I think of Massimiliano Tommaso Rezza’s process as being a dislocated type of photographic practice. His work functions on the viewer being able to unlock parts of his cryptic use of images, but never all. One is asked to recognize inherent photographic themes and usages, but it is very difficult to place an exacting context around them. This is purposeful. It is a suggestive approach, the point of which is to leave the possibility for the viewer to pick up and set down the book in a manner that questions their own biases, projections, and yearnings. Nothing is fixed and all permission is granted so long as all you ask for is nothing.
Nothing is to be resolved. In the case of Rezza, the artist fully declares his hand in as much as he does not want to interrupt the audience’s subjectivity of his assembly. The only point in which some contextualization is given is the use of a title and I would suggest that the artist often struggles with whether or not that is necessary. You must refer to the history of images and civilization to wake the motifs found in Rezza’s books to activate them. You must lean on your acquisition of photographic understanding to find a point of entry. The sand underfoot is loose and again, nothing is fixed but the wall of the tomb, not the flicker of the torch, nor the paintings and scratchings lining this musty and glistening vault.
In reviewing photographic books, one is often forced to wade through a smoking pile of hot garbage found by way of the introduction or essay. I know this because I have written many. This festering mound of smoldering explanation or justification of the work is meant to guide the viewer through the rights and wrongs of interpretation often built on an implausible universal understanding of images strung together at the point of tedium. Citations mount, the agreed-upon quotations lifted ever so carefully so as not to evoke the obvious are employed to carry the weight of what the artist he/she themselves are unable to explain let alone be brave enough to type on a word document.
These writings are often meant to work as bona fides offering re-assurances for the purchase of the book and the subsequent suggestion that knowledge is shared. The artist is often working the edges of their own understanding between what they produce and the interpretive and (almost always) historical crutch the writer demands of it. It is almost theater in as much as definitions are meant to, like a flag planted on the moon, declare something claimed; an attempt at ownership in the face of oblivion. It is a coercive mechanism for control- an infirmed dictatorship of the senses without considerable charm. These definitions should be held in contempt.
Rezza’s PSALM (Witty Kiwi) carries on his archival musings found in Atem (Yard Press, 2014) stringing images together in an uncomfortable and interrupted attempt at sequence. It feels broken and nihilistic in places. It reads in linear cinematic form from the roadside of hell. If you flick through the book fastly, there is an inherent “flipbook” feel to the images explaining a very very short moment in which a man bears witness to the conflagration of a church from a road high above. He checks in, (projection) watches the enveloping flames tear through the village engulfing the facade of the church. He checks out.
The black and white images suggest a thick veil of smoke forming between him and the subject (church, fire, or self?) that he bears witness to. The church is a focal point and gives the work an ash-scented note of sublime blasphemy from behind the celluloid curtain. The man watches the progress of the fire and we are given multiple viewpoints (omniscience) from which to view him, the fire, the landscape, and the church as we search for metaphor within the hallucinatory images. Finally, we are left with what appears to be the man alone in bed, shot from profile and looking late pre-mortem at best. This image is particularly reminiscent of Man Ray’s photograph of Marcel Proust on his death bed and perhaps that is the best analogy for the whole of the book.
This is a risk of a book to make for a publisher and it should be noted that we need more risk in the photobook publishing world. At once, the book looks overly congruent, samey, and difficult to read in the flatness of the grey images. This is a solid and singular set of book devices that allows the idea of the momentary and the cinematic to be delivered to the reader. What looks like an event circulates between dream and death. That there are no punctuating images asks us to consider the spectacle differently. The sequence is re-framed page by page and oscillates from the singular image to readings of their progress through the plurality of their parts offering the viewer the chance to stitch the movement together between flipping backward and forwards to read the whole of the fugue. I am reminded of a blackened symphonic aria- a dirge-like plunge into an aural and visual abyss.
There is no point of exhaustion in this. There is stasis and one feels almost trapped in the non-narrative. The atmosphere is filled with an ever-ongoing pulse tweaking the nerve on the side of the metaphorical face of it all. It is only a moment and yet it is slow and durational and can be read in the aforementioned slow cinematic reference like Bela Tarr filming the aftermath of an earthquake. It is a Mise-en-scène abomine; a stretched moment to the point in which elasticity favors entropy, phenomena the only constant. I highly recommend the book for people who want to think through a sequence and how to detach themselves from the over-arching and unnecessary crutches of realism.
(All Rights Reserved. Text @ Brad Feuerhelm. Images @ Massimiliano Tommaso Rezza.)