Home Edizioneed. 7 The maieutics of the portrait – Dennis Ziliotto

The maieutics of the portrait – Dennis Ziliotto

by AdminAg

Written by Monica Camozzi – 

Socrates would have loved Dennis Ziliotto. Because in those seven, eight seconds before the shot, the person fixes body, mind, soul in the lens. The compendium of a human being reminds us of Nadar’s imperishable portrait of Charles Baudelaire: there we could grasp the perfect synthesis of the poet’s torment, of his nostalgia, of the unutterable things not yet rendered by the lexicon.
Those with filter fixations or miraculous post-productions, please stay where you are. Realism, though poetic, wins out here. The wet collodion technique, which Dennis uses in a masterly manner, allows no artifice: it even imprints the breath of personality on the plate and in the memory. Pure magic rendered in black and white, that humanity that digital photography loses behind millions of pixels.

When did you take this beautiful but undeniably difficult path?
I had opened my photography studio some time ago, being from Noventa Vicentina I was also working for the nascent Diesel, when digital arrived. At the beginning of the year 2000, the change in our world was very strong, and I pulled the plug: continue or stop? I decided to move forward by changing register and taking possession of this technique that dates back to the mid-19th century.

The ambrotyping technique – or ferrotyping – resets colours, has no shadows, and needs long exposures.

How do people react to their true image, without retouching?

Sometimes I lose some female audience: collodion is unforgiving, all the imperfections come out, it’s a ‘belly’ black and white. It also has no grain, so if you make a good exposure and have good light, the visual quality is extraordinary. The rendering then, on people with light eyes, is almost metaphysical.

Every day is always fascinating, nothing is the same as the day before.

Few of you will be able to realise this type of portrait…
In Italy yes, actually in the USA, Belgium, France, England, Germany, Holland, they are much more advanced, they use it much more. Even if, once they learn the technique, one in ten continues.

We go to McDonalds instead of eating bologna, everything has to be fast, it lacks that slowness that gives the sandwich its taste.

What role do aesthetics play in your images?
It is secondary, I prefer to photograph something more real, I don’t like cosmetic photography. I always try to put in something I am passionate about, I work with a theatre costume designer and a film make-up artist, the construction of the character is the most fascinating thing.

For me the most enjoyable part is thinking about the image and then creating it. Here nothing is schematic, the content becomes personal and subjective

But is there a current of photographers who have abandoned digital for analogue or not?
I don’t think so, the convenience of digital is something you can hardly give up. Sure, film is back in vogue, it’s more romantic, it’s cool for work, but with digital you take 5,000 shots then go into post production.

What does this type of photography give you -and those who get portrayed-?
Here you make a visual and tactile journey, the image is not volatile like in digital, it is an experience you make to get to the final shot. You get your hands dirty, you get physically tired. Then it doesn’t seem like it but 7 seconds, required in the studio for the pose before the shot, is an infinite amount of time. It happened to me that some people were so touched that they shed a few tears.

Have you ever been offered campaigns?
I did some portraiture work with hairstyles for a group of English hair dressers. Yes, they asked me for quotes for campaigns but the material costs here are high. Then, with the war, raw materials like aluminium for example have risen exponentially. I work a lot with private individuals, I do workshops.

The thing I dislike, especially in young people, is to see them not so much interested in the portrait as a whole but more inclined to post videos during the process or make everything Instagrammable.

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