Michele Horrigan Back
Dante’s Rock Phase

Silver gelatin photographic prints

Poet Dante Alighieri was said to be inspired by the landscape of Aix-en-Provence to write vivid descriptions of purgatory in his epic poem The Divine Comedy. Widely considered to be a pre-eminent work in Italian literature and one of the greatest works of world literature, Dante completed these verses between 1308 and 1321 when he was exiled from Florence and travelled several times through the hills and valleys of this scenic French terrain.

In his poem, Dante climbs a mountain from bottom to top, understood to be a place between heaven and hell, discussing morality in politics and in religion, outlining his theory that all forms of sin ultimately arise from out-of-control disordered, excessive or perverted love, ever unremorseful.

To test out how Dante might have visualised such a worldview, several days were spent roaming around the region photographing rock formations, many of which are akin to the background of a Renaissance painting. In some locations I found my camera framing images of emotive faces and heads in the stone, natural phenomena that seemed as if they were almost carved out of the rock. Perhaps Dante had pareidolia, a condition that causes one to see hidden patterns, such as facial expressions, in inanimate objects?