Photography in Cinema: Antonioni’s Eclipse (L’Eclisse)

As a photographer, my influences come from many sources, and cinema is one of them.

Many Neo-Realist films are of great interest to me because of their documentarian approach, but the films of Michaelangelo Antonioni provide a rich visual and narrative source. Blow-Up, of course focuses on photography, and explores the notion of evidence, witness and what we really see. Antonioni’s Eclipse (L’Eclisse), his third film of his trilogy (L’avventura and La Notte are the others), is masterful in exploring photography’s use in cinema.

The film opens with what could be described as a series of photographs: a still shot of a desk, lamp and books in an apartment interior; other stills of the apartment; the actress Monica Vitti playing with an empty picture frame and arranging a small vase and other objects; a modernist building seen through the window.

Later, when Monica Vitti’s character is at her apartment at night, she and a friend stand in silhouette framed in a doorway, illuminated by the hall and surrounded by the dark building. The repetition of frames, windows–and scenes of characters looking at them—describe a photographic approach to film.

The most intriguing photographic element is the lyrical and mysterious film ending. There, still shots of everyday city scenes are oddly presented: a barrel filled with water; a crack in the sidewalk; strewn building materials; blocks and bricks reminiscent of a city.

Many of these images are haunting in their banality. Also, they seem to reference or predate the New Topographics landscape photography of Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Joe Deal, Frank Gohlke,Nicholas Nixon, Stephen Shore, Henry Wessel, Jr., Bernd and Hilla Becher. Perhaps more importantly though, Antonioni references still photography because they provide an unexpected pause and moment to examine the world around us, which seems to be the theme of the film.

For me however, the power of Eclipse (and the two other films) is how Antonioni combines a documentary approach to the structure of the film itself. The film unfolds perhaps as life does, through a series of incidents. Through these loose events we develop a sense of what life is like at that time. For me, this is what photography does as well too—it observes what is around us and gives an idea of how we live today.

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