The art of illusion: Guido Mocafico’s Blaschka
The Hamiltons Gallery in London is currently showing the photographs of Guido Mocafico. The master of still life presents his Blaschka images featuring marine invertebrates of a disarming beauty.
His jellyfish images, snakes and tarantulas have now become famous. Both surprising objects and creatures from terrifying fairy tales, these strange specimen unveil, in Guido Mocafico's photographs, an absolute beauty. Evolving on a black background, they create, because of their surreal colours and unexpected quality, fascinating visions.
The master of still life has unveiled another chapter in his work that continues to blur the lines between photography and painting. This time the photographer focuses on the glass models of marine invertebrates, made between 1863 and 1939 by father and son Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, master glassmakers based in Dresden. For a century, these craftsmen developed a unique know-how that saw them create figures destined for the scientific study of invertebrates and plants, and that were sold to museums and universities around the world. “When I photographed jelly fish, I knew, thanks to my iconographic research, of the existence of these models made from glass,” explains the Italian photographer. “At the time they hadn’t particularly caught my attention. But later I took my little boy to the Natural History Museum in Geneva, and that was when I really discovered them. I was simply blown away by the beauty of these objects and their delicacy.”
Thus two years ago Guido Mocafico started on a personal project that would quickly become an obsession as he threw himself into a profound search for the Blaschka models, a search that took him to seven cities around the world. With the pieces being far too fragile to move, he established a minimal studio in situ using his equipment. “I wanted a non-photographic light, so you can’t tell where it’s coming from. No shadows. I wanted them to be like very good quality scans. The light appears to come from the object itself, and the restitution of the volumes is strange. We’re caught between 2D and 3D.”
Over the course of Guido Mocafico’s images, jelly fish, star fish and numerous other animals deploy their forms and incredible colours. At first glance it’s impossible to distinguish these glass models from a living specimen. “But what’s most interesting of all is the process: the Blaschka were artisans possessing a know-how that no longer exists. They worked night and day, weekends too, in their Dresden atelier, and they never travelled anywhere. They made their models using drawings provided by a biology specialist who adapted nature to the restraints of the representing space. For example, an octopus, to get it on a sheet of rectangular paper, meant drawing it in an absurd manner, its immense tentacles wound up in square spirals on both sides of its body. When I was photographing the Blaschka models, I too was making a copy of nature, reduced this time to the third degree. We are very far away from any naturalism." With 70 images of Blaschka unveiled for the first time to the general public, it’s an incredibly powerful experience for the imagination being offered by the Hamilton Gallery.
Guido Mocafico: Blaschka,
Hamiltons Gallery, 13 Carlos Pl, W1K 2EU Londres, UK
From March 18th to May 24th
By Delphine Roche
Check out other Guido Mocafico series for Numéro:
Porpita meditteranea (2013)