Angelo Vignali, How to Raise a Hand

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2022 by Witty Books (here). Softcover (20×28 cm), 128 pages, with 68 black and white photographs. Includes an essay by Benedetta Casagrande. In an edition of 500 copies. Design by Federico Barbon. (Cover and distribute the plans below.)

Comments/Background: How to raise your hand is the second photobook by Italian photographer Angelo Vignali, who in his artistic practice focuses on personal and vernacular narratives that show universal themes. His previous book, Flattened in time and space (revised here), centered around the character of his grandfather, Concetto Drago. In this book, he blends family photos, photos taken by friends, and his own images, taken over decades, to both revisit scattered family memories and rethink the potential of a collective archive.

In How to raise your hand Vignali starts again with his family archives, and this time his project revolves around his father and the “enormous archive of photographs and drawings that his father produced throughout his life”. As an illustrator, his father used photographs as a reference for his drawings. As Vignali scoured these archives, he unearthed 313 cut-out black-and-white fingerprints of his father’s fingers. “I was struck by the fact that those prints were part of his body and his hands really looked like mine,” Vignali shares. He decides to transform this discovery into a conceptual project, reviving the presence of his father and creating a dialogue. In How to raise your hand Vignali combines images from her father’s archive with performative and sculptural elements to examine themes of memory, family and loss.

As a photo book, How to raise your hand is very simple but quite effective. It’s a softcover, medium-sized book, and a collection of cutouts of fingers and numbers take over its cover, creating a fun yet mysterious introduction to the project. Inside, as with his first book, the pictures are organized into chapters, this time seven, with simple numbered titles. This consistency in design reflects its systematic approach and also becomes essential in constructing the book’s narrative and pacing. An essay by Benedetta Casagrande, with the great title “Shedding, molding, mourning”, closes the book with reflections on Vignali’s practice.

The photobook begins with a sequence of images showing silicone fingers, large enough to note details such as skin lines. The first chapter then opens with a horizontal image, placed at the top of the right-hand page, showing a box full of stock footage. Slowly, page after page, Vignali unwraps it, showing us the strange cutouts of fingers his father has stored there. A photo represents a selection of images attached with pins to a string. Another set of photos in this chapter show his father’s suit jackets hanging on a rack, with a few IKEA bags packed next to them, in an otherwise empty room. Then these jackets appear floating in a room, arranged in a particular order. As a result, ordinary objects find a second life.

Chapters two and three respectively focus on hand molds and the process of creating them. In this study, Vignali made various casts of his own hands, constantly looking for similarities to his father’s hands. The physicality of objects is important to the artist, and working with materials and shaping them was essential to this project. Chapter four is visually the most striking – here, finger cutouts take over the pages, shifting to an unexpected and very odd glued visual flow. Each spread mixes up a number of fingers, arranging them in various combinations and categories, often based on their shapes (straight, forward-curved, or inward-curved). And then chapter five mixes hand sculptures with real human hands, blurring them into the final shot. The sequence of images creates layers and meanings, connects them and brings them to life.

Eight self-portraits of the artist with his father complete the visual part of the book. They reproduce Renaissance-style portraits of a king and his son. The father wears padded sleeves, referring to the clothing of the time, and his hand rests on his son’s shoulder. The very last photo in the sequence is out of focus and out of focus, and the father’s face is replaced by another cutout of his face. And in this blurry, underexposed image, the similarities in the features of father and son are unmistakable.

Vignali’s project evokes a very different, but somewhat similar book by Croatian photographer Sara Perovic, My father’s legs (reviewed here.) It offers a playful formal study of men’s legs, blending a father, a husband and a family passion for tennis. Other recently released photobooks that use performative staging and acting as motifs include Pedro Guimarães Rato Tesoura Pistol (review here), produced in collaboration with the artist’s two children, cleverly combining photos, pencil drawings and pancake masks, and that of Yurian Quintanas Nobel dream moons (reviewed here) turns isolation at home into a strange parade of discovery.

What emerges from How to raise your hand is the way it merges a light, intelligent vibe with a moving personal investigation. It’s another terrific example of transforming an archive of family memories and ephemera into an alluring, pleasing and visually exciting photo book.

Collector’s point of view: Angelo Vignali does not appear to have a gallery representation at this time. Collectors interested in tracking should probably connect directly with the artist through their website (link above).

Leave a Comment