and that we can’t learn enough by reconfiguring those that have long been available to us.

Paola Nicolin

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.