Eight decades of age, six and a half of them dedicated to photography, have been the motive behind organizing this year’s exhibition of Ante Verzotti at the Museum of Fine Arts. Almost two decades after his retrospective in 2004, this doyen of Split’s photographic scene and holder of the honorary title of Master of Photography of the First Order, awarded by the Croatian Photographic Association in 2008, is about to present his work at the same museum with the exhibition SEEKERS OF MEANING, in wish being to symbolically conclude his long public career. Although still agile and committed to his vocation, he decided, prompted by his age, to “say goodbye to Split’s audience in time and with dignity.” He spiced up this idea with the wish it should happen in the building where he was born in 1942, as the Museum of Fine Arts is located in the renovated and extended building of the oldest hospital in Split.
For many years, Verzotti’s dedication to photography has been intertwined with filmmaking, editing, and directing in the field of experimental, documentary, and feature film, which has earned him several valuable awards. He has long incorporated the knowledge and experience gained in filmmaking into the photographic medium, which is also evident in his new exhibition. It consists of sixty artworks created in the period from 2005 to 2022. Most of them belong to the series FLUORESCENCES, CITY, SAILING, SEEKERS OF MEANING, VIDOVIĆ and Western TV FRESCOES.
His latest and most moving artwork is the triptych GOODBYE UKRAINE. The Russian invasion in February this year prompted the photographer to amalgamate information about the frantic destruction, killing, and torture in three photographs. In addition to documentary footage from the media, he used his photographic notes from the island of Hvar and Split’s Peristyle, as well as Roy Lichtenstein’s comics. Using citation, collage, and montage, he constructed photographic images of strong emotionality from diverse materials and different periods. In them, sarcasm directed at the direct and indirect culprit for military aggression is combined with shock caused by the overall destruction and with empathy for the victims.
Since Verzotti became involved with editing in the 1970s, at first in the form of photo-collages, the artist has increasingly practiced other procedures in his processing of photographs. He has used various filters, ironed the pictures, performed fluorescences… The post-production of digital images has thus become his modus operandi, whose poetic origin can be found in the long-established hypothesis on the non-objectivity of photography. Temperamental as he is, Verzotti states with gusto that “Photography is a total lie” whenever the opportunity arises. Even in his formative period, Verzotti believed that it was more important what the image conveyed than what it depicted. Due to his abundant professional knowledge and experience, his refined and trained eye, and his creative and frequent use of computer programmes, it is difficult to discern whether some of his works depict a real or fictional situation.
The wider city centre of Split and its indispensable Riva are the usual shooting locations in Verzotti’s daily rounds. His professional nerve is an important stimulus to this ritual, in which the camera and the smartphone are always at hand. Although he has that famous photographic feeling for unique and unrepeatable moments, he is particularly interested in the narrative potential of scenes, a story based on the correlation of visual and discursive content within the frame. He wants to inscribe in the photograph and make visible the time continuum, the time before and after freezing. Verzotti is a photographer with an agenda, a unique blend of a producer, director, and photographer who does not surrender to Kairos, but imagines, recognizes, or provokes situations that are worth photographing.
During his many years of involvement with photography, Verzotti has experimented with many genres. Thus, it was with portraiture that he won the first international photographic award in his career (1972); he documented the theatre repertoire, various sports competitions, daily events, photographed the rural landscapes of Dalmatian Zagora, the monuments and vistas of Split, and urban spaces of some European cities and New York (which he visited year after year for a whole decade), tried his hand at sacral subjects…
His openness to computer modification of digitally recorded material has led him to create technically demanding photomontages of complex meaning. The backbone of the hitherto unexhibited series VIDOVIĆ consists of original photographs without significant subsequent interventions. Verzotti managed to recreate Vidović’s nostalgic moods, soft forms, and sfumato atmosphere largely due to his experimental ingenuity. He photographed the motifs with one or more layers of plastic bag covering the lens.
