Between the folds of the spirit of the time an ungrateful disproportion is concealed today: the lumen of philosophy diminishes and the headlights of the evident increase. We would even try an equation: as the labour of philosophy is to the fortune of sociology, the selectivity of photography is to the plenty of digital. We have reached a point where the excess of iconic information, to which we are normally subjected, has produced a sort of sensorial overload, of aesthetic indifference: the capacity of discernment and judgment seem to be suspended when not actually destroyed. As if in a metaphysical tale the guardians that oversee the entrance of the glance seem to have turned and no longer control the flux, the composition or the orientation of the iconic flow that comes in through the gateway of the eyes. The correspondence between the object and its representation has been leapfrogged by a continuum of visual mutations and special effects. We are not talking only of a type of mimesis produced, but also of every past proof of manual decomposition. The question of the objectivity of the photographic image, which has troubled the sleep of photographers and artists for more than a century (not since the birth of photography but since the disenchantment of painting), today seems an empty provocation: the contemporary eye misinterprets not only on the basis of the subjectivity of vision, but also of the overabundance of stimuli.
Subjectivity concerns point of view, habit, and visual codes; it puts into play the expectations of all of us. There are as many stories of the eye as there are human views. Glimpses of a precise instant and timeless glimpses: timeless eyes that seemed to be the prerogative of painters and that instead photography has shown itself to be able to emulate, endowed with all the cunning and all the creative tension needed.
But what do human eyes see? And those of cats and flies? And those of robots? The variety of visions is not only relative to the point of view and visual conventions: it is the keystone for orchestrating universes and judgments.
The optimal limit of this anthropocentric vision remained as long as the camera was understood as a technical prosthesis that developed an independent but, at the end of the day, tame complicity, compatible with the limits of the human body. The focus, light, angle, time, and the characteristics of the camera were all verifiable facts: it was an ingenious device, with many resources, happy. The view could only benefit from this. Then there was the camera obscura: the secret development cupboard. In Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow up it came into play as a protagonist, together with the revealing power of development: a new and emblematic Platonic cave. As long as this balance lasted between the eye and the camera, between shot and photography (even if with all the possible coupling strategies between one and the other) the image maintained some space-time identity, a representative credit, a hypothesis of truth. With the advent of the digital era, everything changed and now everything decomposes, flows, whirls in the fluid turbulence of the virtual modifications.
Where is now the point, the standstill, the quiddity? Roland Barthes spoke of the punctum as of that unexpected detail that attracts one in a photograph, not regarding the composition hierarchy, but an unfathomable micro-disturbance that that something produces: a lateral inertia, an incongruity, a trifle usually uncalculated that, Barthes wrote in Camera lucida, constructs the special "grace" of the punctum, a gift, an additional view. So, that kind of beauty is no more. Now the chief disturbance – the unexpected that lights up sight – needs to be sought where the marvels throve, in that artificial paradise of sight that tends to silence the necessary selection: the law of the overexposed virtuality could confuse judgment by an excess of taste.
Riccardo Perale’s research
This premise of a general nature was useful to enter into the specifics of Riccardo Perale expressive research that starts out from printed photography, crosses the exuberance of virtuality – the unceasing variability of electronic mutations – and returns to print to bring the virtual back to a paradoxically naturalistic rationale. For this creative process, we put forward the critical hypothesis of a naturalism of the invisible, understood as the perception of an identity more internal than the visible one, hidden behind the dominion of appearances but also of resemblances. The discovery of verisimilitude does not belong to the real fact, but to the initial photographic fact which the passage through the mutations of computer graphics makes alienating, as well as susceptible to revelations on planes of latent expressiveness.
The similarity then shifts onto another plane, the more elaborate one of rendering, where the colours and their resolution, the movement and the original echo effects (use of flash, fuzzy movement, focal distance, night-time shots, artificial lights) also offer matter for processing for a more subtle, sometimes secret, sometimes truer than resemblance, secondary recognisability.
This phenomenon of photographic transcendence is true for every image considered in its independence from the real subject. Nonetheless, it should not be underestimated that at the outset of Perale’s artistic development it was the portraits that started this very unusual research, which then became able to experience that onset of creative ecstasy that is never missing in genuine research.
By electronically modifying the photographic images, the visual resolution is overturned, devastated, put back into play outside any denotative logic. What remains, and is indeed amplified in the author’s intentions, is the unmistakeable uniqueness of each face, challenged, on the terrain of objective evidence, by the virtual mutations.
Another premise becomes increasingly necessary: the education and experience (and philosophy) of Perale as a radiologist. The relativity of vision has always been a foundation stone: a didactic premise also in university teaching. The need for different points of view – the conceptual model of the "angles" – is the natural approach base for interpreting the image. Diagnostics and hermeneutics come together, as we know. The philosophers of the science of interpretation have always upheld this, psychoanalysis has made it a dogma. The awareness of how unsteady objectivity is thus imposes itself: the photographic and radiographic image work on the edges of visual truth.
