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Antonioni’s Classic Film and Photography

“A truth that is only my truth is therefore not the truth.” Julio Florencio Cortázar

It is “Swinging London,” the mid-1960s. An era of pop culture and cool hedonism. Amid the bustling pace and jarring superficiality of the city, a fashion photographer named Thomas captures something with his camera—which he believes to be a murder in the park in broad daylight. But the body vanishes, followed by the supposed photographic evidence. Was the crime nothing but a figment of his imagination? His pictures are not proof of reality, just clues. But if the photographer can’t share his knowledge with others, of what use is it? Michelangelo Antonioni’s cinematic masterpiece is a criminal case without evidence, a puzzle without a solution.

Often interpreted as a pop film critique of a particular subculture, “Blow-Up” is far more than a sociocultural document in which images play a supporting role for an unfolding plot. It is a multi-layered visual reflection on photography and film as modes of mechanical representation. The camera does not merely depict reality, it brings forth a new world—one that is subjective and that cannot, in general, be localized. What is representation, what is phantasm? The world takes shape only through the subject’s perceptive faculties. Michelangelo Antonioni exposes reality and truth as products of both error and agreement—of a grand collective illusion and manipulation. We see what we want to see.

Michelangelo Antonioni made “Blow-Up” in 1966, but in our world of mass media and digital distribution, his observations on human perception and the relationship to reality seem as trenchant today as they were almost half a century ago. The formal qualities and the content of the film offer diverse starting points and themes for the exhibition that are analyzed and explored in depth through a range of media. In this exhibition, photographs, films, and video installations are presented together for the first time around seven themes that characterize Michelangelo Antonioni’s films in different ways and illustrate significant artistic positions in photography and art history—from voyeurism to social reportage and fashion photography all the way to media theory. The photographers featured in the exhibition include such important artists as David Bailey, Ron Galella, Terence Donovan, Richard Hamilton, John Hilliard, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Don McCullin, Cecil Beaton, Ian Stephenson, John Stezaker, Arthur Evans, Alicja Kwade and many more.

Works in the exhibition explore the relationship between moving pictures and static photography and their unique modes of operation. Antonioni broke with the familiar narrative patterns of film; the plot of “Blow-Up” unfolds in an apparently fragmentary way—not unlike a slide show. It is constructed almost completely out of associations, and reveals the principles of media self-reflexivity and simultaneity. The filmmaker resists bestowing the different aspects of his subject matter with any well-defined hierarchy of value—without any distinct semantic connection, elements of the trivial follow immediately upon elements of the spectacular. Generally speaking, the plot is less important than each isolated detail. In this gesture, which anticipates post-modernism, the viewer has to construct the meaning and sense—that is, also the relevance—him or herself.

In “Blow-Up,” Antonioni made intensive use of references, quotes, symbols, composition, and allusions. Numerous works in the exhibition launch a cross-sectional exploration of the artistic trends of the 1950s and 1960s, documenting the interactions between film and the art and society of that time. The exhibition also includes contemporary works that attest to the timelessness and modernity of Michelangelo Antonioni’s visual language. The exhibition has been developed and produced jointly by C/O Berlin, the Albertina in Vienna, and the Fotomuseum Winterthur.

The exhibition at C/O Berlin will be the only stop in Germany. The exhibition includes 250 photographs and clips from “Blow-Up” as well as supplementary film and video installations. To accompany the exhibition, C/O Berlin will be presenting a film series as well as a catalogue published by Hatje Cantz. C/O Berlin will also be hosting a major symposium on the theme in February 2015.

Photo: David Hemmings and Veruschka von Lehndorff in Blow-Up (Director: Michelangelo Antonioni), BFI Stills, 1966 © Tazio Secchiaroli / Neue Visionen Filmverleih GmbH / Turner Entertainment Co. – A Warner Bros Entertainment Company