A Metaphysical Approach to the City
Gabriele Croppi (1974) graduated in Photography at Instituto Italiano di Fotografia in Milan. He works in the field of photography and video, with the research focused on the relationship between photography and other arts, such as painting, literature, film and architecture.
Croppi has received international awards and his photos have been shown in several exhibitions. He lives in Milan working in the publishing industry, photography and collecting market. Since 2020 he is professor of Photography of Cultural Heritage at the Ligustica Academy of Fine Arts in Genoa.
Gabriele, if someone asked you to describe Paris in 3 words, what wold those be?
I would like to use just one word to express my feeling towards this city in a strong way: “Avant-gardes”. Because Paris, for me, is above all the Paris of the early 20th century. The Paris of the avant-garde, of artistic ferment, of great, poor and restless artists, and of passionate collectors and atelier frequenters.
I miss this Paris. I miss a past that I have not lived and that seems so distant and different from today's city. Perhaps, it is for this reason that I decided to represent Paris by combining a strong symbol like that of the Eiffel Tower, with an equally strong symbol, that of a mannequin, a very frequent topos, both in the avant-gardes of the early 1900s, and in much of the photography that came later.
This view of Paris is actually a part of a broader project you are part of called the “Metaphysics of an Urban Landscape”, could you tell me more about this project?
“Metaphysics of the Urban Landscape” is a series that I have been carrying out for over 10 years, perhaps the best known and most awarded work I have ever made.
It is the series that allowed me to achieve a recognizable style, with very precise poetic and aesthetic identities, which refer to a universe of stimuli and influences that have contributed to my training. Above all pictorial and literary.
When I made the first image of this series, in 2004, I was in Buenos Aires, and I was working on a project inspired by the great writer J. L. Borges. At that moment, I didn't recognize that image. Or rather: I did not understand that it could represent the beginning of a new research. It took me several years to figure it out. It happened to me in Madrid, I think, in 2008 or 2009.
I remember well that in those days I was reading a novel by Kafka, The Castle. That reading was of great importance and allowed me to become aware of a new way of photographing.
In The Castle, Kafka represents the world in a very logical and realistic way, but at the same time, in a subtle and even a bit mysterious way, the reader is projected into another dimension, extra-real, or precisely , metaphysics.
With Kafka I realized that it was possible to overcome reality without strange sleight of hand or the inclusion of fantastic elements. It was possible to overcome reality by remaining within the canons of realistic representation and without betraying the fundamental characteristics of the photographic language.
In the sense of an interpretation of an European identity, could we consider your work also as a political one? The message of unity and liberty is definitely visible, through the common cultural codes, socio-cultural references and the common experience as citizens in modern urban environments.
I don't deal with politics in the strict and militant sense. The art I love is very distant from politics and deals with universal issues. In this sense, I believe I am a classical artist, even if my imprinting has passed through the study of the avant-gardes.
Despite these premises, despite my will, I believe that my research may also have political implications. The most important, as you have anticipated, concerns the theme of European identity. I have already said: I believe that I am a fundamentally "classic" artist. As was de Chirico, who is often quoted by those who look at my photographs.
Classicism is expressed not only in aesthetic terms, but also in poetic, if not ideological terms. The reference to classicism can then also become a political gesture and remind us all of who we are, where we come from, and the importance that the Greek and Roman civilizations have had in the construction of our Europe.
My research uses a term, "metaphysics", which was coined by Aristotle in 300 BC, more than 2000 years ago. The large sculptures by Mitoraj that I photographed at La Defense also refer to our ancient roots. More and more often, I think that Europe has lost this sense of belonging, ignoring the historical and cultural value of our roots ...
Your monochromatic photographs leave an impression of frozen highly esthetic cinematic images. I can immediately see scenes of movies from Antonioni or Bergman. What role plays the film in your work?
In 2009 I made a photographic work entitled "Visions", inspired by four great cinematographic works: The sky above Berlin by Wim Wenders, Stalker by Andrej Tarkovskij, Quarto power, by Orson Weelles and Metropolis by Fritz Lang. Cinema was very present in my research, both directly and indirectly, as a source of inspiration.
My next goal is to make a film about Fernando Pessoa, the great Portuguese poet I have been studying for over 20 years. I have already made a short film which is visible on my Vimeo page: https://vimeo.com/315223298
How important is the condition of an individual in your work? I am asking because the position of individuals is quite interesting, as we perceive the characters both as victims and strangers swallowed and dominated by the immensity of the urban landscape.
In my photographs I try to create "potential stories", and the characters have a dramatic function. It is important that the story is not evident, but that it leaves room for the imagination or feeling of those who observe and interpret what they see. In this sense my images are "metaphysical".
From a linguistic point of view the meaning transcends the “physicality” of the images, and is generated through the combination of external elements, the most important of which is represented by the degree of interpretation of the observer.
In recent years I have happened to work on the theme of dance theater. Theater-dance is a beautiful artistic discipline, which I would like to continue to deepen with new collaborations.
The dance theater communicates, in a universal way, through the plasticity and movement of the body. And often, this plasticity is surprising: it betrays traditional aesthetic canons and imposes new, uncodified situations on the observer, which free him from any sort of interpretative automatism. In the dance theater, actors and spectators are "evicted" from their "comfort zone": the only important thing is the "here and now", are the feelings generated by the experience that unfolds in front of their eyes.
This type of experience, in my opinion, is very authentic, very "adrenalinica". I hope to be able to bring something of this emotion into my work.
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