On a photograph
by Kurt Ammann
Alberto Olivetti, Il Manifesto, March 2017
The fingers of the right hand rest on the back of the left hand, which hangs abandoned. Elegant, manicured hands. Not joined, but one resting on the other, with levity, in the gesture of a caress. A declining light rains down on them, giving prominence to the play of shadows that the black-and-white print returns punctually. The young man’s head rests, in sleep, on the arm. We observe his face. The mouth with the beautiful lips. The perfect nose. Closed eyelids. The light eyebrows lying in the broad arch of the forehead. A few curls fall on the arm. Light plunges on the right cheek where faint freckles compose a tiny constellation. The left elbow and head have found shelter in a ring, allowing the subject to fall asleep. The ring accomodates Jean Claude in its roundess, guarding his dreams. A ring that unites and holds, giving the photographic image a prodigious balance.
This admirable photograph by Kurt Ammann is on display at the 29 Arts In Progress Gallery in Milan, Italy, in a solo exhibition by the Swiss photographer curated by Giovanni Pelloso. The caption reads “1952. Jean Claude. Paris”. Ammann recounts: “In 1945 I was able to leave for Paris. there was not much to eat, but the atmosphere was fabulous. In Saint-Germain-des-Prés, at the Cave Orienté, I listened to Sydney Bechet and Claude Luther, and at the Romerie Martiniquaise I met Juliette Greco”. Jean Claude and the ring, secured to anchor the docking of the boats that sail the Seine and to set dreams free. Kurt observes the beauty of sleeping Jean Claude. He contemplates his sleep without violating it. A sleep that the photographic image renders forever unharmed. “In profound repose, quite swallow’d up, how sweetly doth he breathe! / Those twining shoots which, leafy, shades his face. That prattling rill which, hollow murm’ring sooths / His gentle slumber, and just licks his foot; / That little wanton breese which fans and scatters / Entangling, his curl’d locks; ye Gods! what graces do they contributes to his beauteous form!”. Thus Pietro Metastasio depicts to us Endymion, wrapped in his sleep like Jean Claude at the edge of the Seine : “Come Sleep benign! / and with Lethean drops / Sprinkling my brow / in sweet oblivion plunge / My languid sense”.
Narrates Apollodorus in the first book of the Library: “From Chalice and Aetlius was born Endymion. Some say he was the son of Zeus. Selene fell in love with his extraordinary beauty. Zeus grants him what he desires: he chooses to sleep forever, without dying, without growing old”. But, according to another version of the myth, one night Selene, the Moon, passing in the sky of Caria above Mount Latmos, illuminates the face and body of the sleeping Endymion. Selene is enchanted by the beauty of the young shepherd; so she asks Zeus that such a beauty remain untouched and everlasting. She wishes that first appearance to remain untouched once and for all. In the end, Selene contemplates Endymion and keeps him intact. Ammann of his Parisian years recalls: “I began to take pictures for myself, following my instincts and impressions, attracted above all by the human figure. The phrase of Saint-Exupery has always been present in me: “il ne faut pas regarder avec les yeux, il faut regarder avec le coeur”.