Equipped with new, incessant, possibilities of processing, the interpretation of a face supplants the figurative análogon (both of the face and of the initial photographic image) in the direction of a subliminal focus, obtained through electronic graphic movement. Perale is aware of the existence of "a stylistic unicum based essentially on the decomposition of the photographic image, in the search for its interior nucleus which will be revealed only after having dissected and recomposed time and time again the colours that compose it and the light that clothes it".
We thus find ourselves faced with a new artistic phenomenon. Perale’s images are found in a non-analytical metalinguistic dimension, as is commonly understood for conceptual art, but rather in an aesthetic one. It is not photography that reasons about itself and on its own "cuisine", but computer graphics that procure it a second life gleaming with colours and composition effects, yet no less true, perhaps more acute than the first.
The autonomy of the image bears the dual interpretation on its own: everything happens, in fact, on the iconic plane. The first version is that of photographic processing that redoubles reality and interprets it, offering, in any case, a conceptual re-edition of it. However much a photographic image may appear realistic and objective, it is, in fact, always the result of a vision, of reproductive intention. The second is that of electronic processing that intervenes in the composition of the colours and the light factor, i.e. luminosity and contrast. The computer graphics palette acts starting from the three fundamental colours (red blue green) that interacting with the light factors obtains a conspicuous variety of variations of the whole.
Quite deliberately, Perale does not use the most sophisticated latest-generation computers, able to provide an infinite variety of solutions. The relatively craftsmanlike nature of the process conducted with the program chosen gives him total control of attempts, of the repetitiveness as of the reconsiderations, the assessment of intermediate results, the abandonment and restart of the procedure from the initial photographic image. The limit of the "poverty" of the options thus appears an integral part of the poetics of his "stylistic unicum", found in a recurrent changeability. This limit thus becomes the paradigm of intervention, traced by the creative intentionality, cushion to the visual hedonism of the exuberance of effects.
These assumptions have emerged, perfecting more and more the range of the "stylistic nucleus", in the seasons preceding the Venetian subjects presented in this show.
After portraits of people, Perale shifted his attention to "portraits” of things.
The disorientation obtained with the dual process of representation is quite the opposite of the concept of still life and leads to a further iconic identity that makes both the photographic and the real datum unrecognisable. This phase leads to the exciting intuition that that "invisible" essence, which in the faces revealed the unmistakeable uniqueness of a subject, in things can be the transfiguration of a detail, a fancy of the point of view that overturns all expectations making the simplest of, and perhaps even degraded, inanimate details, a fresh marvel capable of original visual suspense.
The prophet of soft digital expressionism was Andy Warhol who, in the silkscreen interpretation of contemporary legends, opened up the pre-vision chromatic of metamorphism. Nonetheless, for the father of Pop Art, subjectivity was the worst evil of all: everything had to happen as if the activator, the thinker, the I-the-director did not exist and that the artistic work was performed (recorded) on its own. Time and text had to share perfectly the fetishism of consumer reality.
With the advent of the inexhaustible exploits of computer graphics, subjectivity assumes the fundamental role of what stops the process of definition, of what takes the decision to stop the tests, the combinations, the variations. It simply exists. The outcome as the matter of emotional judgment.
Warhol considered the camera – whether for still or cinema shots – like a wife, faithful and inexpressive: he left it alone, ready to shoot, entrusting the decision to stop shooting entirely to its mechanical judgment. Now that the bachelor machine has become an endless source of chromatic mutations, of visual pleasure, here the subjectivity of the artist as the bearer of the spirit of the game comes back onto the stage.
When the image chosen – the halting point, a new punctum – passes onto paper, or materialises on a film of an almost invisible substance, two types of question open up again.
The first is the composition of the colours that undergoes a new manipulation in order to maintain the virtual visual result. The print then seems to turn back to the pace of the palette, re-evokes 19th century naturalism, that of the tonal impasto where to obtain a white the painter took light blue and yellow, indigo and green to mix the white lead that lay on the pink. And the same for the black, except that it was never just black. Burri knew this well when he undertook his study of blacks, just like Opalka when he took on the biography of pale shades to reach total white.
This is the history of contemporary art, this is the history of contemporary photography: that of the skin of the painting that becomes a text in its own right and that of the skin of the photograph that pursues the mirage of the minimum-faithful body allowed for virtuality. The film like a shroud. A concrete appearance: pure image that is fixed and materialised without body.
It is on the threshold of that iconic veil that the phantom of philosophy comes back into play, it is that almost invisible something that it is still worth wondering about.
And it is on the threshold of that existing essence that it is worth even more seeking the selective marvel.