Giovanni Chiaramonte

The Image as Remembrance wishes to thank Laura Geronazzo/Ultreya for kindly providing us with this English translation of Mr. Chiaramonte essay, which was written for the Italian publication Luce istantanea. Giovanni Chiaramonte is a distinguished Italian photographer.

Seated on the railing of a balcony against a backdrop of light birch trees, a handsome woman, her lips closed, hints at a smile. A young soldier, his machine gun slung over his shoulder, stares ahead with an intense melancholy stiffening his face under his bearskin cap with the five-pointed star of the Red Army. An old house, its logs worn and disjoined by the passage of time, stands alone, immersed in the light, along the line of shadow at the edge of a woods. These are Andrei Tarkovsky's most beloved black and white images, the ones crucial to his destiny: his mother Maria Ivanovna, his father Arseni, his childhood home at Ignat'evo. Tarkovsky selected, reproduced, and pasted these and other photographs taken from his family album into a black diary he carried with him. A visual sequence of his life, a presence of the past that would accompany the director in his preparation and making of the film Mirror and would stay with him, like a pocket flash-back to be played and played again in his moments of homesickness throughout his brief life, up to his exile in Italy and his death in Paris on December 29, 1986.

Acceptance of the history of the people and the family of his birth, acknowledgment of the cultural tradition in which he was generated, all-embracing love for the vocation to freedom and creativity of man made in the image and likeness of God: these are the foundations of Tarkovsky's art. "In all my films," he wrote, "it has seemed to me important to make an effort to establish the bonds that connect persons... the bonds that united me in particular to mankind, if you will, and all of us with everything that surrounds us. It is indispensable to me to feel my condition as heir, and that I am not in this world by chance... It has always been very important for me to establish my belonging to a tradition, a culture, a circle of persons or ideas." [1]

The vitality of this belonging, in him, comes from accepting, acknowledging, loving also the little images of his own genealogy, these humble traces of daily life seen through memory, viewed by remembering; and, as in the dream sequence that runs through Ivan's Childhood, awakening the little orphan to the sacrificial fulfillment of his destiny, so too does the film Mirror reflect the decisive scenes of the story by reconstructing literally on the set one of these black and white photographs as the foundation for the scene.

An instantaneous mirror of memory, every photograph leaves an immobile trace of what has been, a fixed imprint of something that is no longer what it was before, a silent simulacrum of someone who has disappeared forever from the horizon of our vision. And, as a simple act of remembering, the photograph seems to testify only the disappearance and death of persons and of the feelings that bind us to them, of things and of the places to which they belong.

Seen under this aspect, the act of remembering is the recording of a given imposed on consciousness by exterior reality according to the linear logic of necessity, the inexorable law of nature, the Euclidean mechanism of cause and effect that structures and governs human history in the shape of tragedy. The artist, Tarkovsky says, must be "able to go beyond the limits of linear logic to express the particular nature of the subtle ties and profound phenomena of life, its deep complexity and truth," [2] the deep and complex truth of life in which he was generated as the heir of one of the greatest poets of the generation of Pasternak, Mandelstam, Achmatova, Cetaeva.

For the poet Arseni Tarkovsky, Andrei's father, "death does not exist/ we are all immortal/ and immortal is every thing. At seventeen/ one should not fear death, nor at seventy./ Being and light alone have reality, darkness and death have no existence./ We are all already on the shore of the sea/ and are among those who drag the nets/ while immortality gleams beside them./ Live in the house and it will not fall down./ I shall call forth any century at all,/ to enter into it and build my house./ This is how your children and wives/ will sit with me at the table./ One sole table for ancestor and descendant./ The future is happening now." [3]

