Sacks 2003

Oliver Sacks divides the neurological pathologies described in his stories into two apparently opposite categories: deficit and excess. Deficit is the lack of functionality of a part of our intellectual or motor heritage; excess is an uncontrollable hyperactivity of the same sensorial mechanisms. Deficit involves agnosia of any type and excess all those pathologies with incontinence. I have selected ten clinical cases from Oliver Sacks’ works:

  • The man who mistook his wife for a hat.
  • The lost mariner.
  • The disembodied lady.
  • Phantoms.
  • The President’s speech.
  • The dog beneath the skin.
  • Homicide.
  • To see or not to see.
  • Migraine.
  • A walking Grove – the encyclopedic music-lover.

At first I thought of creating an image for each story, but the deeper I went into these stories the more I began to understand that although they appeared different, the pathologies described had a lot in common, so that though some images interpret single cases, others relate indifferently to several stories. The first problem I encountered was philological. Reading and re-reading the stories, my imagination came up with endless images which gave form to the sentiments expressed, but creating such images would be much the same as the work of a painter who illustrates a story, and would entail placing my imagination above the feelings I perceived. I believe photography should draw its soul from what already exists and that the only project which produces a photograph must be intellectual and emotional. Any image which is planned or materially constructed is an installation, not a photograph; it is not an idea but its publicity; not a feeling but, at best, the representation of one. Now, however, the immediacy of the instant of the shot reproduces the means of sentiments, not the sentiments themselves; memorable fragments are recorded, not memory itself. Consequently, I did not use the negative as the unrepeatable and unchangeable sediment of what the lens had recorded, but I accepted the fact that I was creating an image with superimpositions while trying to retain my emotional involvement for the time necessary to create the image, making the technical adjustments needed to compose a single negative with repeated exposures, changing lens, speed and shutter according to the suggestions of reality. I travelled with my fragments of images impressed on the negative and the inspiration of the story in my heart and mind, trying to remember what I had already acquired, ready to superimpose other parts of the image whenever I managed to see and feel them. If some photographs have come out of this, they are such from a technical and conceptual point of view. Obviously, my concept of photography.

Michele Alassio, September 2003