Composition, down at the bone, is about geometry. Lines, shapes, angles, forms. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the landscape work of Italian photographer Franco Fontana.
Fontana, born in 1933, didn’t take up photography until 1961 when he was 28 years old. Seven years later, he had his first show. Although he is most well-known for photographing the landscapes of his homeland, Fontana has also photographed cityscapes and nudes. Those works have met with significantly less success.
These simple landscapes remind us of the artificiality of the frame. The world extends beyond the limits imposed by the camera and the viewfinder. It’s exceedingly obvious that what Fontana shows us is only a very small part of the larger whole. Even though we only see a fraction of those fields we get a sense of the immensity of the world.
In many of his photographs, the only sense of scale comes from a tree…though we are at a loss to determine the size of the tree. The result of this absence of scale is a feeling of expansiveness, of infinite space. There is an almost palpable feeling of being on a planet.
Speaking of his landscape photography, Fontana says, “I try to isolate in space and time all that is normally mixed up with an infinity of details. Extracting a few essential elements from the entirety that presents itself to the human eye is one of my inner requirements.”
One of those essential elements, obviously, is color. It’s the deep, saturated color that gives Fontana’s minimalist imagery its stunning depth and richness. It seems as if there ought to be a contradiction between the spareness of the composition and the lushness of the color, but any incongruity somehow seems to recede the longer one looks at the image.
One of the things I found surprising about some of Fontana’s landscapes was the sense of motion. Not in the landscape itself, of course, but in the sky above it. One gets a sense of changing weather patterns moving across the stationary fields, of complete slow-moving weather systems shifting over the entire countryside, of a planet spinning on its axis.
Fontana’s work resides in more than 60 museums, he’s been exhibited in more than 400 galleries, he’s done commercial work for a staggering number of corporations (ranging from Volkswagen to Versace), his work has been featured in more than 40 books in over a dozen languages…and he’s done all this with fairly simple equipment. Fontana relies on a Canon 35mm film camera and uses only three lenses: a 17–35mm zoom, a 35–350mm, and a 14mm prime lens.
Fontana, in his interviews, comes across as a man with a lot of enthusiasm. He’s found a way to earn a very good living practicing a craft he enjoys. He’s not entirely content with his success; he continues to try new things with his photography, but it appears he’s not the least bit discouraged when those efforts are met with limited success.
Whether or not you like his photography, you have to love his attitude.