Verzotti’s pictorialism actualizes the old theme of the relationship between photography and painting, which burdened both media for a long time. Verzotti not only stylizes photography according to a specific painting model, as in the photographic series inspired by Vidović, but also takes particular paintings as his template for directed photography and translates them into the photographic medium. Lately, he has been fascinated by Jeffrey Smart’s hyper-realistic and surrealist paintings, wanting his ironed photographs to look like Smart’s painting.
Since his photo-collages in the 1970s, he has often incorporated elements characteristic of film editing into his photographic works. Photo-collages are also represented at his farewell exhibition, where the visitors will also be able to taste the fluorescences from the series of the same name and the Western TV FRESCOES series. Whereas the former is based on shots made in the exterior, the latter uses shots of a television screen showing scenes from western movies.
Motivated by his continuous and constant passion for photography, Ante Verzotti has in recent years created thematically and poetically diverse works with a distinct imaginative potential and technical mastery. His still acute interest in exploring the expressive possibilities and boundaries of the media testifies to a youthfully fresh and vital creative Eros.
Ante Verzotti was born on January 26, 1942 in Split. He studied at the FAMU Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, where he graduated in 1973 in film and television photography. The theoretical part of his dissertation on 70-mm Film became a standard textbook at the FAMU. He has been involved with photography since 1957 and won his first and perhaps most significant award for photography at the 1972 international exhibition, for his portrait of Lisa (Grand Prix at the 7° Torrione d’Oro, Grandisca d’Isonzo, Italy). He has presented his work at twenty-seven solo exhibitions of photographs and participated in numerous group exhibitions at home and abroad, where he received notable awards (Third Prize at the International Exhibition Man and the Sea in Zadar in 1976, gold medal for Life photography in Valjevo in 1979, Grand Prix at the Exhibition of Sports Photography in Portorož in 1991). He was the official photographer of the Mediterranean Games in Split in 1979 and the European Swimming and Water Sports Championships in 1982. From 1979 to 1999, he systematically documented the repertoire of the Croatian National Theatre in Split and the events of Summer in Split. Since 1992, he has been permanently employed at the Slobodna Dalmacija newspaper house as a photography editor and photo reporter.
Verzotti has been the photography editor, co-author, or photographer in several photo-monographs, including one on Split in 2004, which was entirely his authorial project. When the Academy of Arts was founded in Split in 1997, he taught Basics of Photography I and II, as well as Basics of Filmmaking at the Department of Visual Communications Design until his retirement. He has been an active member of the Photo Club Split since 1957 and the Cinema Club Split since 1959, the Filmmakers’ Association of Croatia (HDFD) since 1975, the Croatian Association of Artists of Applied Arts (ULUPUH) since 1980, and the Croatian Freelance Artists’ Association (HZSU) since 1981. He has been working as a cinematographer, editor, and film director since 1960. He has independently shot, edited, and directed 13 short experimental, feature, and documentary films. Since 1965, he has participated in the production of professional short and feature films, collaborating with prominent film directors such as P. Krelja, V. Mimica, R. Grlić, and L. Zafranović. For his work on the film Twist-Twist, he was awarded the first prize in 1962 for experimental film in Sarajevo and in 1965 for his opus of experimental film at the GEFF festival in Zagreb. In 1967, he was awarded the title of Master of Non-Professional Film. At the 1982 Chicago Documentary Film Festival, he received a special award for his cinematographic work on the documentary New York. He was also awarded for his medium-length feature film Seas in 1971 and for his medium-length documentary Vladimir Nazor at the Belgrade Festival of Short Film in 1978. In 2008, the Croatian Photographic Association awarded him the highest honorary title, the first of its kind in Croatia, of Master of Photography of the First Order (MF-HFS). He won the Lifetime Achievement Award of the City of Split in 2011. In 2016, he received the lifetime achievement Joško Kulušić Award of Slobodna Dalmacija in the field of journalism. He lives and works in Split.