Vasco Ascolini - Fotografo


Like (almost) every Italian photographer of my generation – 1937 – or even earlier, I began as an amateur photographer, taking part in national and international competitions, those being the only possibilities we had to present our photografic work, meet for an exchange of ideas and then leave to explore new pathways in that extraordinary territory. Many people don’t like to admit it…but I own up to every single step of my journey.

That period did not last long, but it was a moment of reflection and valuable training in the school of camera obscura that helped me understand which photographic genres I wanted to work with. I started with low-tone photography, then, seduced by Giuseppe Cavalli’s images, I moved on to high tones. When I started working in the theatre in 1973, I returned – quite naturally – to my black tones that would later become a wonderful obsession. They followed me to this day, growing thicker and thicker, and I hope they will stay with me to the end of my journey.

In the 1970s I made a crucial decision – which I would make again – namely to continue my career “extra muros”, leaving not only my city and my region, but also my country. For the theatre, I contacted the major museums in the US: I knew that the only thing that would be the quality of my product, not my political colors. I have a difficult character and my back is reluctant to bend.

Sometimes my photographs were appreciated and sometimes they weren’t, but now they’re on display in collections of theatre photography at the Metropolitan Museum and MoMA. In the art exhibition of the Public Library at the Lincon Centre in 1985 concluded my work as a theatre photographer.

Meanwhile, from the second half of the 1980s, I started working on the cultural heritage of cities, always bringing my black tones with me. In that case the focus was Europe and, to a lesser extent, Italy. Franced welcomed me more than any other country, opening the doors of its museums for me – first the Musée Rodin, then the Louvre, the Carnavelet Museum, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and many others. Arles, the city where the Festivals were invented, gave me great visibility abroad thanks to curator Michèle Moutashar. The same goes for Italo Zannier and Sandro Parmiggiani, to whom I owe my only retrospective exhibition. i had the privilege of meeting and having essays written about my work by some of the most prominent cultural figures of the past century, such as Ernst Gombrich, Jacques Le Goff, Aaron Scharf, Marzio Dall’Acqua, but also C. Lemagny, M. Quetin, Janus, G.Vercheval, J. Arrouye, M.Mussini, T.Wood, A. Schwarz, P. Sorlin….and younger ones such as R. Pujade, J. L. Monterosso, J. Brand, C. Breton, X. Cannone, A. Gioè, H.Pinet, G. Bresc, F.Reynaud, D. Giugliano.

I have a wish: to keep taking photography and haunting people’s imagination for a long time.



Hilda Bijur 

Vasco Ascolini has been taking photographs since 1965.

The photography of dance and theater pose special questions since three separate creative forces are often at work, and occasionally on a collision course. The artist photographer takes picture of an artist performer – the actor or dancer – in a work created by the artist choreographer, or playwright.

Who has the final word? Is it acceptable for the artist photographer to use the stage as he uses the landscape, as raw material with which he can mold his own images? There are interesting examples of this esthetic dilemma in a brilliant exhibit of photographs by Vasco Ascolini, <<The Body and the Field>>, at the Vincent Astor Gallery at Lincoln Center through September 23.

From 1973 to 1990, he was the official photographer of the Teatro Municipale “Romolo Valli”, a historic theater in Reggio Emilia, one of the most active and beautiful theaters in Italy.

Theater and dance companies perform there from all over the world and Ascolini has photographed the Netherlands Dance Theater, Alvin Ailey, the Israel Ballet, the Bolshoi, the Kabuki and the Noh theaters from Japan, mime Marcel Marceau and others.

A unique opportunity to undertake a comparison between the languages of photography and the theatre, with a focus on the movement of the bodies, dance, a mimicry.

Ascolini brings a special dimension to his pictures in the interplay of black and white tones and his concern for photographic space. The stark white faces and limbs of the performers against the velvet black of the stage create a chiaroscuro Ascolini treats as an element of design and feeling.

