We don’t quite understand it now because we’ve seen it too much and in too many ways, in different genres and registers, but photography served for a long time a function, not necessarily assumed, of ordering the visible, of cataloguing, of surveying and typological series, long before of all this having become art. Ordering the visible is one of the first uses of photography and which itself lives in latency. Like the dormant bacillus, it comes to the surface more often than not, depending on the intentions of those who use it.
We tend to look at the photographic image as a repository of ordering and a place of composition, of composition and even composure. Partly because we know that the choice is always there, whatever it may be, and with it the fulfillment of a will, a fascination, an enchantment, a trauma, a frustration. Or the materialization of the simple pleasure of recording. But, at the limit, we know that the choice, at least, orders, commits.
Accustomed to the comfort of a disciplined, chewed-up and easy look, we are shaken whenever we are faced with an image that escapes that preconceived aplomb and is bound by the documentary curse in its purest register. Or when a set of images appears before our eyes that only in form or tonality can somehow be arranged in the same watertight compartment. When there is no formula that truly unites them.
When each one depends on himself and only vaguely finds in the others the comfort of company for the theme or the harmony of intentions for a common fatherhood. When the crutch of similitude disappears.
At the same time, it is not because of this individualistic wandering – a condition that in a certain way characterizes the nature of each photographic image – that we are prevented from reading the core of its message when accompanied. Admittedly, the dialogue becomes more curved and the overall narrative less linear. But it is also true that each side-by-side approximation, on the wall, on the floor or on the contact test, reveals, or at least betrays, the photographer’s global intention, whatever that may be. And from this exercise, unforeseen relationships and a countless number of relationship dynamics are born, not always guided by harmony or by mere aesthetic aplomb – how many times do fractures, reverie, tearing overcome; How many times does the simple fight between light/dark become magical and seductive. And isn’t it in the friction of opposing fields and in the mixing of dispersed realities that one of the main sparks of creativity lives?
I remember the first time I saw a photograph of David Infante. It came alone as an attachment to an email promoting one of his exhibitions. It was an unusual image, with a surrealist bent. There was a white sheet stretched in the air that filled half of the image and covered a body, minus the legs, arms and hands, which were trying to grab something. The first feeling was strangeness and then curiosity. I felt that that white surface dazzled me and not only prevented me from seeing what was on the other side, but also prevented me from finding a more complete and profound meaning about that photograph and the intentions of those who had conceived it. On the one hand it moved me, on the other it made me dizzy and bewildered, as if I were lost in the midst of thick fog. It was a photograph that, in isolation, carried enough strength to surprise me and, at the same time, catalysed a desire to see beyond it, even if I didn’t know exactly where or what.
I now looked again at this portrait of strong scenic apparatus and found in it the metaphors of ambiguity, suggestion and simulacrum that help us to understand David Infant’s photographic practice and to situate the whole, part or the smallest part of his creative work. There is a triptych stimulus in this image: the outstretched arms that break the candor and flatness of the sheet are an invitation to look outside the still square, at other images, yours or those of others; the mystery of what lies behind that white mantle, itself a perfect representation of the surface of the photographic paper, is an invitation to look inside this creative work. And then there is a projected shadow hand that tries to grab the viewer, as if it were the only hand that opens the access door to this “photographic space” and, in turn, to what is outside and inside oneself.
Without being autophagic, David Infant’s photographs tend towards narrative self-sufficiency, but not isolation, nor the purification of meaning. They are often labyrinthine in form and perceptive play, and very involved in content. The variety of genres with which Infante works (portrait, self-portrait, landscape) serves to further expand the universe of his photographic program towards a complex web of references, ranging from a personal and recognizable space to the most abstract and dispersed. geographic contours. From the most intimate expression of the face to its denial as a privileged vehicle of contact for those who look at those who are looked at.
Indeed, there are hardly any pure and direct portraits in David Infant’s photography.
The representation of the figure appears diffuse, often entangled in transparencies, reflections and shadows with clear intentions of illusion and escape from the trap of photographic fidelity. With or without masks, Infant’s portrait is never what it is – it transports us beyond the expression on the face, it asks us for second readings, it never stops at the wonder of the gaze. It tries to tell us that identity is multiple, much more slippery and polysemous than we tend to believe.
The representation of the human, freed from a classic idea of portraiture, is central to these photographs by David Infante. It is through it that we are guided to the figuration of space or even to the definition of place, creative territory where the photographer takes the most risk when trying to find the places of the place itself. It is an exercise that relies on the symbolic load of history (yours and that of others), emotion, personal experience and the playful and unusual experimentation of these places. Some are even more grounded where they have always been, redouble the notions of spatiality, drama and symbolism that we kept from them. Others manage to free themselves from the dimension in which they were captured to simply find new territories of the visible, new spaces, much more allegorical, much more uncompromised by the limitations of the geographic.
References are found in David Infant’s images, sometimes more subtle, sometimes more pronounced, to experimental stylistic ideas and exercises that have always seduced photographers – shadows, transparencies, overlays, collages, reflections, drags. At a time when all creative resources and supports are diluted and mixed, it is a courageous option that not only satisfies a purpose of metaphorical interpretation of reality, but also serves to doubly affirm the photographic support and its entire historical record.
David Infante does not leave the field of photography, in the strict sense of the term, and he does not forget a photographer: José Manuel Rodrigues, with whom he worked and from whom he learned much of what he is capable of doing with the camera and the darkroom. This is perhaps the most important reference of his work.
From there, Infantes knew how to instill a multiplicity of meanings to places, people and things. From there he was able to expand his creative field. From it he also knew how to extract a very particular sensibility that today finds its own place in photography. Thus, he developed a look that manifests itself in the refined choice of shapes, textures and surfaces. Which finds in the dynamics and suggestive strength of the materials a valuable source of composition. And that creates unique games of transfiguration thanks to the perceptive use of the different layers of reading provided by the representation of the body and face.
David Infante is not a photographer of people, nor a photographer of places – he is a photographer of the condition and search for the place of the human. He is a photographer who chose drift and contradiction – like death covered in white.
Sergio B. Gomes
Lisbon, October 2008