Silvio Wolf with Lyle Rexer – The Brooklyn Rail

Lyle Rexer (rail): I remember very well the first works I saw by you, during a private exhibition, “Icons of light”, as you called them. These were photographs of paintings, taken at such an angle that the reflected light erased the image. These were framed like paintings and then hung on the wall. These “icons” rendered nothing but the absence of an image, and yet they provoked the desire to see beyond this moment of blindness. Is it fundamental in your approach to photography, that it can be both revealed and hidden?

It has become common today to use the term “abstract” in relation to photography, as if it were movement. I think the assumption is that these images either link to nothing or are manipulated in a way to obscure the content. I applied it to your work as well, but in a very specific way. I wonder if this term made you uncomfortable, like others? Is there a sense in which you would consider your work to be abstract?

Silvio Wolf: I have often wondered what the term abstract means in photography, as the classic statuses of the medium maintain an indissoluble umbilical cord with reality. In my opinion, it rather indicates the abstraction of the river of time: an immobile and suspended temporal fragment, an infinite, absolute present. Nevertheless, the photographic medium is able to indicate an abstract view of the real, alluding to non-retinal interpretations of the visible, hypersensitive forms, symbolically recognized mental images in the real.

Rail: In this sense, all photography has as its true subject what cannot be seen, that is to say what associations are made in the mind of the viewer for which the photograph is a starting point. This leads me to reconsider the series that made perhaps the strongest initial impression on me, called “Horizons.” These include large works that appear to be nothing more than irregular bands of color. When I saw them on display, I listened to people talk about them as if they were abstract paintings. Rothko is probably what they had in mind. I didn’t feel like that. I was struck by their photographic, chemical side, and also by the remarkable fact that they divulge everything but hide as much. It was a horizon to which I responded, that between seeing and thinking.

Wolf: “Horizons” are writings of light self-generated during the process of charging the camera, beyond the consciousness and will of the photographer. They are sensitive manifestations of the light printed on the photosensitive surface before it records its first image: they are images in advance in latent form, already active before meeting the gaze and the experience of the subject. Each “Horizon” is a waste of the photographic process, the leading film developed with the full web of sensitive material to reveal all exposed images. It is an off-camera process that takes place in the camera: a paradox that produces pre-photographic images directly written by light.

With the term “Horizon”, I designate the result of an act of appropriation: these films are not mine. My paternity resides in the recognition and suggestion of a possible meaning to the photographic object, and not in the shooting. My object is not the world but the language, the code of the visible world. I am interested in the latency and the revelation of the image, its sensitive manifestation, the possibility of an appearance and the icon that arises from the intimate relationship between light, time and matter: a chance that realized.

Rail: It takes us away from a purely subject-centric or expressive experience of photography, yielding to chance, found materials and the activity of time, and positioning the result in the language of the medium, as a way to challenge aspects of photography. this language. In fact, I don’t think you’ve been given credit for engaging contemporary critics of the medium. But, as I always tell my students, museum curation and theorizing is a favorite game.

Wolf: In my opinion, the “Horizons” are the last true photographs of the 21st century. Everything has already been photographed in one way or another. Google shows us that the skin of the visible is fully mapped, just as the entire DNA string has been deciphered and encoded. Scientists claim that only about four percent of existing matter is visible, and therefore, I infer, photographable, while the remaining ninety-six percent is classified partly as dark matter and partly with the term even more enigmatic black energy. These terms seem to denote an existing reality that is not obvious to light-based means of observation, and perhaps not even representable through related analytical thought.

If the “Horizons” are ultimate photographs of the existing visible, their summation and reduction to the roots of language can also offer the most “objective” image, in which the object and the image of the object coincide, generating a model of reality which is the limit between light and its absence, between matter and language. Language and subject no longer seem to need an object external to them to communicate: it is the language that speaks (to us). These works represent a boundary between photographic objectivity and abstraction, meaning that the latter term is not non-referential, but a pure interpretation of light revealed photographically. I exercise my will in choosing the amount of white (excess information) and black (absence of information) to include in the image, and the position at which to place the threshold: the line that separates the light of its absence, the latency of its manifestation, and finally the power of the act.

