“The photo does not call up the past (nothing Proustian in a photograph). The effect it produces upon me is not to restore what has been abolished (by distance, by time), but to attest that what I see indeed existed…” Roland Barthes in Camera Lucida
This quote starts the preface of Lux Et Filum, a photographic project by Monica Silva, inspired by the great Caravaggio. Caravaggio was one of the leading artists during the Renaissance; he masterfully portrayed the society of his contemporaries through careful observation of the human state, both physical and emotional. He is known to have had a formative influence on the Baroque painting. Lux Et Filum, (Latin for Light And Canvas), is not only inspired by his most famous works but reinvents them, by placing them at the center of a simple question: How would these same paintings be portrayed today?
Characters and poses remain the same, but the subject matter is transformed into a 21st century setting. The chiaroscuro (light and shade) Caravaggio was known for, allows characters and objects to emerge from darkness. In Silva’s interpretation, non-contextualized backgrounds are replaced by uniformed pastel tones and solid colors, keeping the original functionality of the background; to leave the actors suspended in vague places, describing them simply by objects and furniture in the composition.
We got to know more about Monica Silva and Lux Et Filum:
Could you share a bit about yourself and your career?
I fell in love with photography before I really knew what it was about. Growing up in a poor neighborhood of Sao Paulo I never had any cultural feedback. By chance, I discovered the magic of photography using a friend’s disposable camera and Polaroid.
At first photography was just a hobby. I acquired my first film camera when I moved to London to study in 1986. After studies I moved to Italy, where I live today. I started as assistant director for world-renowned commercial directors, which was also my way into photography. I got to meet the right people on set, which was a huge benefit when I decided to focus on photography full time. I grabbed my portfolio and applied for jobs with all major newspapers. At the time I did not even know how to use a flash system, but I knew I had to believe in myself before others would. I have been a professional photographer ever since, and I am proud to have worked for international brands like Sony, BMG, Universal as well as photograph for institutional clients and reportage publications. My work has appeared in leading magazines and newspapers like Max, Vanity Fair, Sette, El Pais, Panorama Travel, Style and many others.
In 2008 I felt the need to do something for myself, without business obligations. This desire led to my first fine art photographic exhibition called “Life Above All“. The collection was based on the book “The Spoon River Anthology” by Edgar Lee Masters and ended up being the key to a whole new world of photography for me, and further led to a series of exhibitions; On my Skin (Bologna 2010), My Hidden Ego (2011) and The Butterfly’s Fall – Postcards from Tokyo (Milan, 2013) and now LUX ET FILUM.
What would we, as the viewer, need to know about the painter and the idea behind the final project?
“Lux Et Filum – A contemporary vision of Caravaggio“, comes from a need to create something that could go beyond photography. My dream was to return to my hometown, Sao Paulo, with something special. I wanted to show the skills and achievements I’ve obtained away from home. I’ve spent hours and hours studying Caravaggio, which in my mind is the number one Baroque painter. He is said to be the very first photographer in history because his images have a unique reality to them. Perhaps because he loved to use real people in his paintings; prostitutes in sacred images, homeless as saints, powerful men and ordinary people from the streets, recreating the contemporaneous idea of his time.
The project was born from a question: “If Caravaggio lived in our time, how would his masterpieces look?” I did not want to make exact replicas of his much loved chiaroscuro, I just wanted to get inspirations from his works, to photograph my personal reading of our time. I wanted to capture the nuances and the refined beauty of Caravaggio’s brush strokes. So with “The Musicians” I didn’t envision the same 4 handsome young boys but I saw a Chinese girl as Cupid. And “St. Jerome” is no longer an old man but a young man with dreadlocks, he is a modern street artist. In “Supper at Emmaus”, I captured my idea of religion, as seen in Caravaggio’s version, with Christian, Islamic, Jewish and a Buddhist models in a peaceful and friendly dinner without disputes.
The exhibition in Sao Paulo is planned to go beyond displaying the photographs, can you elaborate on what is going to happen?
The idea of the exhibition is to create an emotional experience for the visitors. With support from the very talented video artist Giuseppe La Spada, we arranged interactive stations with each photograph. The visitor will walk among large prints and build up individual emotions only to finally end up in a room where they will be the main character, acting as a video director in their own studio adding their own effects to the images. The final result should be an explosion of sounds and images, which will amuse and amaze the viewer.
What did the Phase One equipment you used in the project bring to the images?
This whole emotional journey for the exhibition, due to the size of the prints, was only made possible with the Phase One camera system. The first part of the project was shot with an IQ180 digital back, 80 megapixel full-frame 645 with a 80mm f/2.8 LS lens. This was for the portrait of the Italian pianist Stefano Bollani who posed in a classic portrait. This is the only chiaroscuro styled image in the project. I shot tethered at ISO 35 to see the image in “real-time” on the monitor, it looked like I had two Bollanis on the set, it was more than amazing. The second stage of the project was shot in studio with different models. This was shot with the legendary P40+ digital back and a 75-150mm lens. This camera performed impeccably, in some cases it seems like the subjects are about to pop out of the prints, but I have to be honest it has nothing on the performance and quality of the incredible IQ180 digital back.
What has the reactions been to the project?
I’m very proud of the feedback I’m receiving from my peers. We are creating a wall where art and literature representatives can leave their reactions to the project, and I am so happy with the success of the responses so far. I am especially honored by the feedback from the cultural patronage of the Government of the State of Sao Paulo who guarantee the moral and cultural importance of the project by declaring: Lux Et Filum, “a project of great importance that contributes to culture’ spreading.”