The Amazon by Antonio Saggese



Saggese's photographs are not records of the Amazon rainforest, which in terms of praise would praise its splendor or ecological photojournalism.

Antonio Saggese's photographs articulate new ways of thinking and producing an image, opposing the hegemonic image in society of the spectacle or the hypervisibility of the present. Its challenge is to oppose the dazzling chain of images, in which each cliché merely leads to the next – which brings us back to Jean Baudrillard’s idea of ​​“Total Screen” – an image that holds some enigma, that hints at some secret, mystery or retreat. evoking in the observer a more sluggish, detained, if not apprehensive look.[I]

His photographs are exceptional images that aim to restore vision to the saturated eye, blinded by an excess of empty images, even if very intense from the sensory point of view, from the mass media or the digital network, thus reacting to the so-called “contemporary iconomania”.[ii]  The challenge for the viewer of his photographs is “what is there to see in this given image”; and not “what you will see in the next image”.[iii]

In Saggese's trajectory, the erasure of the cliché in the search for enigmatic images has been recurrent, since the series “Mecânica”, from 1988. old calendars or stamping sheets pin ups of the magazine Playboy – all immersed in dust or sawdust. They are photographs of stereotypical images of the female body – such as those in advertising, cinema or television – which are depicted as plastic dolls, in wax color, without any vigor or trace of lived life, as a fetish or simulacrum, in short. Arranged on the walls of the workshops, these clichéd images appear here, in Saggese's photo, off-center, faded or torn – as in the takeoffs by Jacques Villegé – in a bluish or earthy hue hinting at melancholy.

This erasure of the stereotyped representation of the female body in mass media, or the modes of production of knowledge or truth about the body, which are in reality simulacra of a liberating practice, is also visible in the series body spirit, of 1970 to 1990, in Negativo PB, in which regions of the body are depicted as a terrestrial landscape. In the partial geography of the body at rest, whose concave or convex shapes allude to valleys and hills – evoking without epigonism the pictorialism of Edward Weston or Helfried Strauss – clichés collapse. In these images, the body is not glamorized by photoshop, nor stamped as pornography, in the sense of the trivialization of the body and the commodification of pleasure, but anointed by disturbing beauty, linked to eroticism and seduction, to the sacred and to the secret.

Saggese has repeatedly stated that the photographic apparatus based on the convergence between an electronic sensor and computer processing allows anyone, without prior skill or knowledge, to capture in an instant countless images, still or moving, with high resolution, by the simple gesture of activating a button. It is through this automatic gesture, as in the current selfies compulsive, that each photograph thus obtained reaffirms the conventional syntax of the images that circulate on computer, video, television, or cell phone screens. Saggese does not seek an image of resistance by resorting to analog cameras low tech, but, on the contrary, it uses digital cameras of very high sensitivity, modified to capture the infrared, with lenses of great luminosity, and with sensors that change the depth; subsequently, these images thus produced are modified by him on the computer, in the expectation that this technical intervention will result in artistic potential impossible to obtain in photochemical films.

In this way, Saggese does not convert his technical mastery of new lenses, cameras and computer programs – which integrate the Apparatus as a “black box encoding process”, in Vilém Flusser's characterization – into technique fetishism.[iv] It does not explore the easy, illustrative, utilitarian, digestive effect of technical images that realize what is already previously inscribed in the digital camera program, but “plays with it”, if not against it, as we will see, aiming to produce an unprecedented image that surprise the observer. If in the society of the spectacle, what is displayed is the value of displaying the image, what is done with the intention of producing it – in the cult of the apparatus –; differently, in Saggese's photographs that react to merely decorative interventions, to the saturation of aestheticism, what one sees is an image incompatible with the project of its exhibition.

Let's see the photo series Hylea e Yg. The Hiléia series is the result of Saggese's trips, between 2014 and 2016, to igarapés, holes and igapós, in Pará. On these trips, with light equipment, Saggese sneaked into the forest, which is no longer virgin, as attested by the palisades and boats, visible in his photographs, to capture the mirabilia that appears by itself, requiring, however, in order to be apprehended, prior arrangement on the part of the photographer. It was not, therefore, a question of producing chance – or of taking it as objective chance as a strange encounter between two series of events that were simultaneously similar and independent, cunningly engineered by Nature, as the surrealists wanted – but of simply dedicating redoubled attention to everything that is outside of a probable expectation – as it will also proceed, as will be seen, in the urban video Black. Saggese places himself, in short, in the middle of the forest, in a state of integral receptivity – analogous to floating attention – to apprehend the powerful atmospheric forces hidden in things, if not in places, or in his own precise terms, close here to the archers, to reap “fortune, which rewards the insistent”.

