Perhaps what made Ugo Mulas a unique photographer of art was his capacity to function as a critic, as neither a reproducer of existing work nor the creator of something entirely new. In his case, ‘art photographer’ refers to one who takes pictures of other people’s art, and it is within the simplicity of such an exchange that rests his critical ability.
This critical ability focuses on two avenues of interpretation: the work’s structural and formal conditions and the production process behind them. This was the essence of the partnership between Mulas and Consagra, for through their joint collaboration, both men were stripped bare by each other’s penetrating contemplation, and each developed a stronger sense of the artistic self in the process.
The photograph, Mulas believed, was important not for its truthfulness, but for the impact it could have on the viewer’s mind. He felt that a photograph of a picture or painting could not be more than a surrogate for that particular piece, but that a photograph of a sculpture like Consagra’s, however, is its own entity, the key to unlocking the artist’s initial gesture within the final moment of its consideration.
Mulas felt that the use of the camera was first and foremost a way to establish and understand the artist’s intentions, and he offered Consagra another medium through which to examine his sculpture, tracing its evolution through a pair of objective, yet discerning, eyes. His photographs of Consagra, then, are not photographs of his works of art; they are of the artist at work.
A photograph is inherently ephemeral, and Mulas and Consagra searched for what they called ‘preferential moments’ within construction, when the artwork exuded a privileged point of view. Their collaboration was an effort to locate and articulate these moments, and over the years, Mulas’ work was able to elucidate the key elements of Consagra’s vision to both the public and, sometimes, to the sculptor himself.
One of the paradoxical notions of art photography as criticism is that judgement is left suspended for the beholder to to impose; it is an indexical medium, dependent on what is in front of the lens. Yet rather than subordinating his craft to that which it preserves and informs, the art photographer helps the artist to draw inspiration and clarity from their collaboration. The sculptor delivers thus himself up to the photographer with complete and utter trust, for he is the person who, more than anyone else, has allowed him to understand and know himself.