Antonioni’s film, based on Julio Cortazar, is in a way the quintessential portrait of the commonplace successful photographer, possibly accountable of having laid the foundation for the modern perception of the profession in the eyes of the public: from poor artisan to rich artist, the slightly ridiculous 19th century “look at the birdie” humble portraitist for the people turning into the present myth of the jet setter top photographer we all set out to become as we start in the profession. But having seen the film again, after many years, I am starting to think that all this is more than anything accidental, a set dressing, the backdrop to another story that the master film maker is trying to tell us. Photography can be a life style, but also a quest for reality, a phenomenological representation, the collection of proofs of authenticity and, especially in its failure to deliver – based on the false assumption of its objectivity, therefore inevitable - the perfect way to tell us that nothing is real but what we choose to believe in or can prove beyond reasonable doubt. Proofs are difficult to get by, though, and we are left in doubt more often than not.
As a movie it does have many funny elements to a modern photographer.
Imagine speaking to a model that way now? Call them Baby? Photo sex with Veruschka – or Kate, or Naomi - on the set?
The protagonist is horribly arrogant, absolutely politically incorrect, macho male chauvinist. Cynical, bored, totally obnoxious: utterly believable in fact. Based on the stories and accounts that I have happened to collect in my early years as an assistant, working for photographers that were active in that era, I am tented to believe that life was more or less like that, to a certain extent. You do lose the daily feel of the past, always in hindsight, but as a detailed sketch of a moment in the sixties it is fairly plausible. Is it David Bailey? Maybe.
This photographer is also an idealist. Regardless of his success in fashion photography and with women, his fancy car and money, he is still courting the friendship of a serious writer and working at a socially engaged photo book. Obviously hasn’t lost the sacred flame as he excitedly pursues the proof of a murder that he has inadvertently recorded with his camera while stalking a couple in a park, in an increasingly dangerous quest for reality that will lead him to finding the body of a dead man only to lose all evidence but one print with an almost indiscernible grainy abstraction on it.
Having it all and not giving a damn, then finding the spark and setting out in hot pursue of what we really care about.
Failing to do that, we might as well go through the motions of our life in mindless stupor, as a man playing tennis with an imaginary ball.
So let us redefine the very notion of top photographer in the process, shall we?