"Hilea" from the Greek hyle, is “forest place”. Hylé is “everything related to wood”, and by extension “construction material”, but it is also a cause – if we resort to Aristotle – “as that which something is made and presents itself”, as Leon Kossovitch teaches, who amalgamates the The two meanings are as follows: “Wooden forest with which something is produced, matter such as leafy mass and everything that thins out here and there, without desertifying it, however”, indicating the presence of man.[v] In the images of Hylea we do not have the figurative art conventions of naturalist photography or landscape painting, such as the horizon line, vanishing points, focus of light, aerial or atmospheric perspective, which would guarantee the modulation, the volumes, the proportion between the figures; finally, the illusionist scene.

In these images, composition, understood as a unit in the multiplicity of elements, or even as a syntagmatic arrangement that organically subordinates the parts to the whole (in terms of hypotaxis) is replaced by the juxtaposition of heterogeneous elements (in terms of parataxis).

The uniqueness of the Hiléia series lies in the graphic effect, of chalcography, dry point or pen and ink, of these photographs. In these photographic images there is no smoke, gradient or halftones of blackness, producing modeling or the illusion of volume, but hachures and almost flat surfaces. On the computer, Saggese enhances some lines or even areas, making them luminescent, and lowers others, obscuring them, in such a way that the final effect is an intensification of the black and white contrast. Among the amendments that prevent the trompe l'oeil, the effect of illusion or naturalistic verisimilitude typical of so-called landscape views, we have, in a given image from this series, a digital treatment that accentuating the darkness of the water makes the scene implausible due to the glare from the sky, shuffling day and night, à la René Magritte.

And more: the very close or very close shots of the forest, as well as the subsequent digital detailing of its leaves, trunks and clouds, also prevent the “real effect”, that is, that the photographic image is taken as a duplicated world that would continue to beyond the frame. Deprived of perspective, the observer, in other words, no longer illusoryly projects the image outside the frame. The abandonment of depth, preventing the image from being extended to the reverse shot (extra-frame), alerts to the materiality of photography, as a language construct, thus highlighting another hitherto invisible or repressed scene, that of the photographer's own work, – the that such images were the result of a selection of intentionally chosen procedures.

On the Serie Yg (Tupi-Guarani term that designates water) Saggese went through igarapés and igapós in the Amazon forest. He went deep into the forest along rivers with clear and, above all, dark waters, because of their shallow depth, in which cases he used canoes (igarapés: “path by canoe”; ygara: canoe; apé: path). They are photographs of riverside vegetation, consisting both of shrubs, water lilies, lianas and mosses, common plants in wetlands, and trees such as rubber trees, buritis and kapok. In several images of Yg we have a graphic effect similar to that of Hileia. Images of her were also digitally altered by Saggese who splashed pollens of light across the surface of the photograph. In some of these images he modified more than points, areas, making, for example, the reflection in the water mirror, a shine of pure silver, thus blurring the dividing line between river and sky. However, there are also in this series, images in brownish or purple tones in which the pictorial effect prevails over the linear effect, the stain triumphs over the line, attenuating the graphic character of Hylea.

In these cases we have an effect similar to that of the series picturesque, exhibited in 2015, which evoked the feeling of the romantic sublime, like that of Edmund Burke at the end of the XNUMXth century. His intention, in these works, is to attribute to the technical images of nature the power to produce an effect of astonishment or astonishment in the observer, which does not result from the sweetened records of nature that circulate uninterruptedly in the media or digital network, as in tourist or ecological portals. In these images by Saggese, on the contrary, everything is set in a whirl so that the viewer, as if taken by a scopic passion (or the madness of the gaze), is swept away by a whirlpool of shapes, lights and shadows. If the association with the so-called romanticism has already been alluded to with regard to picturesque, it is because in the images of this series the blackness of the clouds announcing a storm, or the whiteness of the foam of the waves breaking on the rocks, in such a way that, in front of them, the observer would experience something analogous to a feeling of waiting or suspension (“ Will something happen?”), which would come close to Burke’s notion of “astonishment”, understood as “the passion caused by the grandiose and the sublime in nature”; or even, in the author’s own terms, as “that state of mind in which all movements are stopped because the spirit feels so full of its object that it cannot admit any other nor, consequently, reason about that object that is the target of your attention". [vi]

