Friday, March 16, 2012

The chronophotographs of Franco Marinai

Marinai, 2011
When the cascades of color fall away - soon they will - these tendrils of red, blue, silver, ochre - you say to yourself: this is all about movement, but it is deafeningly still, there is no movement, it has ended or is about to begin but it is not here - and yet here it is, everywhere.

Marinai, 2011
In the luminous pictures of Franco Marinai, we have stepped across a boundary of perception.  Instants of motion are deconstructed, splintered, laid out under the delta-t of our calculus.  These runners from the NYC Marathon of 2011 offer their bodies to a surrealist vision of malleable flesh, against freeze-frame streaks of background.  From these nightmare slices, it is for the viewer to intuit and recompose a human reality.  In an earlier period this would be a task for the gods, but times have changed.  There are newer truths.

Marinai, 2011
Franco's inspiration may be in his blood.  His city of Florence has produced others who have wrestled with making depictions of the kinetics of real life - Leonardo da Vinci is one who comes to mind.  Toward the end of the 19th century Etienne-Jules Marey invented the chronophotograph and coined the word for it; borrowing from him, Muybridge contributed his famous images of horses and runners.

Marey, Pelican, ca. 1882
But it was in Italy, home of Fiat and Ferrari, that ideas of speed and motion found their most fertile reception.  The futurist movement in art developed there, in the urgent, stacatto-filled works of Boccioni, Marinetti, Balla and others, drawing connections between perception and the new world of machinery.

Balla, 1913 
Berkeley had said esse est percipi, everything is sense; the Italians taught us to practice it.  The confounding thing about time however - and this is the great paradox implicit in Franco's photography, made possible by his own technical prowess - is that when you chop it up into smaller and smaller bits, it seems to stand still.  Thus there is an immense quietude in his work, a beautiful calm that resides at the heart of motion.  He has discovered this.  It is not too much to think that Da Vinci would understand.

Technical note:  Franco works with a modified medium format Bronica SQ-A camera shooting Velvia Fujichrome film.  His website is


  1. Fascinating work from this Florentine, whose investigation of the spacetime continuum complements the astounding art, if that is your taste, of Jay Mark Johnson in Los Angeles. Do we have an emergent school of Einsteinian photographers on our hands?

    1. Thank you. It does look like we have a school on our hand, doesn’t it? I didn’t know Jay Mark Johnson‘s work. I’m stunned. I thought I was working in a vacuum. Yes, same technique, and very impressive work. Thank you for pointing it out. If there will ever be an exhibition of East coast and West coast Einsteinian space-time continuum photographers – and it should – I hope you will attend.

  2. I like these Franco! I would describe them as dimensional motion. I suppose that qualifies as a space-time continuum of sorts. Lartigue would be jealous!

  3. Nolan, the chronophotographs of Marey - to whom I feel very much indebted – reproduce an action as a sequence of discrete instants. My chronophotographs reproduce the unfolding of a movement as a continuum time expansion across a plane. So they can be thought of as pictures of the fourth dimension (re: Linda Dalrymple Henderson).
    Lartigue: you hit the nail right on its head. I owe it to his antics and his inventions to set me on this course. Thanks.

  4. Let's not overlook a key moment in the emergence of modernist ideas of motion in Italy: the invention, in 1901, of the world's first steam-powered, hi-pressure espresso machine by Luigi Bezzara of Milan. One could argue that everything flowed from that - Marinetti, Ferrari, the rest.


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