‘The Phenomenology of the end’. This is the title of the first personal exhibition of the photographer Nicola Bertellotti. But the entire artistic path of this decadent artist could be named the same. Nicola Bertellotti’s subjects are indeed abandoned, decommissioned, ruined or forgotten buildings that are facing the end of their life. A philosophy of abandonment and rediscovery guides the entire production of the photographer. As to revive, for a moment, during the instant of the click, places that represent a glorious past. Theatres, hospitals, ballrooms, nuclear power plants, factories, palaces and castles. Everything that had an intense past story and that now is between life and death: close and imminent because of collapses, demolitions or simply oblivion.
The greatest passion that drives my photo production. says Nicola Bertellotti. is not the one for photography, but is the passion for the places I try to immortalize. Photography is just a mere mean through which to tell the sensations that the subject transfers to me.
And this love for decadent grandeur brings him to a continuous and insistent hunt through places so forgotten that became unknown. In order to rediscover them, immortalize them and hand them down to posterity. His production wants to become a collection ‘dying places’. And to make himself and his pictures the last witnesses of that grandeur, still present, for short, in the places he takes pictures in. So his photos become the last laugh of something inexorably fated to disappear.
BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH
And even if the building is rediscovered and restored, what will anyway disappear forever is the mystical furrow that time – and mind you, only time – left on the lime limbs of the construction. And Nicola Bertellotti’s works are extremely focused on this aspect.
When I was in university my major was history and obviously those studies hugely affected my way to see the subjects of my pictures. History is cyclic for everything. Even constructions rise, live and die. Between life and death there is abandonment. I focus on that. Even the way the building was abandoned denotes quite much about the story of that building. For instance, if it was left empty or with things in, if it was left definitely or with the idea to use it again. The patina that time and events leave on a building is its main feature, while human interactions after the abandonment alter his soul. That’s why I never photograph buildings with graffiti or vandalisms. Because it’s not time to make the building so ruined, but the strength of men. In those cases I feel the lack of the pureness I look for.
THE FEELINGS OF THE ARTIST
The artist creates an indissoluble link with the subject and the art piece. After tiresome researches to find the building on maps, after hard passages through hostile vegetation, after the fatigue to find the perfect spot for the picture, the perfect light and the perfect place to assemble the tripod, just at this point the picture arrives. But then the picture captures the soul of that place, seen for the first time by human eye maybe in the last 40 years. And the photographer, when he’s snapping, becomes forever the custodian of that building and of its memory.
The emotional bond with the places I take pictures of is fundamental. And, most of all, the sensations that I feel and that I try to communicate with my works are fundamental. The abandonment, the decay doesn’t give me sense of anxiety or oppression at all, but rather sense of peace. The silence and the absolute stillness give me tranquility and security. And indeed, trough the use of light, I try to convey this sense of peace, far from anxieties and fears people usually connect with abandoned constructions. These places are indeed not dead yet, but just in decay. Inside you smell pure and ethereal time.
The journey of Nicola Bertellotti through photography started over 10 years ago. What pushed him at the beginning was the immense love for travels. In fact at the beginning of his career there was not the exasperated search for places in decay, but he used to take picture to everything that could be interesting: places, people, faces, details. Suddenly the revelation.
I randomly ended up in Consonno, a surreal place in the North of Italy, to take some pictures. It was a sort of abandoned department store with an amusement park aside. The sight of that place resurfaced childhood memories. I remembered an amusement park where my father had brought me decades before. A full-blown Proust Madeline. I had the total feeling to belong to that place.
THE HOLY FIRE
At that point Nicola Bertellotti started to look for other abandoned places like that one. He was feeling the awakening of a holy fire in him. Something had always burned but gave off all its energy just now. He understood that those places were predestined to become the main subjects of his works. He therefore started an uphill path, before in Italy, and then all over Europe, in search of wonders swallowed up by oblivion.
