JTF (just the facts): Published in 2020 by Witty Books (here). Softcover (14.8 x 21 cm), 368 pages, with approximately 300 color photographs. Includes an essay by Ilaria Speri. In an edition of 500 copies. Design by Federico Barbon. (Cover and spread shots below.)
Comments/Context: In Flattened in Time and Space, the Italian photographer Angelo Vignali uses photographs taken by him, his family members, and his friends over the period of five decades to create an unusual visual narrative that revolves around the character of his grandfather Concetto Drago. He uses this collection of images to “remember” memories that belong to others, and in doing so, sets his own imagination free, creating an alternate narrative mindfully blurring fiction and reality. Vignali’s approach was inspired by the work of James Hillman, an American psychologist, who argued that reality was a construct of the imagination.
All of the images in the photobook were collected by the artist, reworked, and edited to follow the same aesthetic motif; they are in color and resized to the same horizontal dimensions. As they were assembled together in the new collective archive, their ownership and other details (for example, time and location) became rather irrelevant; instead, they blend into a new narrative, with new possibilities.
Vignali envisioned the project as a photobook from its very beginning. The book has a white cover, with the artist’s name, the title, and a small black and white image with UV varnish appearing at the very top, leaving most of the cover white. Inside, the images are arranged in five chapters that at first glance don’t have any obvious focus, and are simply titled as “Chapter 1”, etc. Each spread usually has two images, placed either at the tops or at the bottoms of the pages. This consistency in the design and layout becomes essential in building the narrative. Page numbers appear close to the gutter and in a big bold font, a design decision that stands out.
Just as the title of Vignali’s book suggests, the visual narrative is built without any concern for time and location. Time becomes fluid, and we can only guess the decade through details like cars and fashions. There is also no indication of where the photographs were taken, just a general note at the end referring to Sicily, Tunisia, and Venezuela. Flattened in Time and Space erases its specifics, opening up the possibility for creating its own story.
The book opens with photographs of a small town, with a number of shots capturing it from up in the sky, inviting us to admire its remarkable architecture. Perhaps, this is Scicli, a small town in Sicily where the artist’s grandfather was born and lived most of his life. The second chapter is significantly longer. It slows down and takes us on a long road trip: there are shots taken from a moving car, capturing side roads with trees, houses, ruins, gas stations, blue sky and fields, and, now and then, shots that drift further into complete blur. Is this a road trip Vignali took many times during his childhood and has fond memories of? Or one we can imagine taking ourselves?
Most of the photographs seem to have been taken by amateurs and don’t particularly stand out – they are often crooked, and lack a sense of deliberate composition. Yet this immediacy also gives them authenticity and life. Vignali looks at them again and again, as if trying to remember these moments. As he creates his narrative, he often pairs shots taken just moments apart, or from slightly different viewpoints. Are all moments equal? He is concerned with our perception of time and space, and with the nature of seeing. Occasional blurry shots only emphasize the limits of the camera and inconstant nature of the world. What happens when we are not looking?
As the pages turn, we are now in another town, and a number of images focus on cars parked under trees and on the streets. Chapter four takes us inside the house that the artist’s grandfather built – interior images show a bedroom, a lamp on a ceiling, doors, and a dining table with fresh flowers. Here, an attentive viewer encounters Drago for the first time, his silhouette is seen in the shadow of a doorway, as he is seated on the bed. There are other intimate details, likely best noticed by a family member or captured to be remembered: framed photographs, a wall calendar, an old alarm clock, clothes, a basket with fruit. This part of the book feels particularly personal.
The next time we see Drago is in the ocean. A snapshot of him peacefully floating on his back is paired with another more dynamic shot of him splashing water as he swims. There are a couple dozen photographs of him, one after another, as if trying to keep him present. In the photographs that follow, we get a closer portrait of the man: on the beach wearing sunglasses and an open shirt, posing on a vespa, in the garden with plants, working on a construction site. He is mostly by himself, but a number of photos show him with a young boy, probably the artist. This collective portrait captures him relaxed, calm, and mostly enjoying life. Perhaps this is how Vignali wants to remember his grandfather.
The final chapter contains only one photograph – an old sepia toned photo of Drago, looking the youngest we’ve seen him so far. It might be his wedding photo or just a party picture, as a strip of dark hair with what looks like a wedding veil is seen on the left side; perhaps the photo was cropped or the other person was moving out of frame. The end of the book takes us back to the beginning of the story, also circling back to the artist himself. In this photograph, Drago is roughly the same age as the artist, and as Vignali looks at his grandfather’s life, he also likely sees the patterns and repetitions of both his past and future.
The photobook offers a creative and unexpected way to look back at the scattered family memories and to rethink the potential of a collective archive. How do we actually remember, and what role do photographs play in this process? Flattened in Time and Space is an elegant photobook, full of mysteries and questions, and a clever way to explore the possibilities of storytelling.
Collector’s POV: Angelo Vignali does not appear to have gallery representation at this time. Collectors interested in following up should likely connect directly with the artist via his website (linked above).