Gustavo Pietropolli Charmet

The impossibility of forgetting


Photographing the course of time is not an easy task. Luca Campigotto tries. He sets up his camera face to face with the monumental traces of its passage and attempts feats of acrobatics. Fixing his gaze on the present - a nocturnal view of Venice, the shadow of the Pyramids, bits of industrial archaeology - he scans its every detail. The camera reveals death, total solitude, neglect; all human presence has gone, those who passed this way have moved on to somewhere else. These are abandoned places: their inhabitants, armies and seamen have vanished. The photographer always gets there the day after, when party and battle are over. He observes the traces of a thousand events and imagines the scene as it might have been the day before, three hundred or two thousand years ago. Because he spent his adolescent years in Venice, contemporaneously stimulated and stifled by its unique environment, Campigotto is able to contemplate the irrefutable proof that time exists and has passed, but without lapses into compassion or the rhetoric of nostalgia. The more detached the viewpoint the better, because for him it is History that counts: in his images the present acquires its meaning from the weight of the past. The longer the passage of time, the more the scene exudes history and memories, and the greater its attractions for our man behind the lens.
The "postcards" Campigotto sends us from his nocturnal travels are overwhelming. He has photographed time and the amazing proximity of distant events. The stratification of meanings in his images is almost excessive: Russian dolls of History which contain the photographer, observing the scene as the place is constructed, inaugurated, consumed, conquered and destroyed. His function is to record that this is how it was. Time passes and History is born. The camera goes beyond History and launches a direct attack on time with images which do not however give it a meaning of mortality. On the contrary: the more time passes, the more the scene swarms with life. Even the landscapes devoid of the works of man possess this quality of vitality. The reassuring, domesticated beach of the Alberoni becomes a legendary Dunkirk with echoes of armed landings, the river Tagliamento a battlefield and the Fradusta glacier a photographic Patagonia.
The photographer's eye is ever-present, to record, with impeccable technique, that which is invisible to the naked eye. Time which leaves its mark on objects and minds, in our bodies and our relationships, hoping to pass into oblivion, forgiven and forgotten. But Campigotto does not forget and gives little weight to the degeneration which time imposes on objects and emotions. The weeds, the cracks in the walls, the heaps of crumbling masonry are emblems of lives lived and passion consumed. He does not forget and continues to photograph the passage of time, neither denying it nor seeking to evade it, nor imagining that it can be overcome; he simply records it on film, with detachment, refusing to make of it a personal experience. A historian has taken possession of the view camera.
He does little to improve the scene, and is far from being tempted to carry out a cosmetic facelift. The abandoned ships and dilapidated alleys are not fossilized in the past, nor are the deserts repackaged as backdrops for exotic camel treks. The images he constructs have no place in a cemetery or museum. The object is not dead, the monument or the landscape not for ever ruined. On the contrary, they possess an exuberant, mysterious vitality. These scenes are imprinted with a multiplicity of symbols which command respect, the respect imposed by places of meaning which make people become solemn and composed, compelling them to stop and think, at least for a moment. Images imbued with a wealth of signs and symbols, which nourish and satisfy us. This visual opulence encourages us to imagine that we have come upon the scene just a few centuries late, but soon enough to enjoy the spectacle through the contemplation of what remains. The industrial plants of Porto Marghera lie idle: when the photographer arrives the great machines are still warm. They could almost spring back into life but they have passed into the realm of History, time has grabbed them and transposed them to the collection of photographs which record its immense potency.
"Away from home" is a story of yearning: it tells us of the impossibility of forgetting, of the painful obligation to remember - without nostalgia, but with pride and passion - realizing that in the meantime one has already changed, getting a little older but no less enamoured and responsably aware of the events of the past, beyond the walls of home, in one's own ancient city or yet further away, in distant space and time.


from the exhibition catalogue Away from home, 1998

copyright © 2013 Luca Campigotto

Luca Campigotto