It is important to note, however, that the misty forms in these photographs – such as the “smoke that mixes with the dusty air when it reaches a certain height” as Leonardo da Vinci described it in Treaty of painting; Claude Monet's water lilies; you sfumatos by Odilon Redon; the vaporizations of JMW Turner; and in the pictorialist line of photography, the clouds of Alfred Stieglitz – lead to the erasure of the referent (of the object as a given place in the forest) thus placing the image “beyond the inherent qualities of the referent”, in such a way that the forest would no longer be observed “by its external appearance, but according to the rules of picturesque beauty”, in the expression of the XNUMXth century author and painter William Gilpin .

For Saggese, the referent moves, in the fruition of these images, from the so-called real or existing world, to other images, not only those referred to above, certainly, but also to Japanese engravings of the floating world of Hiroshigue, Hokusai, or Utamaro (Ukyo-ê); to Armando Reverón's mother-of-pearl light paintings; or the watercolors of the “picturesque atlas of the skies” by Hércules Florence, among other references dear to the photographer.

In the “post-production” work, of altering the pixel codes in order to introduce, for example, tonal variations, Saggese casts suspicion on the representational (or even indicial) nature of the photograph. This is because digital images give visibility to what is imperceptible in the “traditional modes of representation” of photosensitive films, as Antonio Fatorelli has shown.[vii] In view of this careful digital manipulation in the production of the image – from this pixel pictorialism distinct from the pictorialism of photography that emulated painting – and its later printing in splashes of ink on gravure paper or other materials, the viewer cannot detect the modifications, and therefore whether what he sees in the image is a representation of the forest , i.e. if “That was!” effectively witnessed by Saggese, or not.[viii]

Thus, Saggese's photographs are not records of the Amazon rainforest, which in an eulogy would praise its splendor, or ecological photojournalism that would denounce the criminal squandering of natural resources, but technical images produced by devices (cameras, lenses and computers) that suspend the conventions of photography. landscape, a genre inherited from the history of painting. Saggese, however, is not limited to automatically realizing the potentialities already inscribed in the programs of these devices, as we said. He does not use them instrumentally to produce more photographs, but manipulates them, “plays with him”; “plays against him” not allowing himself to be dominated by him. From this manipulation – such as altering an image obtained by a digital camera from another computer program in order to produce luminescent lines or shadowy areas – that explores unknown regions of the devices, “images never seen before” result.

Saggese acts conceptually because technically; which means that its artistic intention first needs to be translated into a concept (in the device's language) and then transcoded into an artistic image by printing on paper. Each photograph would thus be the result of a conflicting relationship between “collaboration and combat” between the photographer and the device, in Flusser's terms. In such a way that, in front of his photograph, the observer can ask if it was the device that appropriated the intention of the photographer, diverting it to the purposes programmed in it, or if it was the photographer that appropriated the intention of the device, submitting it to his own artistic intention. If in the case of cliché images the device diverts the photographer's purposes towards their programmed purposes, reinforcing them, in enigmatic images the artistic intention of the photographer prevails over the coding intent of the device. It is not by denying technical progress and its growing automatism, but by appropriating it, that Saggese regains power over devices.

Saggese does not seek the specificity of photography, but the reciprocal contagions between different languages, such as painting, printmaking, or cinema. “It's a matter for photographers – he says – the shared repertoire of the visual arts lines, planes and textures”. In his series of forests, we thus have lianas of lines and splashes as in the abstract paintings of Mark Tobey or Wols. There is no way to avoid the analogy here between calligraphy and vegetation, trees and writing, visual reading and path; because it is a tangled calligraphy, or more precisely a thicket of strokes – a vegetable stroke. “The universe of the forest is, after all, a simile of “texts difficult to translate”, as Octavio Paz said. The observer's challenge thus becomes that of opening a path amidst this gibberish, this silva de varia lección. In some images of Hileia and Ig there are no figures that stand out from the background, a privileged area that primarily attracts the eye. Faced with these photographs, the eye of the observer, like a nomad, drifts across the surface of the image, in search, never satisfied, of a figure that, operating as a safe harbor (or “inert point”), allows him to anchor himself. The crossing of Saggese through the forest has as a correlate, therefore, the drifting look of the observer – emphasizing that for the homo viator, il viaggio is the metaphor of life.

