When photography meets painting

At the MIA Photo Fair, photography rediscovers its conceptual function, poised between the present and the future, in unavoidable continuity with the history of art and painting.

Emerging photographers, bright colours, great protagonists and a new location. In the spaces of Superstudio Maxi in Milan, MIA Photo Fair, one of the most famous international photography fairs, has just ended. Men, women, art objects, design and architecture are the subjects of a type of art that talks about art. And there are many guest artists, lots of stories and infinite pictorial references.

Domenico Veneziano, Madonna Berenson, 1432, Villa I Tatti, The Harvard Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, Florence

Being modern and yet with an older feel, photography has undergone its ups and downs during the 20th century, especially after the rise of artistic trends such as Cubism, Symbolism and Expressionism, which changed the idea of space and perspective, which had its two-dimensional foundations in the Renaissance artistic system. Today, this art is rediscovering its conceptual function - certainly not linked to its eventual “picture on the wall” fruition - thanks to projects such as the MIA Photo Fair, where the idea of photography as a work of art, as a testimony, a memory capacity or as a cultural approach is being exalted and contextualised through works that articulate knowledge of the past, the present or a wise vision of the future.

Julia Schestag, About responsibility. Courtesy Julia Schestag and Il Rivellino

In 1980, Roland Barthes wrote an interesting observation in his book Camera Lucida: “One day, quite some time ago, I happened on a photograph of Napoleon’s youngest brother, Jerome. And I realized then, with an amazement I have not been able to lessen since: ‘I am looking at eyes that looked at the Emperor’”. For Barthes, photography holds testimonies, experiences, moments, ideas.

Photography tells of bodies, nakedness, presence, just as 17th-century painting did through mythological themes or Greco-Roman sculpture, moving on to a contemporaneity that has as its object the awareness of the self, of the being, of discovery, of the presence of the body as the main element. Like Narcissus observes his reflection in the water, so photography analyzes the self in front of the mirror. 

Photography is connected to a project of poetic references and manifestations of a reshaped artistic past. In this latest edition of MIA, the concept is extremely clear. Venuses among flowers, Botticelli VS Monica Silva; eighteenth-century still lifes such as those recreated by Luzia Simons; architectures reminiscent of models of artistic reproduction such as those adopted by Canaletto or Bernardo Bellotto and explored by Elena Chernyshova or references to the purest portraiture; methodological reportages of a cultured past where the supervision of painting is always present, as we can see in the work of the artist Julia Schestag. A woman, a child. The iconographic model is immediate but the reference is not at all obvious and immediate. The work takes its cue and idea from Domenico Veneziano’s Berenson Madonna. The red brocade in the background is replaced by real flowers with the same original chromatic tone. The woman is shown in half-length, and the child is shown sitting while handing her a bud, an allusion to original sin, the same gesture that inspired Leonardo in the Benois Madonna. Everything is perfect and nothing is left to chance, just like the woman’s red dress recalling Raphael’s Small Cowper Madonna. A quick snapshot, an elegant punctuation of time, a new, almost informal painting: this is photography.

One of the greatest photographers of the 20th century, Henri Cartier-Bresson, wrote: “The camera is not the right instrument to provide the why’s and wherefores of things, it is, rather, designed to evoke”.

Opening image :
Julia Schestag, About responsibility. Courtesy Julia Schestag and Il Rivellino

Latest on Art

Latest on Domus

Read more
China Germany India Mexico, Central America and Caribbean Sri Lanka Korea icon-camera close icon-comments icon-down-sm icon-download icon-facebook icon-heart icon-heart icon-next-sm icon-next icon-pinterest icon-play icon-plus icon-prev-sm icon-prev Search icon-twitter icon-views icon-instagram