Illusion

"Formentera" (1969) Toni Catany

The images of TONI CATANY are, above all, different and singular. Itís very difficult to synthesize such a diverse body of work in a few words but if I had to use one word to define it this would without doubt be experimentation. Catany has researched in depth all the techniques and photographic materials to create images that have a very different personality to what we are used to seeing. His work with the large format Polaroid technique combined with the printing in watercolour papers with which he achieves singular colours and textures are well known. We could say that this belonged in a way to pictorialism but with an updated technique and aesthetic that produced a totally new style.

When I see some of his still lifes composed of fruits, flowers and other materials I sometimes have the impression that Iím standing in front of a painting by Antonio Lopez. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Catany painted in his youth. The nude has been another of his favourite subjects. The recreation of the classical world through sculpture, perhaps the paradigm of classical art, is another of his most notable work.

Despite this Iíve chosen a photograph quite different from what Iíve just commented on. Itís from his early period and was shot on a Mediterranean island that so inspired his work.

Its theme and the technique used are a long way from its later work. But it really has the sensitivity of a grand master and moves me enormously.

Formentera was, around the end of the sixties, a kind of earthly paradise far from the more touristic destinations on the rest of the Mediterranean coast and particularly the Balearics. Peasants could still mix with the few well-informed summer tourists and groups of hippies that were living all year on the island. I donít know how they got on but the photograph makes me think that there was still room for surprise and emotion.

The portrait of this eighty something local proves it. And with a straw hat to protect him from the summer sun our man sits in a terrace beside the beach.

Itís bathing time for the tourists and perhaps apperitive for him. Heís a well-groomed old man, shaven and with a trimmed moustache.

He spends his time gawping at the people coming and going from the beach until dinnertime. Suddenly a very pretty girl in a bikini passes by very close to him. Close enough to touch.

This makes him raise his head and look at her without pretence, openly. His eyes shine with extraordinary intensity. Our gaze is focused on these small and lively eyes through which we are also watching the body of this beautiful girl. The half open mouth is also an obvious sign of admiration. All together his expression reflects a feeling of connection with the girl, perhaps an evocation of some other women from his past. The photographic technique is very good and helps to portray the situation perfectly. Itís possible that what we see has been taken with a telephoto lens which enables this selective blurring effect to happen.

Letís see. The piece of the girlís back is out of focus but with the bikini band perfectly defines the object although gives only an imprecise view. On the other hand the background is clearly blurred and does not distract us from our manís face. The foreground that takes up almost half of the image gains all its power and makes it possible to appreciate the rich subtlety of his expression and we ask ourselves, would we find today a peasant or a fisherman sitting in the midday sun watching a tourist girl with such illusion?

I think that this, like the peace and tranquility of Formentera, is a think of the past, belonging to a lost paradise.