Saggese's works therefore require the viewer to look at things over time, allowing him to focus on details (in the photographs) and small changes (in the video). This perception of nuances in his images, which requires waiting and slowing down, what idle or postponement, may seem unrealistic in a world governed by performance, for the effective performance that manifests itself, for example, in the immediate recognition of a logo. It is precisely, however, in the perception marked by the delay, by the hesitations, by the loss of time and by the lost time, by the patience in unveiling the secret of an enigmatic image, a face in it that only allows itself to be glimpsed, that we have the denial of temporality the production of clichés or commodities (of voracity and haste), and, consequently, of “anxious hedonism”, as Lipovetsky wants, which is characteristic of financial capitalism – which calls into question any long-term vision in favor of the accelerated circulation of capitals on a global scale.[ix]

And yet: If from the point of view of image production, the digital code – as Mark Hansen states – created a new “modality of bodily participation substantially different from that required by the modernist aesthetic experience” (with analogue or photosensitive images); from the point of view of reception, the impossibility of identifying the technical and procedural singularities of digital images, such as the ones we saw, also requires another participation of the observer, which has already been considered as “affective consciousness”.[X]

Em Noir, the night in the metropolis, 2015, Saggese extends the “decisive moment” in Henri Cartier Bresson's photography to the duration of video sequence shots. Situated between the static image and the dynamic image, his “kinetic photography”, as he calls it, refers to the intent of pure cinema by Hans Richter or Viking Eggeling, in the 1920s; to the structural cinema of Michael Snow or Ernie Gehr, or even to the video art of Andy Warhol or Bil Viola, in the 1960s and 1970s, which, each in their own way, aimed, through the dilation of the instant, to enable the crystallization of time, while duration in the image. your intent on Black was to extend the decisive instant by making it a time-image (or duration), and, in the same operation, bring the movement-image closer to the immobility of the photogram, thus problematizing the temporal regimes of the “photography form” and the “cinema form”. ”.[xi]

If, on the one hand, we have a filmic procedure that aspires to the immobility of photography; on the other hand, we have the fixed image of photography aiming at the mobility of the filmic image. Unlike static photography, Saggese's kinetic photography, like the cinematographic image, imposes a certain temporality on observation. In industrial or entertainment cinema, marked by the acceleration of editing, however, there is a section of time that reduces each sequence shot to a few seconds, while in kinetic photography the movement does not result from the montage, from the collision of planes, but from the displacement of people and vehicles within each plane, which is apprehended in extended time.

If in an exhibition or photo book we only have the images that were taken from the “contact proofs” – which bring together all the photos from a given film, thus allowing us to know the photographer’s work process – what we see in noir clips are shots of ten to one hundred seconds arranged in a given sequence, based on hours of footage, given that, in Saggese's estimation, only one in two hundred clips collected, integrated the final edition. Faced with the question: “What do Saggese’s images expect from us?”, it can be answered, also here, that it is the technique of the delay: the jealous and sluggish perception, that is, the time necessary for “in the observation of these images, everything that happens in them begins to be born”.[xii]

This silent capture video of the rhythms of cars, cyclists, skateboards, skates; of leisure in the parks, of the nocturnal wandering of the homeless, it is inscribed, without mimicry, in a lineage of reference films about the city, such as: Manhattan by Paul Strand, from 1921; The Laugh at the hours, by Alberto Cavalcanti, from 1926; The Symphony of the Metropolis by Walter Rutttmann and, particularly to São Paulo, Symphony of the Metropolises by Adalberto Kemeny and Rudolfo Lustig, both from 1927. Black which can also evoke Paranoia by Roberto Piva and the empty night by Hugo Koury, is a juxtaposition of time blocks independent, since they do not form part of a narrative. Its edition was limited to the cut that starts or ends each shot and its arrangement in a certain sequence. The camera is always fixed, without traveling shots, as well as fixed is also the focus that does not resort to the effects zoom meeting. The oscillations of the image in some planes result solely from tripod shakes or the photographer's breathing.

