Alessandro Calabrese: Thoreau, by Federica Chiocchetti and Nicoletta Barbata

16 Aug 2014

Nature can be liberating, a shelter for hiding and exploring the self. It instills in men a yearning for reveries. Imagination is free to unconsciously float into the unknown. It’s a learning journey, but also a mystery. A place of loneliness. Walking across paths, men try to figure out their relation with Nature. It feels a compelling relation, at times it involves fear or imposition. Roles are falsely defined. Dominators and dominated are confused, they oscillate in an irrepressible dance. Human signs are swallowed to become part of the landscape, loosing their original intrusiveness.

Alessandro Calabrese’s imagery in his book Thoreau takes us on a meditative, at times almost inert, wandering through an impressive place, the Natural Park of Mont Avic in Valle D’ Aosta (Italy). During his residency there, Calabrese developed a deep sense of respect for the place. A respect that seems to be more born out of curiosity than veneration. Inspired by Henry David Thoreau’s Walden; Or, Life in the Woods, he confesses his predilections and aversions within Nature. There is something of a vicarious thrill in encountering his attempt to balance images of the place’s majesty with somewhat uncanny details of human signs. In delving into the controversial relationship between man and nature, there seems to be a recurrent pattern of void lust.

Intriguingly, in 1841 Thoreau, in his Journal, compared the photographic moment with the creation of poetry and writing.

“Nature is readily made to repeat herself in a thousand forms, and in the daguerreotype her own light is amanuensis, and the picture too has more than a surface significance, – a depth equal to the prospect,- so that the microscope may be applied to the one [a daguerreotype] as the spyglass to the other. Thus we may easily multiply the forms of the outward; but to give the within outwardness, that is not easy. That an impression may be taken, perfect stillness, though but for an instance, is necessary. There is something analogous in the birth of all rhymes”. [1]

This is music to our ears. The Photocaptionist asked Calabrese to go back to the text Walden: Or, Life in the Woods and pair his photographs with Thoreau’s words to share with our readers the passages that, knowingly or unknowingly, were most influential for the development of his photographic series.

Alessandro Calabrese has a degree in Landscape Architecture from IUAV University in Venice. He also obtained a Master in Photography and Visual Design at the New Academy for Fine Arts and Forma Foundation for Photography in Milan. He is currently living and working in Milan, where he set up, with peer photographer Milo Montelli, the independent publishing house Skinnerboox. You can find Calabrese’s photobook Thoreau here.

Federica Chiocchetti and Nicoletta Barbata

[1] The quotations are taken from Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods, Cosimo Books, New York, 2009 and Journal, Volume 1: 1837-1844, edited by John C. Broderick et al., Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1981, p. 243.