In this genealogy, for the director Andrei Tarkovsky, Arseni's son, "the artistic image is an image that ensures its own development within itself. This image is a seed, a living organism in evolution. It is the symbol of life, but is different from life itself. Life includes death. The image of life either excludes it or considers it as the only possibility for affirming life. The artistic image is in itself an expression of hope, a cry of faith, and this is true independently of what it expresses, even if this were to be man's perdition. The creative act is already in itself a negation of death. It follows that it is intrinsically optimistic, even if in the last analysis the artist is a tragic figure." [4]

The creative act of the artist, in this tradition, thus passes through the act of remembering. Moved by the conscious will and aware of the self, the act of remembering is a personal re-evocation set in action in the dynamic of freedom: it enables us to face the whole of reality in all its aspects, and thus all the feelings, thoughts, decisions that reality calls forth in man's heart.

The act of remembering places the "I" in front of the drama of freedom, the choice between evil and good, and gives it the chance to turn towards the edification of life, and not the desolation and destruction of death, the flow of actions. For Andrei Tarkovsky, remembering is a decision of love and mercy, a risk of faith and hope that returns the heart from pain at an event by now over, dead, and definitively closed in itself, to the openness of new life in a different form, still having a relation to the present.

"Man interests me because of his willingness to put himself at the service of what is most lofty and also because of his inability to accept the daily Philistine moralism of life," Tarkovsky wrote. "I am interested in the man who is aware that the meaning of existence lies first and foremost in the struggle against the evil within, in lifting himself higher in the course of his life, even if only one step, in the spiritual sense." [5]

The movement of the heart that is activated by remembering, through the objective given of memory, allows the eyes to see beyond the Euclidean limits of appearance and to look, in man and in the world, at the truth of destiny, bringing finally into focus a finished and definitive image of reality: an image as visibly alive and profound as the infinity and eternity mirrored in it. An image that, springing forth from the deepest heart of the person's freedom, is illumined from within as the very foundation of man's identity.

The image, then, generates, comprehends, and brings together in one sole spatial-temporal plane its creator, the object represented, and the one looking at it over the course of time. From this point of view, Andrei Tarkovsky can thus move back and forth between film and photography in the unique and ingenious invention of a dramaturgy of the optical image which has in Time, besides the tragedy of history, its focal and generative point.

"Time is indispensable to man, so that, by becoming flesh, he can realize himself as a person," he states. "I am not alluding to linear time, the time that determines the possibility to succeed in doing something, in accomplishing some act. The act is a result, whereas I am talking about the cause which makes man fertile in the moral sense. History is not yet Time. And nor is evolution. These are a succession. Time is a state. It is the flame inside which lives the salamander of man's soul." [6]

Because of its significant proximity to this poetics of vision, organized between experience of time as an absolute and the act of remembering as creation, Andrei Tarkovsky had extensive recourse to Polaroid photography in the last phase of his work: in Russia, in the period leading up to his decision to leave his fatherland for good, and in Italy, when he made Tempo di viaggio (a film for Italian TV) and Nostalghia, searching for a place where he could build a home totally his own, a house capable of holding not only his wife Larisa, who was with him in exile, but also his son Andrei and their dog Dak, left distressingly far away, hostages to the Soviet power. These color images are even smaller than the black and white ones in his diary of memories; and yet, precisely this small size, on the far edge of visibility, brings forth all the force and poignancy of the light that shaped them through the eyes and heart of their author, by requiring the humble gesture of drawing close and bending attentively over them.

A soft, suffused light floating like the fog over the fields of the immense plain around Mjasnoe, watched over by Dak. An evening light reflected, lighter than the sky, in the water along the bank of the Parà River where the child Andrei plays with the dog. A low, raking light given off by the grass in the woods and encircling, like a halo, Larisa standing on the threshold of their house in Russia or on the wall of a road in Italy. A crystalline light, penetrating the darkness in the rooms, revealing the silent immobility of everything and everyone: the flowers in the vases, the water in the pitchers, the fruit in the dishes, the chairs in the halls, his wife, his son, the actor Anatolij Solonitzyn, the screenwriter Tonino Guerra intent on writing or in rapt silence inside a church. A light as powerful as the energy of the sun, reflected off a valley in Lazio or the façade of a church by the Saint Catherine pool in Bagno Vignoni, throwing into shadow every other figure present.

