Daniele De Luigi

Art Kane, Sonny & Cher, 1966. «McCalls» © Art Kane Archive

The fate of Art Kane and his fame is a rather particular one when viewed against the panorama of American and international photography of the second half of the 20th century. When uttering his name today, we happen – undeservedly often – to be met by the puzzled gaze of those who doubt they have ever heard of him before. And yet, if you try showing those same people certain images of his, their faces will light up, immediately recognising a number of well-known icons seen before in newspapers, magazines, or perhaps blown up to poster size on the wall of some venue. Suffice to demonstrate just how much Art Kane’s photographs have overtaken the popularity of their creator, having become part of a sphere of popular imagery linked most of all to the world of pop, rock and jazz music (a label which he perhaps does not identify with entirely), but also to fashion and the social and political themes that enflamed the civil conscience of the USA throughout the 1960s. Kane was also a legend of the 1970s and ‘80s thanks to a great number of photographs, on this side of the Ocean as well, where his free and visionary approach to image-making and his use of the camera itself were looked upon with admiration. Over the years, Kane was to become great friends with Franco Fontana, whose testimony sums it up, as may be seen in the interview – filmed especially for the occasion – with Guido Harari. A photographer himself, Harari trained in the shadow of Kane’s images, and today is one of the driving forces behind that painstaking reconstruction of his archive which has made this exhibition possible. An approach pursued uncompromisingly, just like Kane’s own life, and which is probably at the basis of his alternating fortunes, despite the many pioneering aspects of his work, and the fact that his photographs have appeared in countless magazines without ever having been brought together in a book, at least until six months ago. [...]

Art Kane was not interested in following anything but his own ideas and work, instilling them with his own passion and principles. “I can’t shoot realistically. I need devices to break away from what we think is normal vision.” His photographs never mimic the way the gaze settles on the world, but aim to marry amazement and immediacy. Technical innovations, from wide-angle lenses to colour film, turned out to be his faithful allies, and ones which he never hesitated to exploit, experimenting with every effect they had to offer. In the field of fashion, he invented framings which had all the daringness of the avant-garde; indeed, some considered them unpleasant and lacking in elegance, yet these shots were to prove themselves forerunners of what was to come. [...] Managing to excel in the portraiture genre, deploying those secret skills that go well beyond the technical knowledge of the photographer, his skill lay in getting onto his subject’s wavelength (and as such, a creator of images as much as a portraitist) and interpreting the two-faced soul of the individual and the figure. [...]

There are those who claim that Art Kane had no style of his own, but this is not accurate: the truth is rather that he never sought recognisability, the definition of a style as a ‘factory brand’, which is something else entirely. A retrospective gaze allows us to clearly grasp the coherence of his vision and of his idea of photography as an expressive form that did not need to be pigeonholed as such. 


Extracts from the text featured in the catalogue “Art Kane. Visionary”, Wall Of Sound Gallery, Alba (CN) 2015