The painted white oval face of Kabuki dancer bisects the length of a solid black photograph commanding attention on visual terms quite separate from the dance.

Marcel Marceau’s outstretched white arm and hands piercing the darkness convey the mime’s intention without the need to show his torso. White streaks of elongated legs, a fan, a mask, a whirling white skirt are details isolated by Ascolini to suggest a larger canvas.

<<My approach to theater photography>>, Ascolini says, <<aims at objectivity, s close-up attention to gesture, mimicry…the torso, the limbs…, the face…are all areas to isolate and concentrate on with the “scalpel” of photographic optics>>.

His startling effects are achieved in part in the darkroom where he crops and prints and pushes his Tri-X film four times beyond normal development to erase detail from the original negative. He says that it is essential the picture << offer me the opportunity to carry out any secondary operations (subsequent to shooting) I feel will not diverge from but approach the general context of the performance>>.

This is an unconventional approach to dance photography, and Ascolini admits that dances do not always enjoy his <<scalpel>>. But Ascolini is an arresting photographer, and if one is willing to grand him the artistic freedom he assumes, his pictures surely evoke the essential dynamism and beauty of the dance.



Fred Licht

Ascolini’s images have the uncanny effect of a déjà-vu. They are startlingly new yet at the same time they are hauntingly familiar. These photographs are reminiscent of sensations, emotions and states of mind that stirred us deeply but that were too fleeting for us to seize in their full importance.

Ascolini’s talent is difficult to define because it is not only a talent for photography but a talent for discovering human necessities, human needs. For all the surprising nature of his photographs, they are immediately convincing and never bizarre. Goya frequently captioned some of his most horrifying prints of wartime massacres with the words “This I saw”. Ascolini can say the same of his transfigurations of reality. Even though we ourselves never saw what he saw, we instantly believe what he discovered – and we never perceived – in the world that surrounds all of us. Her is one of the few photographers I know who can make his camera record what he saw…..visions that his camera’s lens could never have noticed.

His work has sometimes been compared to de Chirico’s “metaphysical[” paintings and the comparison is enlightening. Yet there is a clear distinction between the two artists. Ascolini’s photographs are never disquieting, never foreboding of some invisible menace as are de Chirico’s best paintings. Even in his most enigmatic photographs Ascolini always provides an element of recognizable reality we can share with him that acts as a lifeline while we submerge ourselves in Ascolini’s poetry as it turns fact into legend.

Another aspect of his talent I find especially appealing is that he never imposes his perceptions on us. Instead he lets us participate in his voyage of discovery. He refuses what in German is called “Effekthascherei”. Though the impact of his images is strong, one always has the feeling that rather than “invent” the composition in order to achieve a previously calculated effect, the image met him half way. He simply responds with great sensitivity to what the reality in front of his camera offers him of its own free will.

Equally characteristic of his style (which isn’t a “style” at all but a way of responding to visual stimuli) is his ability to catch the essence of the whole by focussing on a tiny detail. His shot of the lighted profile of an acquasantiera in Mantua allows us to understand the majesty of the church which remains invisible.

If I have shied away from discussing his handling of darkness, the most salient feature of his imagery, it is because it is the most difficult aspect of Ascolini’s genius to put into words. From a purely esthetic point of view his ability to keep the black elements of his compositions from remaining spacious and atmospheric instead of flattening out into black surfaces is in itself amazing. What is still more admirable is the range of emotions, sensations, responses he is able to elicit by the use of what is essentially a dark void. His darks take on the sonorous quality of an organ tone vibrating in the air long after the instrument itself has fallen silent. He has the power of circumventing our primitive fear of darkness. His shadows never corrode. They embrace.


(from Vasco Ascolini. La vertigine dell’ombra. Fotografie 1965-2007, catalogue of the exhibition, Reggio Emilia, Palazzo Magnani, 15th December 2007 – 10th February 2008, Skira, Milano 2007)

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