Of Time and Photography

Francesco Rombaldi
Yogurt Curator

reading time: 3′



Grasping the ethereal side of the things has always been a prerogative of artists and romantics. And fighting against irrepresentability has often condemned to torment those who, in embracing the muse, in that precise embrace, received both ecstasy and frustration.

The inevitability of time treads our lives with a rhythmic pace.
It is perhaps the most invisible arrogance to which we are subjected.

It is therefore interesting to see how in photography, a tendentially timeless expressive art, we tried to represent it, celebrating the boldness of those who, while trying, adopted the language of seriality. As if they wanted to scan time with time, in a sort of sophisticated visual revenge.

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Stephen Gill and Hayahisa Tomiyasu embody three different approaches to the same problem: circumscribing and portraying a conceptual abstraction through images.

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Theaters
Damiani and Matsumoto Editions, Bologna, Italy, 2016

In Sugimoto, the question arose spontaneously.
He began to focus his research on cinemas and theatres, trying to impress onto the photos everything that happened during the film that was screened.

Theatre is therefore a series of long exposures that last from the beginning of the projection to its end, in an attempt to impress the time on the plate, in its unfolding. Catching it. Compressing it.
The film becomes light. The room empties because the long exposure in contemplating every single movement of the spectators dissolves them.
The space becomes solemn, inhabited by a quivering, invisible vitality.
Each image embraces not exactly an extemporaneous moment, but rather the sum of every action and interaction that manifests itself in that period of time, between the beginning and the end of the screening, thus demonstrating how a time segment absorbs, in its flow, all the complexity of the manifestations that take place there.

Sugimoto summarizes the change, while Gill and Tomiyasu obsessively capture the moment, the variation.

Stephen Gill, The Pillar
Nobody Books, 2019

On a wooden pole, in a field, Gill’s Pillar collects the slow passing of the seasons, marked by the narcissism of the birds that settle there.
The Pillar takes us into an intimate parenthesis that tastes like freshly harvested wheat, cold rain that stings our backs. These are seasons that are felt, passing one after the other, in a continuous game with the spectator, a harmless referee of the passing of time.
Stephen Gill is in a latent contemplation of a narrative that develops around him, despite him.

If in Gill’s work the horizon is inhabited by solitudes that are consumed in a whirl of wings, Hayahisa Tomiyasu’s TTP is almost the contrary.

Hayahisa Tomiyasu, TTP
Mack, 2018

Here is a ping pong table, the “main character” of the author’s voyeuristic gaze who elects it as the epicentre of the social fabric. A contemporary totem, around which the humanity gravitates unaware of the performative gesture it passively delivers to the spectators.
Tomiyasu, a winking spy, accompanies us with consumed awareness, creating, in the absence of the ping pong table, an unexpected cyclicity in the body of the book, thus probably responding to the urge to create a closure, to imprison the temporal flow in a spiral: an attempt which is probably futile, but not so different from Sugimoto’s series, in which circularity is consumed in every single image, which is in itself both the beginning and the end, as if wanting to harness the passage of time, in an attempt to grasp its essence.

Catching the moment. Wrestle with it. Seizing it. Denying it.
Devoting too many minutes to an article that explores it more or less vacuously.
There are only ways of escaping his/her own mortality, of understanding and deciphering the invisible.
And probably, in this case, they help us to be less afraid.