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Contemplative photography
(Federica Facchini, no.70 Reflex white - above and beyond)

Filippo Maria Zonta loves contemplative photography, consisting not only of the careful study of light and detail but also of a demanding approach, of long waits and difficult conditions. A style of photography that unites a scientific study of the landscape with a poetical reading of the environment. His passion for nature has lead him to undertake journeys and expeditions into remote areas, with a particular preference for the polar and desert regions, immense and fascinating, from Patagonia to the Himalayas, from the glaciers of Greenland and the Antarctic to the Sahara and the Gobi, to the high altitude deserts of the Andes. His sources of inspiration are beauty, purity, luminosity, geometry, lines and forms. Zonta’s contemplative eye catches every detail, rendering them all universes to discover. Like an explorer capable of the most delicate of alchemies, he focuses his attention both on physical and emotional characteristics, and on the relationship between lines, angles, surfaces, solids, liquids, light and shadow. He uses large format cameras (4x5, 8x10), despite the difficulty of their use and transportation, as they offer unique results and an unparalleled control of prospective, composition and definition. He also uses digital camera backs – the essence and the state of the art in terms of image quality.

Federica Facchini: «Your work is based on an approach which favours solitude, a contemplative dimension which leads you to a personal examination on the forces of nature. What is beauty for you?»
Filippo Maria Zonta: «The main theme of my photographic work is the search for beauty. In this sense photography is a key tool for introspection and self-analysis. I have questioned myself at length on what elements are at the base of true beauty. Truth and beauty represent key spiritual and philosophical concepts for my personal investigation on the manifestations of nature. I have always searched for beauty, but its magical alchemy has often proven to be elusive and difficult to capture in an image. Spontaneously perceived, beauty generates a crescendo of emotion and inspiration. I found an illuminating synthesis on the elements of beauty in the medieval thoughts on aesthetics of San Tommaso d’Aquino: beauty which endures comes from completeness, from the proportion of the parts and from the splendour of light. As fire comes from the combination of three physical elements (combustible material, a comburent, and heat), poetic beauty also seems to “ignite” solely in the presence of the three aforementioned metaphysical conditions.
The search for beauty, often conducted through a physical and emotional excursion into uncontaminated areas, always generates a deep admiration for the unique wonders of the earth. All of this provokes and nurtures positive values regarding the meaning of life, such as spirituality, seen not as emotive or animistic rapture, but as the human recognition of the sense and power of creation, seen with the wonder of a child. Applying the principal of chance, according to which every artist creates something which resembles themselves, one can come to glimpse the hand of God through his work.
To discover the world as a divine reflection means taking a transcendent journey, finding the way that he traced in order to be recognised, a way which invites one to penetrate into his mystery. This rising tension is in any case limited and imperfect. God in his essence remains inaccessible, unless he reveals himself. In synthesis beauty is truth and truth is Revelation.»

«In your daily life, rather than in the extreme conditions of your photographic journeys, is it possible for you to find beauty?»
«The undertaking of expeditions to remote locations is one of the paths that I have followed. I define it as the point of no return approach for the difficulty of repeating the experience. Great scenographic potential is contrasted by the limitations of time and opportunity. Beauty in daily life is another path which is very dear to me. It is that which I define as the “point of return”: returning many times to a place which is particularly evocative and accessible. The aesthetic research becomes much more detailed, due to the possibility of choosing the most interesting moments and environmental conditions. This is how I created the series of images on the Alps and on the Torrente di luce, this latter series created in a specific torrent in the Dolomites, to which I am particularly bound and to which I owe my artistic identity. Up to now I have spoken about the external beauty of physical things. There is however also the inner beauty of the soul, spiritual, which can also be experienced in daily life without going to the ends of the earth , and which can also reflect itself externally as the beauty of a body and the light in one’s eyes.»

