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Crossroads | by Manolis Skantzakis | Photography
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The ideology of the Italian Futurists, whose manifesto was published on the front page of Le Figaro in 1909, celebrated technological progress and the machine age. The artists associated with the group sought material expressions of kinesis and dynamis, movement and energy, which were held up as paradigmatic values of the new modern sensibility. A frontal attack on the past and, on the level of aesthetics, a denial of movements such as pictorialism, Futurism would seem to have found its ideal medium in photography, yet the relationship between the two was fraught with conflict. While the photographic image was on one level the perfect marriage of art and science, its static and lifeless nature was antithetical to the Futurist concept of ‘universal dynamism’: rather than expressing the perpetual activity of life, photography arrested it. The Futurists therefore did not immediately accept photography as an art form, but deployed it propagandistically: members posed for their portraits, which were then circulated as postcards and in the press in order to publicize the group; photography was also used to record its activities. For the Futurists, the fact that photography lent itself to the manipulation of reality, that an image could be constructed, only underscored the notion that the camera could not be relied upon to express universal dynamism. The Bragaglia brothers, however, challenged this. Influenced by the ideas of the prominent Futurist Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916), the chronophotography of Étienne-Jules Marey, and also by Henri Bergson's theories of movement, in 1911 Anton Giulio Bragaglia began developing an aesthetics of ‘photodynamism’ while his brother Arturo handled the production of images. Photodynamism involved high-key lighting and long exposures to capture sudden gestures in a way that depicted movement as an indivisible reality, rather than a sequence of static poses. In 1913 they were accepted into the group and photodynamism became the first Futurist expression of photography as an art form. Yet the Bragaglias' place in the group was short-lived as Boccioni came to reject all photography as mechanical and therefore outside the realm of artistic expression. The Bragaglias were thus excommunicated from the group, though they continued their research and maintained relations with many of its members. In addition to the use of photography for purposes of propaganda and the photodynamism of the Bragaglias, the Futurists experimented with photo-performance. Working with the conception of photography as a constructed reality, the painter and sculptor Fortunato Depero (1892-1960), among other, pushed portraiture in new directions by play-acting to the camera. The result captured something of the dynamism so vital to Futurist aesthetics by presenting an explosive and emotive alternative to conventional portraiture. The coming of war in 1915, and later the rise of fascism, ultimately led to the dissolution of Italy's first avant-garde art movement, but not before the work of the Futurists had stimulated an interest in experimental uses and techniques of photography.

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Taken on February 5, 2009