In photography, and a lot of other art forms, we often encounter the ‘déjà vu’ feeling. Italian photographer Umberto Verdoliva plays with this concept by combining his images with similar photographs, often from well-known photographers from the past, but also by his contemporaries. Verdoliva did not know these images when he was making his own, and by placing them side by side, he demonstrates how much we inspire and influence each other, and how the same things can be seen by different eyes, in different times.
Robert Doisneau – Umberto Verdoliva
Hi Umberto, thank you for taking the time. Can you tell us more about this project and how it came into being?
When I approached photography for the first time, I was lucky enough to read the book “The Ongoing Moment” by Geoff Dyer. The main concept was about the relationships between some themes and objects that return – always the same ones – in images framed by different eyes and in a different ways. He undoubtedly fascinated and impressed me.
Analysing and commenting on photography, Dyer dialogues with well-known artists (Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, André Kertész, Diane Arbus, Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, William Eggleston etc.), making questions to them, going deep into their thoughts, investigating their lives. With the guiding idea that even though he could not meet them alive, he has dialogued with them virtually through their own work.
I do not consider the project completed yet, due to the infinite possibility of finding moments already seen and captured by others. I was unaware of the fact that some of my visual approaches look similar to other photographers from the past. This surely amazed me, because there was no targeted research on my side or the desire to “copy” well-known photographs. For me it’s just a random discovery (in books, on websites or during exhibitions) of shoots very similar to some photos of mine.
I believe that all this marks the guiding line of Dyer’s book, confirming the pages that have given so much to my personal growth and my understanding of photography.
It is not an act of presumption, but an act of love towards photography. This time my “confrontation” is with the greatest photographers of the past.. After all, it’s a recognition that somehow we remain indebted to the past and that the “beauty of the moment” is as infinite as the photograph itself.
What do you think when you see these images next to each other?
They amaze me. They confirm that those who have an attentive photographic eye are attracted by certain situations and similar moments. The photographic talent is expressed through these moments.
What is your definition of originality and what does it mean to you?
Being original, for me it’s being able to achieve something new with photography. This project shows that capturing similar moments with the camera is not original. It’s more original to understand it, and put these moments together to prove it.
What is your favourite combination and why?
All of them. These combinations are already the result of a selection. I was very struck by the similarity of my photography to that of Kertesz or Otto Humber, having had the same vision for me means that most likely we have points in common on the idea of beauty and how to express it.
What do you think about the repetitions and trends in street photography nowadays?
In recent years, many people have approached photography and above all in street photography the interest in this genre has been incredible. It is clear that the web has made it easy for everyone to propose and present their images. Everyone has the opportunity to use this powerful tool as a vehicle for personal propaganda, a continuous showcase. A competitive vision has slowly taken hold and the search for “fantastic and unlikely moments” to hit the observers has been the trend of recent years. Getting noticed by winning contests, entering into collectives, participating in exhibitions now leads to having advantages in terms of personal and even economic visibility. I believe that the trend is unfortunately based on the desire to find a personal affirmation. The photographic repetitions derive from this tendency. The search for such complex moments to strike and assert themselves leads, in the long run, to moving away from the true meaning that genre has had historically; to tell humanity to leave traces of memory, to allow future generations to understand the society of today, like the great masters of the past did.
Thank you, Umberto!
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