Photography and Madness
I have just reread Italo Calvino’s The Adventure of a Photographer and saw a few themes that might make food for thought. I am planning on doing a trio of blogs on the themes of Photography and…
2. The Present Moment
The short story can be found in Difficult Loves by Italo Calvino. The main character is a bachelor named Antonino who starts his relationship with the snapshot in a cynical and reluctant manner and ends up becoming prey to his own fears. It is a story of obsession, love, passion, violence and compulsion. Although photography has transformed a lot since 1955 the story could just as easily have been written yesterday, so familiar are the questions it raises.
Italo Calvino (b. Cuba, 1929. d. Italy, 1985) was an essayist, novelist and journalist. Much like Roland Barthes and Umberto Eco he is known as an intellectual and has insightful things to say about many aspects of life, photography being one of them.
Photography and Madness
Antonino began by criticising his friends who took candid snapshots of their lives. He considered the photographs meaningless, because they were singling out a moment of perceived beauty as being worthy of remembering while the rest of life was abandoned to the ‘unreliable shadow of memory’. He considered them false because his friends were acting for the camera, living that perfect moment for another time. He said that they either had to see every moment of life as worth photographing (leading to madness) or live every moment as if it were photographable (stupidity).
This post is about the first notion – the notion that believing every moment of life is worth photographing leads to madness.
Albert Einstein defined insanity as… “doing something over and over expecting different results.” In the story Antonino begins obsessively photographing in order to make his point, but the task is harder than it first appears and he gets drawn into photography’s game. He invites a model to pose for him and at the same time as he falls in love with her he becomes obsessed with capturing her essence. He falls into the same trap as his friends – only in a more extreme way – and can’t stop photographing her until he gets what he wants. Then she leaves him and he is left compulsively photographing her absence. Antonino believed, as he was intensely experiencing life, it was only validated when he captured it in a photograph, therefore he tried to photograph everything in a bid to validate his own, miserable, existence.
Cavity by Noemie Goudal from the series Haven her Body Was.
The line between the reality that is photographed because it seems beautiful to us and the reality that seems beautiful because it has been photographed is very narrow.
Antonino in The Adventure of a Photographer by Italo Calvino.
The Urban Dictionary describes madness as:
A mental state where one can not tell the difference between reality and their imagination.
Actually this is the power of photography for me. A medium which operates by recording actual events that can play with one’s mind by showing something that couldn’t possibly be real never ceases to fascinate me. The strength of photography for me is the subtle blend between reality and imagination. Does that make me mad? Does it make photography mad?
Antonino’s original concern was that to deem a moment worthy of being photographed is meaningless unless every moment is worthy of it. Are there any parts of your life that you don’t have recorded in a photograph? Do you wish they were? Or are there any events that you wish had not been photographed? I wonder if we remember things more accurately with or without a photograph.
We will come to Antonino’s second notion, that making every moment worth photographing would lead to stupidity, in Photography and the Present Moment.