In the absence of a horizon, of a vanishing point ending in infinity as in Western linear perspective, the light silhouettes the essential figure within every image in the dimension — wholly Orthodox and Eastern — of reversed perspective, and displaces it in the definitive instant of remembering, which is a gaze on the destiny lying in the future and nostalgia for the infinite end, and not regret for what is irreparably past and unreachably distant.

The unbroken moment that takes on life in the image in Andrei Tarkovsky's films, in his Polaroid photographs, is transfigured and becomes the unbroken moment of contemplation for us looking at them, making every image become a part of our lives, a memory of our own personal experience.

The winged figure of an angel comes to rest, luminous in the surrounding darkness, like a visible presence of heaven on earth: a presence hidden by a veil, a presence that cannot be described except by the gesture of showing another invisible presence to our watching gaze. On the set of the film Mirror, Andrei Tarkovsky put himself in a shot lying in a hospital bed, holding a tiny bird in his right hand. And this is what happened to him at the end of his life: in his sickroom in Paris, the room where he died, a little bird would fly every morning through the open window and come to light on him.  end block


Andrei Tarkovsky was born on April 4, 1932, in Zavraz'e, the son of the poet Arseni Tarkovsky and Maria Ivanovna Visnajakova. His mother's training and his father's example introduced him to the tradition of Russian realism, as expressed by Gogol and Dostoevsky. After finishing high school in 1954, he went through a grave crisis and, at his mother's initiative, was sent on a botanical and geological research expedition to Siberia, a crucial experience for him in the boundlessness of the great Russian land. On his return he enrolled in the Moscow Film School, studying particularly closely the teaching of Mikhail Romm and receiving his diploma in 1960 with the short feature, The Steam Roller and the Violin. His first work, Ivan's Childhood, received the Golden Lion in 1962 at the Venice Film Festival. He then filmed Andrei Rublev, completed in 1966, but released only five years later after a long struggle with Soviet censors. During the filming of Andrei Rublev he met Larissa Pavlovna Egorkina, whom he married shortly thereafter; it was his second marriage. Their son, Andrei, was born in 1970. He then began making films again, creating with increasing difficulty Solaris in 1972, Mirror in 1974, and Stalker in 1979. The friendship and esteem of Tonino Guerra enabled Tarkovsky to come with his wife to work in Italy, where he decided to settle permanently in 1981. He then made Tempo di viaggio (in Italian) and Nostalghia in 1983, which won an award at the Cannes Film Festival. His last work was Sacrifice, filmed in Sweden in the summer of 1985 and edited during the sudden illness that overtook him at the end of that year. The terminal nature of his illness enabled his son Andrei to be released by the Soviet authorities who had been holding him hostage. In the last year of his life he managed to finish the book Sculpting in Time. He died in exile in Paris on December 29, 1986. His funeral was celebrated in the Orthodox cathedral in Paris, accompanied by the music of Bach played by Mstislav Rostropovic. Andrei Tarkovsky's body, at his request, rests in the Orthodox cemetery of Sainte-Géneviève-des-Bois, near Paris.


[1] Andrei Tarkovskij, Scolpire il tempo [Sculpting in time], Milan, 1988, p. 174.
[2] Ibid., p. 22.
[3] Arseni Tarkovsky, Life life, in La steppa [The Steppe], Pistoia, 1998, p. 9. This poem is recited by the poet's voice during the sequence when the soldiers of the Red Army are crossing Lake Sivas.
[4] Andrei Tarkovsky, Diari. Martirologio [Diaries. Martyrology], Florence 2002, p. 139.
[5] Andrei Tarkovsky, Scolpire il tempo [Sculpting in time], Milan, 1988, p. 184.
[6] Ibid., p. 55.
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