Freeze the image

by Bruno Munari

[Testo in italiano qui]

The texts and images are taken from Photo-reportage by Bruno Munari, first published in 1944 by Domus Publishing Group. In 1997 it was re-printed and, since then, distributed by Corraini Edizioni.

The aim of every artist, poet, painter, sculptor and so on is (I told you this centuries ago) to freeze the image. Every means is valid: the paintbrush, scalpel, ink pen, camera. Setting aside sculpture for a moment, pay attention: a man is holding a rudimentary hammer and a scalpel, he says he will make art with these two tools, masterpieces. Everyone looks at the scalpel, then the hammer and then they laugh. The man is accompanied politely to the door. It was Michelangelo. But everyone has their own ideas and opinions differ even among photographers.

Here’s the classic “group” photo. Professional photographers love these Campigli-style compositions (or is it the other way round?). Look carefully at their faces, you still see the same expressions in graduation photographs.
This, instead, is real, no messing “photo-reportage.” Here, there is no studying the angle or the focus. What counts is the fact that when the engine driver went home, he didn’t put the locomotive in the depot.

There are those who put their money on “art” photography, imitating painting; those who prefer a journalistic type of photography, a “documentation,” neglecting all the rules governing the harmony of the composition, relationships between black and white, etc.; there are those who flaunt the technically perfect photograph where, you can be sure, the esophagus of the person portrayed is in focus. This field too has its romantics, futurists, light-heads. Like painting it sets off reactions: we have seen at a certain period in time photographers portraying details only, close ups, taking the lens so close that it is only a few centimetres from the subject. It was the period of the pears, the enormous hands, faces that didn’t fit within the format; after this invasion came the first panoramic photographs, endless plains, immense cloud-filled skies with birds, an infrared photograph would be worthy of a first prize. Then the photograph became enamoured of the Novecento — pictures became diagonal, shot from the bottom upwards or vice-versa. At the exhibitions of the time you would see people leaning at all angles like towers of Pisa (all through this time, though, the hardened amateur could be seen photographing, and who knows for how much longer in the future, the child with his grandfather’s hat and glasses, oh what a laugh!).

This is the “industrial” type of photo. Even a nail at the far end of the building is in focus. The technical likes the technical.
Here’s the “detail.” the “close-up” which would send the regulars at the Photography Club into raptures. When faced with this type of photo, you would hear expressions like: Elmar Summitar, three eight, added lens, filter, etc., etc.

Now it’s “tramp” time and the lens sees nothing but wretches in a variety of poses. We can say without hesitation that before long we will see the camera pointed towards the golf course, the big theatres, the horserace tracks. When really ? When really photography is unable to imitate painting (when we succeed in wean-ing man away from this absurd attachment to familiar forms; do you remember the first cars that had to look like coaches? so slow, alas, so slow). Do not remove all harmonious lines, all composition, all balance of shapes from photography, and don’t follow fashion, please, or we will have thousands and thousands of photographs all the same. Every photographer should try to express himself, should discover something in nature (another quid pro quo, chaps, who knows how many people reading the word “nature” will immediately think of cows at the drinking trough or of sunsets behind sails, when “nature” is also an electric charge, the bacillus of Koch, an abstract thought, a dream, a devilish thought. Well, let’s get on), should think of the camera as nothing but a very quick paintbrush, a paint brush that if it had been in the hand of old Leonardo da Vinci, who knows what photo-reportages on the human anatomy, for example, he would have passed on to us. Remember that a successful photograph is worth as much as a story and sometimes even a piece of poetry. There are no illiterate people where pictures are concerned. Photography is a universal language that does not need to be translated into Croatian or even into Manchurian and with all these pretty thoughts, load your camera and go. Go, my good man, go.

Here are the paparazzi. The editors of the major international newspapers (and with them the public) want to see the photo that creates a sensation. But often the paparazzi have their heads in the clouds. They take all the photos, magnesium flashes and all and when they have finished, they realise they haven’t extracted the lens, for example. Very often the sensational photo happens by chance. Meanwhile, these paparazzi are unaware that they’ve got the wrong address! What a quid pro quo! What a quid pro quo! Right here, too.

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