Rail: Your evocation of limits leads to another concept, also metaphysical, which animates your work and which has been a constant concern, that of the threshold. This metaphor – I hesitate to call it that because it is also literalized – has taken many different forms, from actual thresholds – doors and architectural passages – to more recent mirror-based works in which the viewers themselves become directly involved. as subjects. They – we – cross a threshold in their presence.

Wolf: The threshold belongs in different forms to all my work, reflecting on the concepts of limit, absence and elsewhere and, ultimately, the presence and absence of light. In architectural images, I recognize the threshold of transitional sites, which I explore through metaphors of space and symbols of places interpreted as models of reality. The most extraordinary model of symbolic space I have ever encountered is the Mihrab, the Islamic prayer niche. It represents a pure direction of gaze, and in the eye of the worshiper, indicates the most sacred place. The Mihrab is not significant as an object, but it identifies and makes visible a void. In my photograph and in reality, this niche can be perceived as having either a concave shape or a convex shape; the first indicates an absence; the latter is the clear representation of an illusion. In my vision, the Mihrab results from a double negation: it is neither a place nor a thing, being absent in the very space of its location. It always represents another place, distant and not directly visible: it is a void that indicates an elsewhere. I see the Mihrab as a symbol capable of giving man the power of ubiquity because it allows the believer to be here and there at the same time, a virtual place and an act of faith.

Rail: So not one or the other but always both.

Wolf: “Thresholds” connects and separates simultaneous visions of the interior and the exterior which are a border overlooking two worlds, one of which cannot exist without the other: everything that separates also connects. And vice versa. Each work results from a physical encounter and a direct experience. There is recognition of a given place expressed in time and space, rendered by light. My predilection for transition zones seems to indicate, once again, that photography, considered as a symbolic language, can be thought of as a threshold between the visible and its multiple levels of interpretation: the point of balance between material/ immaterial and real/possible.

Likewise the position of the spectator. The “Mirror Thresholds” series includes direct inkjet prints on mirror surfaces in which the viewer’s reflection appears in the non-image portions of the image. It represents both the inside and the outside: precisely where the surface is devoid of image, in the void left free by the absence of information, it embraces both the phenomenological world and the inner world of the image. “Mirror Thresholds” extends the idea of ​​photography from the very place of the shot to where it is seen, and the exposure from the moment it is taken to the present of the observer. hic et nunc: their perspective, their time and their experience. The works focus on the who rather than or beyond the what, as the viewer’s attention shifts from the referent, reduced to a distant background noise of retinal vision, to the subject confronting the actuality of the work, activating it with each new look.

Rail: There is something distinctly old-fashioned about this metaphysical turn, and yet I sense in some critics and some artists a willingness to move away from the dominant socio-political discourse on photography and media theory to reconnect with photography as way of knowing. It has been stripped of its modernist absolutism, but revealed as a vision with, a deep complement to the limits of our individual human vision.

Wolf: I ask myself: is the truth of an image inscribed in the eye of the beholder? Where is it to be recognized? Like the pearl of an oyster, which is generated in a point of contact and friction, does it reside in the place which unites and separates both two flows of information and two truths: on the threshold? What discourse is suitable for understanding and deepening this experience of ourselves and of reality?

Rail: I know your growing interest in Judaism has had an impact on your work. I wonder what you read and studied while planning your work.

Wolf: Well, on the one hand, I encountered the following words of Russian theologian, philosopher and scientist Pavel Florensky that resonated with my concept of the threshold:

According to the words of Genesis, God “created heaven and earth” and this division of all creation into two parts has always been considered fundamental. Thus, in the confession of faith, we call God “Creator of things visible and invisible”. These two worlds, the visible and the invisible, are in contact. However, the difference between them is so great that the problem of the border which puts them in contact, which distinguishes them but also unites them, cannot but arise. How can this be understood?

Obviously, this is at the heart of the related religions of the Middle East, as well as other traditions where the sacred and the profane are separate but contiguous realms. Beyond that, however…

Each “Horizon” is a genesis of light in time, a present that alludes to a possible elsewhere. Each “Horizon” is a threshold made visible, the real and immaterial place that unites what separates; I photographically represent a process of experience and transition: all of life is a continuous crossing of thresholds.

Comments are closed.