Freelance curator and arts writer Paola Anselmi is based in Australia. She is currently undertaking a PhD in Photography at the University of Western Australia.
The Stillness of Suspense
Christophe Canato’s photographic work sits within a tradition of artists whose practice is steeped in contemporary romanticism and social symbolism. While Canato’s work is certainly haunting and mesmerizing, it is not sublime, but rather links to a kind of ‘ironic romanticism’, which reveals the inconsistencies and the contradictions of contemporary life.
While Canato’s photographs are not explicitly autobiographical, they are informed by a personal investigation into his own male identity, the sense of dislocation, relocation and transformation in a changing western society.
Throughout his 20-year practice, from earlier series such as Pièces à Conviction(2001), Ragamuffins (2009), Women of Jerusalem (2011) andRicochet (2013),one quality that underscores his photographic oeuvre is a quiet, pervasive sense of drama, a performance that is soundless and yet piercing. Over time, this sensibility has matured and has become increasingly sharp without ever being confrontational or provocative.
The sense of communication and accessibility is paramount in all of Canato’s photo-media works. Whether through a household object, a child, an insect or a bird, his subject matter is never aloof and indifferent. The viewer is always invited, and at times sweetly persuaded, to enter into a dialogue free from condescension and open to personal and subjective engagement.
Canato’s subjects, often represented with a stoic sense of determination and self-awareness in a moment of partial surrender, are often disarming, sometimes vulnerable and aware of the viewer’s presence. These subjects are often bound by a deep and concentrated blackness, yet nothing is static and the subjects are arrested in a transient pause, the momentary stillness between actions, where movement is only implied. One of the strengths of Canato’s photographs is the suspense of expectation.
From the very beginning of his artistic practice, Canato has increasingly focused on extremes and the duality of opposites in his work, proposing multiple directions in his photographs: the child and the adult, past and present, light and dark, attraction and repulsion. The image itself sits in the uncomfortable middle area, where the tension that keeps the balance between opposites lies.
There is no ‘grey area’ in Canato’s photographic work, as this would imply a sense of uncertainty. As in a film noir script, every action is investigated, every object is bagged and every scene is scrutinized. Every element is important to lead the viewer to question not only the image and its meaning, but their own responses to it and their own realities. Each photograph is meticulously composed, all superfluous elements are removed, and the minimal yet rich remainders all have a function, they act as keys to new interpretations and narrative journeys.
Often, important works that question our global and shared status quo develop with a slow burn. Over the last two decades, Christophe Canato’s photo-media practice has been measured and constant and importantly, thematically and conceptually coherent. Christophe Canato has developed an impressive volume of outstanding photographs and video based work that fits convincingly within a contemporary critical current underpinned by interests that question the contradictions and ambiguities of social paradigms.