An old and well-proved theory, not without an appreciable, sound sense and in any case richly endowed with admirable critical hints, sought to demonstrate the artistic quality of photography and cinema through the concept of "reduction". One particolar advocate and popularizer of that theory was, in the early 1930s, Rudolf Arnheim, whose studies were later collected in the famous FiIm as art. In his essays Arnheim intended to answer all those who denied aesthetlc recognition to photography and films on the grounds that they mechanically copied the world, and therefore laked the capacily to transtorm realty which ought to distinguish a work of art. He doggedly and scrupulously set about the task of proving that photographic and film images could not be considered a mere specular copy of reality. Because, compared to that reality, they did indeed work by a process of “reduction”, due to the limitations of the technological eye compared to the human eye.
Now at a first quick glance, the work of Marina Ballo might likewise seem perfectly to fit into the perspective. To begin with , there is her classic choice of black and white (so dear to Arnheim) with its drastic reduction of the world's colour: and then the actual way she approaches landscape photographically, from an angle that could rightly be called minimalist: the lens stripping superfluities and generously cutting out context (see for example the fine barbed-wire fence sequence): or conversely, widening to embrace broader scenes (as in the beaches of Brittany) and stepping back so far that things and people are rendered evanescent. Then again, there is her choice of tones, for the most part in a measured "high key", erasing any overdetailed references. So as I said, there is no doubt that in this way, at a casual glance, Ballo's work would seem precisely to comply totally to the besl requisites of a reductionist aesthetic.
So it might seem. Were it not for the fact that after looking even as little as a second longer, one immediately begins to doubt that in this way even one's own judgement would be reduced and reductive. Because, with pungent, intriguing and compelling force, the diametrically opposite view soon lends to emerge, namely that Ballo's work in effect does not proceed by reductions but, on the contrary by enlargements and dilations. Not of reality, of course, because a number of approaches indicated earlier cannot be denied. And so it is the atmosphere and aura of reality that will be dilated: the sense, as it were, of a place; the deep inner affectivenes of a landscape, an inward dimension appropriately captured and blown up to giant size. Perhaps, and maybe rightly, it could be admitted that the two choices ~ reduction and enlarqement - are not antithetic but indeed complementary, and that it is precisely through a simplified phenomenalism that the
noumenicity can best emerge. Certainly, this is true. What we wanted in any case to emphasize however, is that Marina Ballo's reduction of reality never ends up, like the familiar silliness of so much photography in recent years, as an aseptically formal operation . Land and water for her are not just marks to be syntactically composed on paper; and horizons are never simply transformed into lines, because they continue to be horizons, as the limits of profound thought, emotional and not coldly formal limits. In other words, in conceiving landscape itself as an inviting tangle of signs to work on, we ought to say thal the object of the exercise, and hence of the enlargement and dilatation, is not the signifying but the signified, not the material elements even though they may return to the image, but what they evoke.
Two secrets of photography, we feel, have been successfully grasped by Ballo. The first is the awareness that only apparently (or only in the worst cases, unfortunately) are things photographed.
Not things, but what they emanate, since the mirror at our disposal through photography is in effect highly anomalous and surprising in its results. Indeed, if well interpreted, it can even make itself truly practicable by kindling the peculiar magic that surrounds the imaginary when it is made visible and concrete. And the photographic imaginary expressly acts on this characteristic, playing ambiguously on the realistic aspect of what it proposes,
widening and escaping as can happen with words or paint. But then it imperiously comes back, turning substantial and credible, appearing mischievously and inviting us to be materially part of it.
The other secret well understood by Marina Ballo in our opinion is that of presenting photography as arranged in a balanced way on a before and an after. The first concerns the action of the photographer herself, who clearly asks the lens to approach things in a "dilfferent", physically different, way: so as to conduct a sort of effective "performance" in search of sense. To travel photographicalIy through Brittany or the Po delta, as Marina Ballo did, means just this. You nave to be materially there, and the mechanical eye seems to have been perfectly naturalized and sensoriale integrated into her person, It is not a detached brush used to reconstruct landscapes, but a part of herself thant intends to be emotionally steeped in things and cannot be content with superficial appearances. The "after" concerns fruitions which, because of everythlng we have said here, is indeed fruition and not just vision. Marina Ballo thus gives us the pleasure of feeling that we ourselves belong to her landscape. She does not leave us albeit enchanted, in front of things. But by conveying them to us i their most geniune sense, she enables us precisely to enioy them, to re-experience and not just to see them.
(Translation by Rodney Stringer)
C. Marra, Il limite, Associazione Culturale Italo Francese, Bologna, Bari, 1992