Italo Calvino, The Adventures of a Photographer

I read a chapter of ‘Basic Critical Theory for Photographers’ by Ashley La Grange about the short story, “The Adventures of a Photographer” by Italo Calvino. It follows the story of fictional philosopher Antonino Paraggi.

Antonino Paraggi senses a “growing isolation” (la Grange, 2013) from his friends and colleagues as more and more he finds himself on the outside of conversations that revolve around photography. He felt that he was losing those friends to photography itself.

La Grange feels as though Paraggi was “avoid[ing] having to consider another, more evident, process that was separating him from his friends.” (la Grange, 2013) He “pretend[ed] that nothing had changed” (la Grange, 2013) but in reality, his friends now had families and he -being a bachelor- had fewer things in common with them.

He began his investigations into photography with the intention of finding out just what it was about the medium that he wasn’t connecting with. One of the first conclusions that he came to was that photography was intrinsically linked with fatherhood.

Paraggi felt that, had something been photographed once, “you must either live in the most photographable way possible, or else consider photographable every moment of your life.” (la Grange, 2013) There was no middle ground- either you didn’t take a photograph or you took every photograph possible over and over to truly capture the subject.

He at one point summarises photography as, “these temporal slices, the thickness of a second” (la Grange, 2013) which I personally consider to be really effective.

It’s not difficult to see how his fundamental dislike of photography -particularly of snapshots- was deeply personal. Whilst I agree with some of his points, for example,
“You are living in the present, but the moment the scanlation of the frame is insinuated between your acts it is no longer the pleasure … that motivates you but, rather, that of seeing yourselves in the picture, of rediscovering yourselves in twenty years’ time.” (la Grange, 2013)
In the modern day, this is taken to the extreme at concerts where recording the event is more important than the experience of being there.

He eventually took up photography to continue exploring the medium. He preferred the posed portrait over the snapshot because of its deliberate pretension- the ‘point’ was fakery and to pose. He expressed that through posed portraiture he could “make explicit the relationship with the world that each of us bears within himself.” 7 Yet he still struggled, at one point expressing, “I can’t get you” (la Grange, 2013) to a subject when he couldn’t capture every aspect of their personality and character. La Grange explained this difficulty as, “there were many possible photographs of Bice and many Bices impossible to photograph.” (la Grange, 2013)




Ashley la Grange (2013). Basic Critical Theory for Photographers. 2nd ed. Oxon: Focal Press. Pages 172-177.

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