ARTS MAGAZINE

Regina DeLuise
By BARRY SCHWABSKY
The photographs of Regina DeLuise have that classical look, so depending on your prejudice they’re likely to produce either immediate pleasure or instant suspicion.

I suspect both reactions of superficiality. For one thing, DeLuise understands how both the seductions and the risks she’s courting are built into her technique: “The palladium contact prints casts images in a sepia light that most people associate with 19th century pictures. I use an 8 x10 Wista camera and 100% rag layout bond, which is hand coated with palladium, then exposed to an ultraviolet light source. In Florence I printed in the sun. It was a challenge to confront the most classical of landscapes with a photographic medium that, by it’s nature, creates an ‘antique’patina, and still make strong contemporary photographs.” But the connection with classical photography is not merely technical. It is no surprise to learn that the landscape drawings pinned to the wall in one photograph are by DeLuise herself; so many of the early photographers trained their eyes by way of their hand, not just the view finder, and DeLuise shares that kind of compositional clarity.

Her photographs also show an eye for the most delicate textural nuance. That may be why, beyond the somewhat factitious sepia glow of memory, these pictures recall the massiveness and precision of the 19th century topographical views. There is an almost acidic objectivity at work here. To see a bit of Italian masonry in one of these photographs is to feel that it was meant to be translated into just this wash of tonalities on this grain of paper.
 
DeLuise’s objectivity is complicated, however, because it is an objectivity toward how something is seen as well as (what we expect from “straight“ photography) toward what is seen. This may be clearer if we look at DeLusie’s images of Italy with this passage in mind, written by David Carrier in his discussion of the paintings of Frances Lansing, an American artist who lives and works in Florence:

Our “Italy” is less the real place inhabited by the Italians than a highly overdetermined cultural stereotype, a verbal and visual cliché. Richard Shiff has noted an interesting connection between the concept of the cliché and photography: “a photographer’s negative (in French, the cliché) acquires aura as a kind of plenitude of handling” Like the photograph, the cliché is a product of the era of mechanical reproduction, that era when pictures and texts are produced for mass consumption. For all us non-Italians, from tourists on bus tours to the sophisticated visitor, Italy has a certain aura, a product of chichés (which may of course not be altogether untruthful) determining how we see Italy.

What is so striking about DeLuise’s photographs from Italy is their power to make the cliché and the reality almost coincide, to caress the viewer with a efficacious incarnation of his dearest idea of Italy and at the same time prick him (Barthes’s punctum) with fresh and unfamiliar perceptions. In other words, these pictures indulge in an extremely refined form of sentimentality, then carry that refinement even further in order to deliver the joussance that occurs when the sentiment one has enjoyed is shattered at just the moment when it would otherwise have begun to cloy.

More recently, DeLuise has been taking photographs in the American northeast—New York State and Vermont. As one might expect, the change of scene is also a change in theme. The American pictures are less atmospheric. They transmute the almost sedimentary tonal variegations of the Italian pictures into something smoother, more metallic. A blow-up rubber raft looks as hard and seductive as Koons’s steel bunny. Figure/ground oppositions become more marked allegorizing that alienation of Americans from their landscape that D.H. Lawrence noted in his Studies in Classic American Literature, perhaps. The American photographs are more straightforward than the Italian ones-or at least they appear that way. It’s undoubtedly harder to see through a cliché about oneself than about someone else. But I suspect Regina DeLuise is seeing more than I can yet account for.

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