In all the works seen, there is the same search for an image with the ability to reach us, to incite us, with its “intense and disturbing beauty”, in the expression of Jean Galard, who opposes it to the “exaggerated beauty” that “attracts , but does not injure or incite”, from the society of the spectacle.[xiii] Hence his interest in the cult value of photography that is visible in the “Mecânica” series, which features, as we have seen, the relationship between “the magical presence of the poster and the mechanic who works there”; in photos deposited by family members next to tombstones or tombstones; or even in the series ex-votos, from 1995, aimed at the miracle rooms of Churches, in which the offeror deposits a photo in search of the granting of a grace. In these cases, Saggese was interested in the cult value attributed to photography by those who offer it, who take the photo as a magical image, as a mute presence, as a silent tumult capable of giving them what life has stolen from them.

Saggese, as we have seen, does not seek the specificity of photography – “the essentialist question, of an ontological nature, proper to modernism” – from André Bazin to Roland Barthes – but its relations with the plastic arts, cinema, and the new technologies of computing.[xiv] Thus, his search is not for the purism of form or the autonomy of the photographic specific, but for the possibilities opened up by the hybridity of photography with other arts. His challenge, above all, is to think through his photographs of the consequences of the absence of indexicality in the digital image; because if the analogical inscription presupposed physical contact (light fixed on a photosensitive surface); the digital image, as is known, is the codification of mathematical or abstract procedures, which therefore dispenses with “the contact between world and image, between machine and reference” – “the current mode of the indexical”.[xv]

In summary: even if one admits that at the present time nothing seems to be in conflict anymore, which means to say that the collapse “does not cease to wreak havoc on the bodies and spirits of each one”, as Didi-Huberman has already warned, it does not it must presuppose the exhaustion of still possible forms of resistance. In other words: in the “immanence of the historical world” where “the enemy does not stop winning”, Saggese's enigmatic image, of unsettling beauty, operates as an index of survivals. It is not necessary, however, to attribute to his images, which operate as counter-images, a value of redemption or salvation because, as Didi-Huberman himself emphasized, destruction, even if continuous, “is never absolute”.

Investing in the unprecedented possibilities of metamorphoses opened up by new techniques and supports, such as digital ones, Saggese's photographs and videos are, thus, beautiful thoughtful images, images that sensibly force thought (because there is no point in them that does not look at us, questioning us). us) interrupting every performative organization, every convention or context that can be mastered by the conventionalism of the image-generating machine of digital and mass media that is always tautological, because it results from the interchangeability of cliché images.

*Ricardo Fabbrini He is a professor at the Department of Philosophy at USP. Author, among other books, of Art after the vanguards (Unicamp).

Partially modified version of the article originally published in the book YG/ Photographs by Antonio Saggese. São Paulo, Editora Madalena, 2017.


[I] Jean Baudrillard; Full screen, myth-ironies of the virtual and image era. Porto Alegre: Sulina, 2005.

[ii] Hans Belting; The real picture. Porto: Dafne Editora, 2011.

[iii] Gilles Deleuze; Cinema 1: The movement-image. Sao Paulo: Brasiliense, 1st. edition, 1985.

[iv] Vilem Flusser, Black box philosophy. So Paulo: Hucitec, 1985.

[v] Leon Kossovitch; “Saggese in the Amazon”; In Antonio Saggese; Hylea. São Paulo: Editora Madalena, 1st. edition, 2016.

[vi] Edmund Burke; A philosophical inquiry into the origin of our ideas of the sublime and the beautiful. Campinas: Unicamp Editorial, 2nd. edition, 2013.

[vii] Factorelli, A. Contemporary photography: between cinema, video and new media. Rio de Janeiro: National Senac, 2013.

[viii] Roland Barthes; The camera lucida. 2.ed. Rio de Janeiro: New Frontier, 1984.

[ix] Gilles Lipovetsky and Charles Sebastien. Hypermodern times. 1st edition. Sao Paulo: Barcarolla, 2004

[X] Mark BN Hansen, New philosophy for new media. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004.

[xi] Antonio Fatorelli, op. cit., p.67

[xii] kiarostami tabs apoud Antonio Fatorelli, op. cit., p. 127

[xiii] Jean Galard; Exorbitant beauty: reflections on aesthetic abuse. 1st. edition. São Paulo: Editora Fap-Unifesp, 2012.

[xiv] Arlindo Machado; The specular illusion: a theory of photography. São Paulo: Gustavo Gilli, 2005.

[xv] Antonio Fatorelli; op. cit., p.67.

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