In 2013 and then in 2015, I travelled the United States taking pictures along the way. When I got back to Europe, in-between these two journeys, I started to think about how to organize the material. I prefer to let myself go when I shoot. Only after I look for the meaning of what I’ve done, like when we seek the explanation of something we dreamt. And like in dreams, I think that all our awaken experiences (what we see, what we read, what we study etc.) coagulate inside photographies in unpredictable ways, that can only be understood afterwards.
I find very useful and intriguing to read my pictures under the shadow of the work of someone else. For this series, I leaned under Vladimir Nabokov’sLolita. I found the book and the afterword to be full of interesting references to the creative act, and, somehow, also to photography. Besides, given all the obvious differences, I found myself to have more than something in common with the main character.
Humbert Humbert is the “author” of the memoirs about Lolita. He is the hands, the eyes and the mask that Vladimir Nabokov uses to explore America:
«Its author’s bizarre cognomen is his own invention; and, of course, this mask – through which two hypnotic eyes seem to glow – had to remain unlifted in accordance with its wearer’s wish». — Vladimir Nabokov
Through this mask, the author, coming from the old European continent, can explore the body of a young and sensual America:
«Although everybody should know that I detest symbols and allegories […], an otherwise intelligent reader […] described Lolita as “Old Europe debauching young America,” while another […] saw in it “Young America debauching old Europe”». — V. N.
Again, given all the obvious differences, I as well came from the old Europe to the United States. So: did I debauched America, or did America debauched me? It was my eyes that moulded my photographies, imposing my own vision to the outside world; or was America moulding my pictures, attracting me with its enormous number of modern archetypes? In the end this duality remain unsolved, echoed by other dichotomies, spreading through the the book. The feminine and the masculine, the truth and the lies, the house and the road, and also:
«There are two kinds of visual memory: one when you skillfully recreate an image in the laboratory of your mind, with your eyes open […]; and the other when you instantly evoke, with shut eyes, on the dark inner side of your eyelids, the objective, absolutely optical replica of a beloved face, a little ghost in natural colors». — V. N.
Talking about the second kind, Nabokov seems to be, oddly and maybe unconsciously, describing the process of photography. Therefore photography as one of the possible means of visual memory. Which leads us to the role of photography. Or better still, to the use that we do of this medium, and to the meaning that we give to the creative act. I have no problem with any kind of manipulation (digital, analogical or any other kind) of the pictures. I don’t really care about pure photography. To me, photography is just a medium to get to the figure I want to realize. Above all there is not the need to take pictures, but need to produce images. So the creative act seems a need, a physical and physiological urge, and, as any other urges, it needs be carried out. This concept is perfectly explained once again by Nabokov:
«Teachers of Literature are apt to think up such problems as “What is the author’s purpose?” or still worse “What is the guy trying to say?” Now, I happen to be the kind of author who in starting to work on a book, has no other purpose than to get rid of that book». — V. N.
There is at least one more similarity between Hubert Humbert’s behavior and my approach to photography.
Shooting photos is always a violent act. But it often can be a subtle and sneaky kind of violence. When I take pictures I do it alone, by my self, trying not to be seen: I observe unobserved, like Humbert Humbert does with his Lolita, when he spies on her. I take pictures like H.H. writes memories on his diary. And like him, I wonder about my object of desire, but at distance, partially afraid to interact with it, almost ashamed of my urge, and of what I’m doing.
So I decided to organize my photos trying to follow the trail and the scent of Lolita. I selected and ordered my pictures to evoke the places and the flavors of the book. The duality that pervades the novel is echoed in this series as well, through out the use of diptychs, parallel or crossing lines, high or low, round and feminine or upright masculine shapes, and so on (even if Nabokov himself hated this kind of Freudian interpretation, «my old feud with Freudian voodooism» says the writer). We also come across some of the main features of the book: the tennis courts, the endless roads, the parking lots, the gas stations.
What is not fully investigated, tough, is probably the most iconic aspect of the book, the sensual and erotic side. It is the reason why the series is calledHumbert Humbert and not Lolita. Far from Kubrick’s capability to depict the actual nymphette, I focused on the suffused surroundings and landscapes, placing myself at distance, watching the others, feeling like Humbert Humbert.