Monday, March 5, 2012

Photographs by Andrea Pacanowski: you won't believe your eyes

Hello my sweet bloglings, have I got a treat for you today! A brand new exhibit opened this past Friday at the Museum of Rome in Trastevere. On display are 40 works by Roman contemporary photographer Andrea Pacanowski. One look at these images will send your mind swirling in a kaleidoscope of colors, but there's something else, something you won't believe.

The title of the exhibit is: Before me: the crowd and the religious experience. I agree with you, that doesn't translate very well. All'infuori di me (meaning literally 'besides me' or 'except for me') is a quote from the first commandment: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me". Folla does mean crowd, but it is a strong word, could even be translated as mob in certain cases.

The photos were captured the holiest cities of the world's major monotheistic religions, mostly Jerusalem, Fez and Rome. The subject of every work is a religious mass, a large group of people coming together for prayer, worship or ritual. But what sets Pacanowski's photos apart is not their subject matter or their composition, or the glorious colors he captures. It is the almost unbelievable fact that he uses no post-production techniques of any kind. Let me say that again:

He uses no post-production techniques of any kind. Not only that, each of the images is captured with old fashioned film. Absolutely nothing digital about these photographs.

I'm guessing your reaction is like mine when I saw these photos for the first time: disbelief. But it's true. Then how? How did he do it? Well I was tempted to ask him just that when I saw him at the inauguration, but I was overcome by a rare bout of shyness, and a worry that I hadn't read the press release thoroughly, so not wanting to embarrass myself, I kept my mouth shut.

After a bit of post-exhibit studying, I found out his secret. (Spoiler alert, if you'd prefer to visit the exhibit without knowing, stop reading now!)

Each photograph is merely a reflection of an image. None of the subjects were shot directly. Some kind surface, such as canvas, wood or glass, was applied with either chalk, paint, silicone or some other substance, and then scratched or in other ways manipulated. Then the prepared surface was set up in such a way that it caught the reflection of the subject and voilà.

These mesmerizing photos look at once like watercolors, complete abstract art and impressionist paintings. Like impressionist art, many of them have to be looked at from several steps back to be able to recognize the subject. But by studying them close up, you are able to guess at some of the particulars of the preparatory technique, which is every bit as fascinating.

A tiny computer screen will never do justice to these amazing photos, so do yourself a favor and go see this astounding exhibit in person. See my Exhibits on Now page for visiting information.

I will leave you with the capolavoro of the exhibition. At first you may simply see a Catholic procession and nothing else. But look a little closer, or, on second thought, look a little further away. Once you see it you won't be able to imagine how you missed it before.

All images copyright Andrea Pacanowski and provided courtesy of Zètema Press Office.

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