Felix Bazalgette
Writer/photographer in Residence

Felix Bazalgette – writer, film-maker and photographer – joined us in Spoleto to work on Natural Magic (Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2021) a book which he describes as addressing, “histories and prehistories of photography and the ways they live on in the present.” His own photography will be included in the book and informs his thinking. As well as writing, he spent time creating camera obscura and experimenting with instant photography the results of which he presented in two exhibitions at the end of his residency.

Pictured above: Continuing our regular collaboration with Spoleto artist and curator Franco Troiani and his projectspace Studio A’87, Felix was offered the roadside Cappelleta Madonna dell Pozzo for an exhibition. He created a camera obscura in the chapel, filmed the results and re-projected these into the chapel for the exhibition.

Felix experimented with instant photography. His camera is ‘hand-made’; a vintage polaroid camera adapted to fit advanced lenses. Exposure and focus can only be controlled by manual calculations and trial and error.

For our Open Studios event at the end of the session, Felix presented an exhibition of polaroids made using his adapted cameras and camera obscura (scroll down to view installation photos and a selection of the polaroids). The following text is from the press release:

In the 3rd century AD an Egyptian-born philosopher living in Rome, called Plotinus, wondered exactly how it had happened that “perceptible beauties, images and shadows… descend into matter, order it, and then move us by their appearance.”

In the 3rd century AD there were two broad philosophical approaches to vision, ‘extromission’ and ‘intromission’. Proponents of extromission held that vision was a result of rays sent by the eye that intersected with the object being viewed, making physical contact in the same way that a hand grasps at what it feels. Those who believed in intromission thought that visible objects constantly emitted visible versions of themselves – in the same way that freshly baked bread releases small aromatic particles – and that these visible elements carried images of the objects into the eyeball where vision was processed.

Plotinus argued for extromission, reasoning that things such as skies and mountains were so large that it was physically impossible for images of them to be carried through the tiny aperture of the eye. Though optical machines such as camera obscuras would later model how this surreal and counter-intuitive translation of scale might in fact be possible, Plotinus’s quite reasonable scepticism remains compelling to me. As the Italian photographer Luigi Ghirri wrote, “photography is always already surreal.”

These photographs were made during a residency at the Mahler & LeWitt Studios in the course of writing and researching my book Natural Magic, about histories and prehistories of photography and the ways they live on in the present.

Felix Bazalgette


Felix Bazalgette: Indexicality was an idea…

After Felix’s residency we produced an artists’ book with him. It incorporates a text he wrote, which muses on the concept of indexicality in analogue and digital photography, as well as his polaroids and other images. Copies of this book can be ordered for the price of postage by sending your name and address to info@mahler-lewitt.org. Depending on your location, we will send the book from NYC, London or Spoleto. A PayPal link will be sent to you to pay for the postage.


Open Studios, 3 September 2020, installation photos and selection of polaroids

Artist website

Biography Felix Bazalgette is a writer, photographer and filmmaker. During his residency in Spoleto he worked on his book Natural Magic, which weaves together various micro-histories of photography with reportage, research, found imagery, quotation and clippings. The book revisits a southern Italian town still grappling with the legacy of Edward Banfield, a camera-bearing sociologist who visited in the sixties, examines the intertwined histories of spaceflight and instant photography, and recounts early beliefs about optical technologies, steeped in aristocratic notions of magic and violent colonialist appropriation. Throughout, the book is interested in photography as it is used, seeking to consider some of the many empowering, subversive and repressive ways in which this form of image-making has now infiltrated every corner of contemporary life.

Felix’s poetry, journalism and essays have been published in a variety of places including The White Review, the LRB blog, the New York Review of Books Daily, The Guardian and Blackbox Manifold. His short films have been featured on Nowness, nominated for a One World Media award, and screened in competition at festivals such as Full Frame and Big Sky. Natural magic will be published by Fitzcarraldo Editions in 2021.