Images of motion express ethereal
by David A. LEWIS
The Italian photographer Frank Dituri believes in the power of art to move and engage us even now in our increasingly complex and jaded times. His photographs are transcendent. They take us beyond the here and now to mysterious, yet strangely familiar places. Dituri evokes these other places in poetic terms. His photographs function like Haiku, condensing as much visual information as possible within the concentrated visual field of a photograph.
Dituri’s photographs confirm his deeply held convictions about the essential mystery of life. Like the Romantics and Surrealists before him, he explores the interior realm of dreams and fantasy—a metaphysical place where memory and imagination supersede reason and where the laws of the physical universe do not determine our sense of time or space. Dituri describes his photography as a quest for a personal vision:
For me photography is much more than a visual documentation; it is a personal journey, where dreams transcend reality, and material facts and the ethereal often merge. My subjects are neither coming nor going, but exist somewhere in the process. They are like lost souls in a recurring dream where silence is never broken and light and darkness co-exist, where fear and uncertainty lie deep in the shadows and the incomprehensible.
This vision began to form early in life, when he discovered not only photography but also the art of such painters as Giorgio de Chirico, Piero della Francesca and Edward Hopper. Collectively, their works impressed him with their expression of mystery powerfully conveyed through the use of occult perspective, dramatic lighting and staging—pictorial strategies that would later inform his own work. Dituri notes that, “Sometimes making a photograph is like taking a picture of something I remember seeing somewhere.” As an example, he recalls his early memory of seeing Giorgio De Chirico’s Mystery and Melancholy of a Street (1914). He remembers the painting’s eerie illumination, its stark light and disturbing shadows. Above all, he recalls being captivated by the enigmatic image of the little girl running alone with her hoop down an abandoned piazza. He relates: “I have spent many hours in Italian piazzas with my camera in search of this lonely silhouetted figure. The fact that I have never found this fleeting image is not important—allegorically it has become an intrinsic part of my psyche and embedded in the fiber of my work.” The image of a solitary figure was to become a recurring theme in Dituri’s work, one often associated with loneliness and isolation.
In early years, Frank Dituri focused his efforts on street photography, and he much admired the work of Robert Frank and the photojournalist W. Eugene Smith, but his own work was to move in another direction by the late 1970s. Eventually, he would reject the prevailing aesthetic premise of Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment” (which emphasized the instantaneous recognition of concrete fact). Dituri found this aesthetic too limiting. Instead, he sought to achieve a more psychologically complex understanding of time and space, one that accounts for internal, subconscious experience as well as the conscious response to external reality. Viewing time and space as a continuum that cannot be adequately expressed in terms of a single frozen instant, Dituri became determined to extend the fixed image of the still photograph into a temporally active space. Ultimately, he achieved this, in part, by employing a slow shutter speed, with which he creates blurring effects to suggest this ceaseless shifting back and forth in time and space. In some respects, his approach recalls that of the impressionists, who sought to convey the transitory aspects of reality through a blur of rapid brushstrokes. How ever, Dituri’s photography suggests not only the transitory aspects of nature, but also evokes intensely human responses to it. As such, it belongs to the romantic tradition of Friedrich and Turner, as well as to the later Symbolist painters and the Pictorialist photographers, for whom content must transcend ordinary experience.
Like the Pictorialists before him, Frank Dituri’s imagery is often atmospheric; it is also densely tonal. That density is purposeful. It reminds us that the photograph is a physical object that coexists with the imagery it encapsulates. The eye must penetrate that density, which like an enveloping fog amplifies the sensual experience of being in a place, of lingering there long enough to feel its warmth or chill, its humidity, its quality of light or encroaching darkness. This purposeful lingering enlarges the emotional experience of viewing the photographs. It conjures up memories and associations with other experiences, and all the emotions attached to them, be they fear and trembling, serenity, or ecstatic joy. The density of Dituri’s photographs and the purposeful lingering required for viewing them could be described as matters of faith, the Biblical “substance of things hoped for,” a confirmation of the essential mystery of life and the artist’s “personal journey” to discover its meaning.
For much of his career Frank Dituri worked exclusively in black and white, but recently he has returned to color. Color provides alternative ways of representing, altering and creating space. In principle colors have temperature; warm colors tend to shift forward and cool colors recede into the background. Since at least the Renaissance, artists have knowingly used this principle to heighten the sense of illusory three-dimensional space. In such works as Entrance to Church, Italy (2010) and Open Door, Italy (2012) Dituri uses the psychological properties of color for expressive purposes. He employs color to disrupt our normal expectations of pictorial representation and to dramatically heighten our awareness of incongruence in space and time. Consequently, such imagery become visionary— even surreal— rather than merely representational or documentary.
The images in Frank Dituri’s photography present open-ended narratives. They can be described as allegorical or metaphorical. They are always about or of something other than what is literally portrayed. They evidence. They witness. They evoke. They explore the human condition and speak about the experience of life’s journey: of youth and maturity and the uncertainties confronted at each stage of life. They are about the ordinary “in between” experiences that make up so much of our daily existence: waiting, crossing thresholds, and seeking sanctuary. Dituri’s images are often about human presence within nature: encounters with trees and forests, rivers and canals, and traveling on pathways through fields. A great many of his photographs depict seemingly mundane and uncomplicated subjects: an empty bench, a figure walking through a doorway, or a tree silhouetted against the sky. But always, there is the suggestion of something more: a memory to be recalled, a story to be told, a presence to be felt. It is this “something more,” that captures our attention and leaves us wanting to see more.
About the Author
David A. Lewis holds MA and Ph.D. degrees in Art History from Indiana University, Bloomington. Dr. Lewis is currently a Professor of Art History at Stephen F. Austin State University (SFA), where he teaches courses in Modern European and American art as well as the history of photography. Dr. Lewis has organized over thirty exhibitions, including retrospectives of watercolors by the English Vorticist, Dorothy Shakespear Pound (1886-1973), paintings and drawings by the American expressionist Rico Lebrun (1900-64), among others. Prof. Lewis curated and wrote the monograph for the traveling exhibition, John Heliker: Drawing on the New Deal, 1932—1948. He was the curator for two recent exhibitions of contemporary photography: Rastlin’, a Southern Survey: Photographs by David McClister, and Frank Dituri: Of Things Not Seen. Dr. Lewis is currently organizing an exhibition of Contemporary Texas Visionary Photographers for the Arezzo Fotografia Bienale (2014). He is also conducting research for a monograph on the British sculptor, Vernon Hill, to be co-authored with Michael T. Ricker (anticipated 2015).