This is the only subject I really feel mine. It’s the only one I can and I want to photograph. I believe that my artistic production will continue forever with the abandonment and, when it will be the time, will have its end in it. Even my way to feel the beauty has been affected from my subjects. To me, now, beauty is the aesthetic of decadence. When I see a restoration that erased the patina of time from the building, I look at it as a shame while I find harmony and beauty in the furrows that time has left. An example could be the city of Prague: twenty years ago, absorbed in its decadence, had a charm that now is impossible to find in the too zealous restorations that have been carried on all around the city.
Nicola Bertellotti wants to point firmly that:
I follow a purely aesthetic approach. My pictures don’t have any social or complaint aspects, but they are all linked only by this aesthetic interest. Indeed my vision, obviously personal, of beauty, would make me prefer these places not to be rediscovered and restored, in order to allow the wrinkles that time and history have pressed down on the building to hand down its story.
John Ruskin’s philosophy has been both the starting point and the arrival of Nicola Bertllotti’s aesthetic conception development. In particular his point of view on the restoration of buildings. In fact Ruskin’s ideas was that every building has the right to die and to not been modified, respecting its original project and respecting the signs that time has left on it. Because history, according to Ruskin, is recounted by buildings as well and the attempt to modify them is equalized to the attempt to erase or modify history.
Places speak – says Nicola Bertellotti – They say why and how they became like they are. They hand down history. And if a place gets completely restored, its history disappears and is lost completely. Through my pictures I feel to be the custodian of something. Of something that, for a reason or another, could be suddenly lost. Or because it’s dying or because it’s inexorably disappearing.
The theme of travel, from which the entire photo production of Nicola Bertellotti had started, is however still central in his works. After traveling Italy far and wide, he shifted his attention to other European countries that he says to be meccas of this kind of photography because of several abandoned buildings (in particular Germany, Belgium and Eastern Europe). Thanks to his new philosophy, his way to live and feel the journey evolved, basically because now he needs to look for a direct contact with the local population in order to have interesting revelations about decaying places.
The reading of the ‘Usage du monde’ by Bouvier changed my way of traveling. You don’t have to travel just to come back full of anecdotes to tell, but you have to live the journey intensely, risking personally. The sites I photograph are usually out of the main cities and this allows me to find myself in less touristic places. One of the most intense moment was when in Poland I found myself in a little and almost abandoned village in the very countryside and an old lady invited me to have a tea at her house. She was speaking a sort of Italian because of the Italian songs she used to listen to when she was young and so we were able to start a little conversation. It has been a truly touching experience.
For Nicola the journey is something that goes beyond physical moving. It’s an interior motion that must be read also in the titles of its works. Everyone of them has the title of a suggestion, an event, or at least something linked to the personal memory of the artist. And so this is a journey through memories and feelings that he relieves in the moment of the picture.
Nicola Bertellotti’s photography is also a hard photography. That’s both because of the places that are hard and storing. And because of the technical difficulties in the realization of the shoot.
To take pictures for me is not easy. First because I don’t work in a studio but every time I have to collect my equipment, put it on an airplane and go somewhere usually far. Then there are various risks like the collapse of the building, the possibility to hurt myself, the risk to be caught or arrested by guards or police (because the places I go are usually private properties). Then it happened a few times that I had the bad experience to find criminals with weapons that were hiding themselves in the building. Basically it’s not a risk free job. But, keeping on doing it, I was able to develop a great sense of bravery that sometimes in the aftermath I understood it to be unconsciousness. But the adrenalin and the sense of adventure push me to keep on doing this type of photography.
What impresses you every time?
When I capture a new building, I look in the lens of the camera. And always, for a second, the scene of how the place was appears to me. It lasts for an instant. And every time is amazing.
More informations, photos and contacts can be found on the website www.nicolabertellotti.com
To see Nicola Bertellotti’s art pieces:
MAELSTROM ART GALLERY, piazza IV Novembre, 7, 20124, Milano. Tel 349.1710247
FRANCESCA SENSI ARTE A COLORI, via Gracco del Secco 66/64, 53034, Colle val d’Elsa (SI). Tel 333.9091367
ALIDEM,Via Cusani, 18, 20121 Milano. Tel 02 3656 4642
Words by Federico Sigali
Pictures by Nicola Bertellotti