«You are a traveller, an explorer and careful observer. In extreme locations almost devoid of human presence, what have you seen that is particularly beautiful or distressful, with regards climate change and the transformation of our planet?»
«Among the most particularly beautiful things, I would like to mention the visions of Patagonia, with its wind-swept peaks and its imagination-rich skies, sub-Antarctic orchids and enormous uncontaminated spaces. What disturbs me more than anything else is the explosion of contemporary urbanisation, with its extensive deserts of cement and asphalt, artificial materials and ever-more congested roads, the disappearance of the visible horizon and green spaces. The ground is swallowed up for ever by an uninterrupted expanse of unnatural constructions of an often alienating visual impact. All of this is considered normal in contemporary life, but the impact on the landscape and on nature is dramatic. Unfortunately this uneasiness is not generally shared in the common sense, but is seen as a judgement against acceptable progress and modernity.»

«You have a scientific education – you graduated in engineering at the University of Padova – which comes through in the revelation of geometry in landscapes – spheres, cubes, cylinders, pyramids, hexagons – as it does in technology. Can you explain to us this inclination?»
«Systematic thought, the inclination to model complex systems, to represent them in an ordered and concise way with a schematic visual language has given me a solid foundation for recognising the relationship between the parts in a complex system (proportions), to define the limitations for the extension of a system (wholeness). In other words, my technical training has helped me to recognise certain constitutive elements of beauty and visual poetry. Euclidian geometry (straight lines, circles etc.) is rarely present in nature, it is a “pathological” case, it doesn’t strictly exist, but only appears as an approximation of regular and smooth elements. Nature is rich with geometries which are impossible on the Euclidian level, because they are irregular, like complex ramifications and similar forms repeated on different scales. Recognising this complexity and this order in the chaos, observing a leaf, a tree, a flower or a river bed is an interesting analytical process both on a scientific as well as an emotive and artistic level. I am moved when geometries appear which poetically recall forms and symbols of the human figure. It is like uncovering the positive mystery that lies behind things. An extremely fascinating and intriguing geometry is that related to fluids: from the turbulent motion of currents of water, to the ethereal vapours of clouds, to the polyhedral and translucent shapes of ice, which, despite not being fluid in itself, derives its aspect from contact with fluids, indirectly revealing their passage. That which renders currents of water, clouds and ice so evocative is not so much the movement and energy they release, but above all the fact that they can be personified, catching a glimpse of poetic elements within such as hearts, symbols, letters, and even abstract and stylised faces.»

«Who, if any, are the masters of photography who have inspired you in your work, and why?»
«Some Northern European artists such as Joe Cornish and Hans Strand have inspired my work on close up micro landscapes (intimate): from the care in the composition of the image to the more operative and productive aspects of my creations. Regarding the composition of the image, I often adopt a vertical framing as it emphasises the play of lines, with visual guidelines that connect the foreground to the background, leading the gaze of the observer. I have taken this approach to extremes, coming to produce a “micro-mega” vision of the landscape: the foreground is enlarged, while the background is shrunk, with an almost horizontal focal plane. All of this carried out without aerial shots with regular perspectives, but, on the contrary, with “close to the ground” wide-angle shots. There is direct physical contact, face to face, elbow to elbow, between the artist and the subject, with an often overwhelming immersion into its dynamic elements: water, ice, wind, salt, sand. The result is only apparently realistic; they are in reality surreal and hyper-geometric projections, with highly dilated perspectives. Japanese artists such as Shiro Shirahata and Yoshikazu Shirakawa, with their publications on Karakoram and the Antarctica, have also had an important role in inspiring my work on grand majestic landscapes, such as mountains, glaciers and deserts. I am struck by their exceptional stubbornness in the pursuit of difficult projects and their sensibility and mastery in the capturing of special celestial events such as the polar solstices and the passages of the full moon in Antarctic or Himalayan landscapes.»

«Do you think that in the future you will continue this “exploration” on the theme of landscapes – from macro to micro – or might you be interested in other fields of study, other photographic genres? Do you have any new projects?»
«The continuity with my past is a natural and spontaneous process; however I am aware that evolution is part of any human and artistic journey. In my case spontaneous changes are relatively slow, almost unperceivable, but they are always taking place. On an artistic level, I am also interested in portraits, particularly of children in remote, high altitude villages. I do not consider mankind a disturbing element to be avoided or a threat to the ideals of uncontaminated nature, on the contrary it is the apex of creation and beauty. This is a potential thread to be taken up, but it requires a transformation of my current contemplative approach. Not to denaturalize myself, but to extend and add new aspects to my sensibility.»