When Augusto Ferrari arrived in Argentina in 1914, he was an experienced artist at the height of his career. In Italy, he had already made extensive use of photography in his visual production. The oldest photographs in this group, which are also the most numerous and complex, are those made in the context of his murals for the Church of San Miguel in Buenos Aires. The images show people posing in biblical clothing—or rather, garments considered biblical according to the pictorial conventions of the Renaissance—and depict scenes such as the Marriage at Cana or the Last Supper, as well as individual portraits of saints and prophets, aristocrats and common people.
With their unyielding realism, these portraits and group photographs invoke a question of photographic representation that continues to preoccupy us today. The direct and literal translation of the person or thing photographed (this ‘denoted message’, according to Barthes, i.e. this translation from the real to the two-dimensional, without mediation by a code of signs—such as painting, drawing, or engraving—independent from the thing itself) tyranically conditions its verisimilitude, which remains grounded in the moment itself and the concrete circumstances of the shot. Thus, in the photographic domain, that which is represented (or rather, we should logically say, presented) imposes a sort of basic and rudimentary ontology by which a cardboard crown or a cotton-ball beard are no more and no less than children’s dress-ups or carnival costumes, which, by definition, taint with puerility any scene they are intended to ‘truthfully’ depict. If we did not know that the theatrical garments and poses were made to serve as a guide for a muralist—which lends them a particular, and, as already noted, often charming, verisimilitude—, we would associate these works with the ‘tableaux vivants’ (living pictures) prepared in schools and parishes on the occasion of civic and religious celebrations, whose extraordinary naïveté is so striking to the contemporary eye.
From Photographie d’un Peintre, by Luis Priamo.
Andrés Duprat, exhibition curator.
Exhibition produced with the support of the Argentinian Embassy in France, the Argentinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Worship Affairs, the French Embassy in Argentina and Air France.
Exhibition organised with assistance from the Augusto and Léon Ferrari Foundation.
Framing by Jean-Pierre Gapihan, Paris.