When storytelling intertwines different art forms
written by Luca De Nardo
Once again in this episode we remain – so to speak – in Italian territory after the case ‘Chi mi ama mi segua’ (Who loves me follow me) published in the last Christmas Special issue. It all started when, finding myself listening to a song by Lucio Battisti from the album ‘Una donna per amico’, the cover of the Album of the same name came to mind. Oh yes, because Albums used to have containers inside which there were plastic discs.
Sarcasm aside, allow me a digression on the meaning of a Record Album. It is not off-topic, on the contrary, perfectly related to the concept of Storytelling that is much talked about in the world of photography (about which immense rubbish has been said and is being said. ed).
A Record Album (Concept Album) is a collection in which all the songs contribute to give meaning as a whole, often revolving around a single theme or developing a story that can be instrumental, compositional or lyrical. Which is not in photography.
There are various theories of the birth of the Concept Album: some attribute it to Frank Sinatra in 1946, others to the Beatles with ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ (1967) or (an all-Italian case) to ‘Diario di una sedicenne’, recorded by Donatella Moretti in 1964.
After this historical digression, it is important to emphasise how fundamental it is for an artist to give a meaning and a central theme to a collection of works, whether we are talking about music or another form of expression. This principle is therefore also valid when we talk about photography, whether we are talking about an entire photographic set, a collection, a book or an exhibition.
And here we come to the central theme: ‘Giving expository and harmonic meaning to a work of omnia’.
To substantiate this idea, here we go back to Lucio Battisti’s ‘Una Donna per Amico’ album: a cover that does not consist of a single classical frontal picture, but of a front, a back and an inside (Lucio Battisti’s original vinyl album opened like a book inside which – gatefold – was another double-sided picture).
To be honest, there is very little information about the making of the photo set. The only certainty is that the author of the photos was Brian Ward, who to many says nothing, but who was the creator of some of David Bowie’s covers, including ‘The rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Man’ in that iconic London alley where the White Duke found his alter ego.
In short, if you haven’t guessed, a milestone in the world of music and photography.
Other information (and here my introductory statement ‘so to speak – in Italian territory’) tells us that that album was made entirely in the UK with English producer Geoff Westley. In fact, it was recorded at Manor Castle in Oxfordshire, and among the instrumentalists are Gerry Conway, Cat Stevens’ drummer and later drummer for Jethro Tull, and Laurence Juber, a member of Paul McCartney’s Wings.
The same photos that make up the cover – which, by the way, is the last cover in which Lucio appears in person – show the singer sitting with a woman whose name is unknown at a London café table.
The simplicity of content, the total normality of life scenes may seem almost banal, obvious, but precisely for this reason extraordinary: they trigger an almost perfect connection with the music and words of the album of the same name.
Photos that become iconic, in harmony with the entire ‘Una Donna per amico’ album.
Of course, you have to know and listen to the music and lyrics of this album to grasp the connection, but we are sure that the whole thing was not made casually, but meticulously thought out in mood and storytelling
A man and a woman, sitting at a small table, talking about them, each other, their relationship, their fears, their dreams, their problems, as a ‘non-couple’ confronting each other and experiencing a relationship together (or considered as such, perhaps in its birth or perhaps towards its end).
With this last presence of Lucio on his covers, Brian Ward’s photographs propose a clear and revolutionary dialectical shift. Until then, many of the covers of Battisti’s previous albums were done by Cesare ‘Caesar’ Monti, a brilliant photographer to whom we owe many of the most beautiful covers for works by Italian artists of the 1970s and 1980s, but which had a more blunt, direct, static, incisive language.
With Brian everything changes, the paradigm changes. Images of a shocking modernity which could have been taken two weeks ago, in that quivering desire to capture that chatter between the two, that frozen instant between a man and a woman for a friend. A voyeuristic cut, stolen but in a becoming of gestures, glances, postures, almost ‘singing’ passages from the songs that Brian surely did not hear (or perhaps he did).
A natural extension of Mogol’s songs translated into film. For those who know these songs, the words almost seem to come out of Brian’s images. Nuances, painterly details, a distinctly northern European approach of today… too bad these pictures were taken 44 years ago. It’s all a flow of events and situations, a thread of randomness, normality, from the words, to the music, to the photos.
It’s an extraordinary STORYTELLING, what else is there to say?
The song Una Donna per amico (LP version) is preceded by a sort of home recording: in fact, the voices of a child and a woman can be heard, while Battisti whispers the melody while playing the guitar.
Producer Geoff Westley denied the erroneous rumours about it
“The intro was recorded at The Manor. The idea of inserting this intro came about because in the late afternoon, when the staff at The Manor were starting to prepare dinner, opening the studio door you could hear noises coming from the kitchen window, with the girls preparing food with their small children. They liked the idea of a familiar, everyday mood, so much so that they decided to put a microphone in front of the kitchen window, while Lucio in the studio played guitar and whispered the melody of the song’.
The text, written by Mogol, is dedicated to a friend of his named Adriana, whose friendship was based on an exchange of confidences and mutual consolation, however jealous of each other
“You fell in love with whom?
Too docile, she’s not for you.
I know I get obnoxious
but it’s better than hypocritical”.
The name of the bar is visible on the awning on the back cover.
On the inside of the gatefold, however, it is possible to get a better view of the shop window, from the lettering on which it is clear that this is an English bar.
“Ciao 2001″, on the occasion of the LP’s release, published the last photo of a Lucio Battisti cover featuring his image. From then on, no new official photo of the artist was published.
In the photo in the gatefold behind the couple, a mysterious figure appears, perhaps a passer-by, partially reflected in the mirrored wall. It was never removed… because it was part of Life and Chance.
Furthermore, four coffee cups appear on the coffee table: the two must have drunk two espressos each, perhaps because the two were engaged in a long conversation, weren’t they? Or were producer Geoff Westley and photographer Brian Ward simply sitting at the table with them before deciding those fleeting shots?
My opinion is that the second hypothesis is more likely, after all that chair on the right is what remains of the original group, moved and abandoned there by chance.