Marina Ballo Charmet’s house overlooks Parco Sempione, in Milan. Because of the way the windows are placed, because of the tramlinespassing just below, near the street, because of the tree branches in the park spreading beyond the gate, blending with the plane trees lining the street, for all of this one has the sensation that the park almost enters through the windows of her house, so that for anyone sitting in the room and looking outside the park exists as a border. The park is there, but also here, just beyond the wooden frame.
What is new, what is original and unique in her photographs of parks is this perspective, which rises and crests while one remains sitting in her tilted living room. That’s how Marina looks through the camera: she aims at what is off-center, on the edges. Or better yet, on the margins. The margin is a region, indicating a contour that includes something, something “beside” something else, as the etymology suggests. In her previous work, dealing with her home, the doors, the baseboard, the contour of the floors, the children’s tracks on the floor, the close-ups of people’s necks – all that a child sees when he is in the arms of an adult – and even before in her photographs of sidewalks
and of tufts of grass shooting up from between the gaps and interstices of the town we live in, one had the sense of the marginal being very close. Of being a region included in our own vision, which emerges spontaneously as soon as one stops to examine the areas outside our proximity—proximity being also time, memory of the past, the past of our childhood, mostly. In the photographs of the parks the margin is instead the exterior one, almost far away and, not by chance, inhabited by those who are marginal to society, a society which is not only considered as a concept, but as a space, even comprehending remote regions that are, in fact, inhabited by drop-outs. But none of these pictures has a sociological, social, or cultural aspect. Neither are they political photographs but, rather, spatial ones. But what space do they engage?
One might answer: our space, the space we experience every day, the one we traverse, where we pause, the one in which we play, or look at other people – children, mostly – who play, or read, or relax, or sunbathe. True. But you have the sensation that the space framed by Marina’s camera is not exactly the same space. First of all the photographs show people doing something: they eat, they sleep, the row, they lie down, they walk, they talk on the phone, they exchange phrases and smiles, they cook. What Marina Ballo Charmet photographs is probably what is at the margin of her perspective. It’s an unfocused margin, not only in photographic but also in visual terms. The out-of-focus aspect of these images suggests a double meaning: of someone inside and at the same time outside of what he is staring at in the frame of the camera. Thus the objective and the subjective are adjacent on the same contact sheet, creating simultaneity that implies juxtaposition, so that the out-of-focus is the result of two contemporary visions, helping us to see.
The first thing one notices in Marina Ballo Charmet’s photographs is precisely this deviation from the evidence in order to capture what is seen and who sees it. The first thing that catches your eye are not the people, neither what they’re doing, but rather the green of the lawn or the white of the pathways, what is close an what is far, distance and proximity. One might say the internal and the external, if this external – the apparent margin – wasn’t also something internal, something near.
While deliberately employing the out-of-focus, Marina Ballo Charmet moves within an Italian tradition beginning with Leon Battista Alberti and culminating in the modes of contemporary photography (the work of Gabriele Basilico is a key example in this respect). Her method is therefore still an Italian way of presenting landscape, but in a manner that has nothing of prospective or monumental in it, without, however, becoming in any way intimate orpersonal. At the same time it stands at a remove from the insistent horizontality of the surface, as in the photographs of Luigi Ghirri, specifically his landscapes made of “almost nothing.”
It is a kind of new Italian landscape, never before seen, and now possible to see because Marina Ballo Charmet has decided to look beyond the commonplace. It is a spontaneous and at the same time unconscious gesture. But not unintentional. A rather feminine gesture, in my opinion.
But how does one understand all of this? From the hazy, almost distracted gaze, from the never aggressive movement of the eye. Her regard suggests she is squinting, as though she were a myopic photographer. But you also understand it from another detail, which is always present in her photographs, possibly in the foreground (even if it is not appropriate to talk of foreground or other grounds in her photos): the ground where she stands.
In her photographs you see nothing of her, but there is always something of her there. That “something” is not only her way of looking: it is the ground from which she photographs – the green of the lawn, the white of the gravel, the shore of a small lake, or something else.
She photographs where she and her objects are standing, that is to say, what they share in common. That’s why the lawn or the pathways are never in focus.
In her pictures Marina is completely present without being really there. If, on the contrary, she had held her subject in focus, in what would otherwise be a perfectly conventional photograph in every respect, the green of the lawn and the white of the gravel would suddenly become a reality, something opposing her gaze, and therefore not participating in her way of being and seeing at the same time.
In Marina Ballo Charmet’s photographs reality is not something given – neither is it assembled – but it is something to traverse, in order to get from here to there. It is something that exists, without imposing itself. One might say that in her photographs reality subsists. That’s why in her work she continues her relation with her own self, through the self of reality, and the self of the ones she portrays.
There they are not characters, but rather people, like the ones you might encounter every day in the street and perhaps look at more or less carefully, who are lost as soon as they are found. Better still: the people on the lawns of these European parks are always there, waiting for us. They are people whom we can, perhaps, reach, or not.
In these photographs there is never a single point of view, but neither is there a multiplication of points of view. One might say there is no real point of view. As if Marina Ballo Charmet sighted the photograph at the very moment she took it. The photographs follow a diagonal, a lateral swerve. We should then be thankful to her, because we are now besieged by fixed and moving images: on walls and buses, along the tracks of the railway stations and on taxies, in squares and mobile phones, at home and in bars. They are in front of us everywhere: in focus, demanding to be looked at, demanding to be seen. Tyrannical.
I have the feeling that Italian photography is now moving in the direction that Marina Ballo Charmet has long taken: post-landscape. It is photography that portrays what is on a side, laterally, on the edges, but still in the landscape. Not behind, neither in front, but on the edge, in a manner that is not only spatial but temporal. After twenty years and more of research on landscape – on what surrounds us – Marina photographs what is with her. It is a feminine gesture, discrete, gentle, but neverthelessirremovable.
M.Belpoliti, “ Post- Landscape”, in Il parco/The park, Charta, Milan, 2008 Catalogue of the exhibition curated by G. Scardi and R. Valtorta, Triennale, Milan, 2008.
© Marco Belpoliti. All rights reserved under the Agenzia Letteraria Internazionale, Milan