INTERVIEW WITH A CELEBRATED AMERICAN PHOTOGRAPHER
Larry Siegel: Images of an Interior World
To create a photograph means that one seizes hold of reality; to look at a photograph means that one easily becomes acquainted with the world, a world which seems deprived of its most problematic and least controllable dimension, that of movement and transformation. Gianfranco Bettetini, a scholar of social communication wrote that in 1980. We can use what he wrote as a starting point for illustrating Larry Siegel's work. Mr. Siegel is a world famous photographer who currently lives in Lodi.
We can use Bettetini’s writings as a starting point so that later we’ll be able to demonstrate how in the discourse of the American photographer the photograph will also come to assume a kind of movement with its own dynamic. A lack of expressivity is avoided when it comes to photographic images taking on a multiplicity of meanings and dimensions. It is here then that photography has arrived at the threshold of the symbolic and has even exceeded those boundaries. We can think about it as immediate visual communication consisting of the flow of emotions introduced between the viewer and the image; a flow that brings to life the subjective fusion with the creator, when we realize that photography, or rather a certain type of photography, can indeed be something other than static in nature.
We are dealing here with artistic photography, a field rarely frequented in Italy, where examples of that kind are very rare, and instead, the "tourist" or "family" photo genre is dominant; the latter captures pre-established, staged life moments, and afterwards consigns them to the future, for when one wants to remember. The exact copy of that which we experienced substitutes as a fantasy construction or perhaps a re-construction of the event in the family photographer’s mind. Naturally, Larry Siegel's photography escapes any such categorization; his work moves along the waves of art and creation and opens up possibilities for self-understanding, as well as the interpretation of the real. But let's put Siegel's theoretical discourse aside for a moment; we’ll take up that with him later.
"Can you tell us when you started your artistic endeavors and what drove you to choose photography as your medium?"
"I began very young, I think when I was about 10 years old. I learned, from books, various techniques and I experimented in the basement of my house; that only made me more passionate about it. As regards my choosing photography, I don't know if it was me who chose it, or vice-versa. I love photography and am most interested in creation, the amplification of the real."
"Do you believe that artistic photography might increase the number of those who are hesitant, who think that the public might favor other artistic experiences, such as painting, for example?"
"I don't know if that's actually the case in Italy; however, there is little interest here in exhibitions that showcase artistic photography. In the United States, and also in some of the other European countries, there is greater interest, and also, it does have supporters. I believe that people are now starting to understand the significance of a photograph that is an instance of movement towards eternity, which moves whatever is inside and in the thoughts of the one who looks at it. Creating an artistic photograph is a bit like creating a painting on the one hand and on the other it is unlike a painting. The painter can bring many changes into his or her sketches, but a photographer cannot move a rock or the sky; the "camera" is quicker, but the artistic photographer has to know how to catch the right moment; he or she should know how to see the exact second when the subject is communicating an emotion. So, fundamentally, taking photographs is almost like painting. Reality can be broken down and also manipulated; the photographer can give his or her own interpretation of the world, which goes beyond the tangible and recognizable forms of daily life: we could call it a kind of sensibility."
"So according to you, it's that sensibility, the one that goes beyond the tangible, that I respect?"
"Yes. And today there is an incredible boom when it comes to photography technology. There are thousands of different kinds of cameras, which gives everyone the chance to take good photographs, as much as any equipment has to do with creative, personal expression. It so happens that many try to freeze an image, without thinking about what a landscape, a face, or the human body can come to represent. For example, if I want to take a picture of my son, I don't do it for the very reason that he is my son, of course; but I don't force him to stay in a rigid pose either, in some pre-determined setting. I have him move about and let him express himself, waiting for the moment when a specific "feeling" is created between us, me, the photographer, and he, the subject. If the emotion that I felt is then transmitted to others, the task of artistic photography has been successfully carried out."
"Can you tell us what your favorite subjects are and about the techniques you use?"
"I have no particular preferences when it comes to subject matter. I love landscapes as much as portraiture. I look for visual communication in everything; it is enough to know how to seize hold of it. As far as the techniques are concerned, it is not a matter of any kind of simple discourse; at my level of development, covering long years of experience, I have come up with various possibilities that allow me to give to an image the desired meaning, in order to escape from the common belief that photography makes the subject motionless inside a universe that is constantly in motion. I love color as well as black and white photography. I don't have that much to say about my equipment. I'm not one who goes around with a lot of that; I have less accessories, even though I'm a professional, than many who practice photography as a hobby. I believe a good photographer doesn't need anything special to be creative; it is important thing to have is good technique; the rest is inside oneself. That's all."
"That's all." And that concludes the interview with this great photographer who knows how to give diverse meanings to images, and who succeeds in isolating a part of reality and charging it with subjective experience, which he then communicates to the audience. Larry Siegel knows how to create photographs that have no need of captions. They go beyond the verbal to arrive at a pure image, thereby communicating the deepest kinds of feelings.
ARRIGO BOCCALARI (January 23, 1985)
Il Cittadino, Lodi, Italy