The mind and the body, or the chronicle of a dissociation. “Brain Damage” by Michele Di Donato (published by The Dead Artists Society), is the photo report of the dissolved alliance’s effects happening between two organisms that have dissipated their connection in a crisis with detrimental effects for both, for the mind and for the body. Michele Di Donato accompanies us in a very unwieldy territory, as that of psycho-physical disorders, which outcomes hold the subjects down, chaining them up to multiple pathologies. Photography, it is said, does not have the power to depict a feeling nor – as in this case – describe a state of well-being.
To overcome this limitation, photography bypasses the obstacle and recovers its witnessing role by representing the absence of it. But to do so, thus rearranging its ontology, the photography of absence requires a direction, an attitude that, strictly speaking, borders on reportage, resulting into a documentary sphere. “Brain Damage” is an essay, as Fabiola Di Maggio explains in the brilliant introduction, it is “a manifesto of psycho-photography where what you see is able to communicate even what you cannot perceive because it is hidden in the recesses of the mind”.
A precise definition; and a resolving one, to the extent to announcing that the attempt to represent an invisible and cruel disease is a topic that tests every photographer who decides to try his hand in this direction. Michele Di Donato, in the descent towards which he accompanies us, identifies four chapters, four specific pathologies from which the observer derives the sense of the multiplicity of personal stories, as numerous as the disturbing visions that crowd the subjects’ minds. And here, in this articulation, we learn how “Brain Damage” wishes to accomplish its mission to the end without omitting anything, as if the photographer’s gaze was called to collect each vision in respect of their manifestations. But this can only happen on one condition, that is, that the photographer does not lack that amount of pietàs that prevents him from committing the most serious of errors: judgment. Di Donato skilfully avoids it. His gaze is measured and compassionate: it records and leaves to others the right to formulate any consideration. And the reasons to reflect suddenly become innumerable.
“Brain Damage” opens with Craving, a behavioural crisis aimed at looking for everything that causes addiction – be it drugs or situations -, whose addiction leads to compromising relationships in the emotional, social and family sphere with all the isolationist repercussions that entail. The intake of drugs, alcohol or an irrepressible compulsion to repeat it in the contraction of the space-time frequency is experienced, considering the places of consumption, as a conforming craving. Therefore it is not a nihilistic disobedience in an undisciplined context but a destructive adhesion to an identity recognition. The images captured by Di Donato reflect well the alteration’s states: dry, violent images, painful close-ups and details that alone have a highly imaginative power that only a sensitive photographer can reverberate.
Doppelgänger is the chronicle of an internal struggle and a peace that is far to reach. Are we what we are, are we different beings, are we both? What perception do we get from reality if reality itself is experienced from several perspectives? Two personalities in a lot. And each one wants to dominate the other. In between, a depressive syndrome that often leads to hallucinatory states or delusional schizophrenia. Everything has its double. And here, in the laceration of the psyche, the bodies become battlefields in a war that does not foresee winners. Di Donato’s physical matter has the same lacerations: gnarled, tortured bodies reduced to oppressive mutations, captured at the exact moment of a transformation in which faces are no longer faces but heads, bodies no longer bodies but carcasses.Each photograph in Doppelgänger is a study on mutation, we can almost hear its screams, the “crackle of bones that disjoint themselves to change without cognition”, we feel the darkness and coldness of crowded solitude. Freud wrote that “the dream is an attempted fulfilment of a wish”. What “fulfilment” lies behind using Ketamine is to us, equally imperfect men, not known.
With Lost in the K-Hole, Di Donato investigates with a surrealist perspective the perceptual space of a daydream where temporal distances are cancelled out by the alternation in the consciousness of flows now devoid of coordinates. Time is no longer what we know as the state of alteration forces a remodelling of the cognitive space where every past experience, every memory is poured into the conscious present. The dystopia spreads, producing phantasmagoria, and the surroundings become a place where the oneiric deposits its narcotic debris. Dream power! At first it kidnaps, as it seduces and soothes at the same time, and then it captures and enslaves. In this series the intentional blur is functional to the description of a time within which the rapid movements are a part of the nature – the double nature – of it. A time that has lost its original link with space to alienate the vision of reality. Everything is done effectively and Di Donato gives us a work in which the conceptual dimension transposed into images is organic, with a coherence more than ever functional to the narrative.
Rorschach throws us into the final part of the volume. Once again psyche and matter are in conflict, but this time on eating disorders level and to bear the signs is a vilified body. The series, which owes its name to a psychoanalytic test that unlike the others, nonetheless reliable, sinks its research into the aspects of the unconscious, into the lesser known ridges of personality. Di Donato tackles the subject of anorexia with the usual delicate gaze, a gaze that tries to understand the most corrosive effects of the disorder and project them to the observer without rhetoric, that is, without a voyeuristic itch. The subjects so intimately caught in the chronic recurrences of the disorder appear to us in their composed weakness, in the silence of a cry for help from which, as emerged in the other chapters, the uneasiness of the relationship with their own self which is drifting among the waves of the soul.
“Brain Damage”, once its aspiration to be a synopsis of the evils that afflict mankind is overcame, calls us to ask ourselves about the purposes of contemporary photography, its function, its goals. Documentary photography here embraces the clinical temperatures of self-destructive ailments, and does so without forgetting its own nature. In fact, Michele Di Donato’s photographs exude meaning that is never detached from formal research – it would have been easy to fall into the error of privileging one over the other and vice versa – instead it is precisely in this balance that is possible to find the keys to the interpretation of a volume that convinces while dealing with difficult issues. With “Brain Damage” photography regains its function, often neglected for the benefit of easier productions. Its lens goes beyond matter, perforates the bodies to directly reach there, in the psyche, where the key to malaise is found. Even this, if you want, is the ability to make a good photograph, and this is what makes a photographer a good photographer.
© 2020 The Dead Artists Society