Riccardo Varini started to take photographs in 1979 as a self-taught photographer. From his father – a sensitive and kind person – he inherited a love of nature and of everyday objects, but his passions would begin to transform into an artistic engagement after his encounter with the Master of “concept” photography, Luigi Ghirri.
From 1984 he started focussing on art photography, exploring its expressive potential.
In the search for his own personal language, one of Varini’s sources of inspiration was the art of painting. In particular, he adopted the use of rarefied colours and made it his own, with images of large, luminous spaces and small details, typical of Chiaristi painters.
A focus on paintings was a means to break away from the overcrowded photographs characteristic of American-style images of the 70s, and to steer the aesthetics of his photography towards a sober, timeless dimension.
Varini’s rarefied and poetic language, focussing on the interplay between nature and the human spirit, first took shape in his Silenzi (Silences), which would emerge as the most significant work in his artistic output. Born out of these cross-influences, the images in Silenzi are represented with the aim of fostering meditation rather than capturing spaces of reality.
Varini does not see his work as belonging to the profession of photographer in the ordinary sense of the term. The main focus of his interest is above all the poetic dimension and the depiction of atmospheres created by meticulously selected details.
In Ghirri’s work, Varini is especially drawn to a particular kind of slow photography, which in his own aesthetic style becomes a photography made up of full and empty spaces. He creates his works with images containing the kind of silence that helps to meditate, with scenes enveloped in a dimension of stretched and motionless time which give rise to his reflection on a fast, aseptic and overloaded world. In this way, he takes Ghirri’s teachings to extremes. At times he seems to evoke a Magrittian metaphysical space, which, blurring into the image, becomes hazy and impalpable.
Varini’s photos represent the reality only on the surface, in actual fact they live for the pleasure of vision. They are images constructed through long waits – visions studied for a long time and composed not so much to amaze as to be simply contemplated. Perhaps to express one’s own and other people’s solitude. They are images with an idea of subtly meditated poetry rather than meditated images. This is why Varini does not put a title to his photographs. He wishes those who admire them to feel free to appropriate to themselves their individual meaning.
In his work for the series Stanze (Rooms) Varini’s point of departure is once again the pictorial language, and in particular Edward Hopper’s empty theatre. While in the light-flooded rooms the evanescence we perceive makes us feel lost in a kind of sacredness of the space, in the other – darker – rooms, the space in the image evokes 17th century Dutch paintings. Thus, the “waits” of Varini’s characters are more reminiscent of Rembrandt‘s or Vermeer ‘s paintings than Hopper‘s . But to Varini the physical quality of the room is not important in itself; he is mostly interested in the concept of “threshold”, namely the distance that allows one to contemplate silence and to imagine beyond the walls.
This “wait” is also found in his “notturni” (Night scenes), in each of which it feels as if something might happen at any moment. We speak about “Rooms”, but the city itself is one huge room. An empty room.
The photos are all printed by Varini himself on cotton paper, and the support he uses is the most effective in making his language sober and without reflections. Varini has transformed a “consumer” colour into a soft colour, which seems to evoke the “high-key” photography of the 1930s.
Since the aesthetics of Varini’s photography is rooted in painting, it is no coincidence that, like a painter, he prepares his models, determines the sources of light as if on a set and arranges the objects he places on the tables.
“Riccardo Varini, by suggesting the extended duration of the images and the need for a slow gaze, just as slow as the timescales for creating his photographs and for a painting, will increasingly influence the current debate on photography and the idea of a more apparent ‘possible return of photography to its matrix’, namely painting – a matrix from which, ultimately, it has never completely broken away”
(A. Quintavalle from the book Riccardo Varini edited by A. C. Quintavalle)