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Make the invisible visible

An extract from the afterword to the latest book by the famous Italian photographer Franco Fontana, «Invisible», curated by Lorenzo Respi. In sixty years of his career Fontana has photographed the invisible, managing to fix through the frame an ‘other‘ image that is abstracted from reality, free from the subject portrait.

I am invisible

«The creative photographer does not reproduce but testifies to the world, interpreting it in a shocking way for the eyes of those who look. In other words, through his gaze he makes the invisible visible; and it is then that photography becomes invention, therefore art». Although, at first, reading these concepts may seem simple, almost superficial for their brevity, in reality Franco Fontana supports them with solid arguments both in theoretical interventions and in practice lessons, because he is convinced that freeing the inner thought is the only possible way to reach the photography and the understanding of his intimate artistic soul.

Lectio magistralis by Franco Fontana at the Salone d’onore of the Milan Triennale, November 2013.

Before our eyes, in fact, the physical world already exists, that raw material of seeing and of daily life that manifests itself in various forms and infinite colors, which is in perpetual becoming, like the incessant flow of human thought. The artist photographer, therefore, must overcome the appearance, the sensitive data, to ‘see beyond’ and inside its substance: in the end, in the complexity of the real world he will find only what he has inside – experience, culture and knowledge – so will photograph not so much what will see as rather what was, is and will always be in time.


Rediscovering the little boy

To do this it is necessary to know and accept each other, perhaps rediscovering that ‘child‘, so dear to the poet Giovanni Pascoli, that It «is the one, therefore, that is afraid in the dark, because in the dark he sees or believes he sees; what in the light he dreams or seems to dream, remembering things never seen; what he speaks to beasts, trees, stones, clouds, stars: that populates the shadow of ghosts and the sky of gods. He is the one who cries and laughs, without reason, about things that escape our senses and our reason».

Franco Fontana ‘knows himself‘ very well; he discovered himself using the camera, an extraordinary democratic tool to dig into his own self. Through his introspective gaze he proposes an unprecedented representation of today’s world that thanks to the creative invention becomes hypervisible and elevates the shot from a simple practical act to an artistic work.


There is little to do: shooting is a matter of thought. You have to photograph what you think, not what you see. You shoot with your mind, not your fingers. The images are an emanation of the photographer, they translate into a universally understandable language his interpretation of the world». The eye sees, the finger snaps, together intuition and instant give life to the work of art.


Traces of invisible in Franco Fontana

Already the American photographer Dorothea Lange argued that «the camera is a tool that teaches people how to see without the camera.» Therefore, if photographing is a double act of self-consciousness and knowledge, we can consider the entire corpus of Franco Fontana’s works as an encyclopedic catalogue of snapshots of thought, self-portraits of inner landscapes, impressions of metaphysical truths, of traces of the invisible, that fill the emptiness of the spirit that from the origin pervades everything.

So what is ‘invisible’ in Franco Fontana’s work? What remains ‘visible’ of the invisible in his shots? Why did your photographs enter fully into the history of art? The possible answers to these questions were the pretext to propose to Franco Fontana and his studio–archive to read the work of the artist with a new key, outside the traditional canons of history and criticism of photography, expanding the perspective of analysis to the wider field of visual arts of modern and contemporary age. The result is in this book: a long and meticulous archival research, conducted together with the artist and Uti and Cristina. This research has allowed to select and order over a hundred shots. Many of them are unpublished or restored for the occasion, which tell the Franco Fontana ‘invisible‘.

Excerpt from Invisible, 2022.
Edited by Lorenzo Respi, the Italian edition contains a booklet with aphorisms by Fontana, 33 thoughts on photography.

Franco Fontana is one of the most weell known Italian photographers. Check his Bio.

Lorenzo Respi is currently director of the exhibitions and collections department of Fondazione Modena Arti Visive.  He is a member of the Scientific Committee of the Arnaldo Pomodoro Foundation of Milan, of which he was Curator from 2004 to 2012.

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