Exhibition Skyglow by Francesco Del Conte

Skyglow is the luminescence of the night sky caused by artificial lights and the reason for the disappearance of stars from the lives of billions of people. The English term gives the title to Francesco Del Conte’s solo exhibition at Foto Forum, which presents – from January 16 to February 24, 2024 – two new photographic series. The first follows the title of the exhibition and collects 16 shots of the starry sky taken from four locations different in terms of the quality of darkness: the Vedrette di Ries-Aurina Nature Park (BZ), the Colle dell’Agnello in Val Varaita (CN), and the cities of Bolzano and Turin. The second corpus of unpublished works is titled Photo Optical Measuring Tools and consists of eight still lifes of “photo-optical measuring instruments” from the collection of the Museum of Astronomy and Space of Pino Torinese. The exhibition is positioned at the borders of contemporary art, astronomy, environmental sciences, and questions the photographic medium by addressing, in a double in-depth event in collaboration with the Planetarium Alto Adige, the effects of light pollution on sky observation and on human, animal, and plant physiology.


Del Conte has always been fascinated by the essential qualities of the camera as a tool for observing and recording light and optical phenomena: in this case, that emitted by the stars and the anthropic brightness of the night. Furthermore, the attempt to use photography in the most objective and analytical way possible, creating images according to strict photographic parameters both in shooting and in the darkroom, raises the question of the artist’s authorship. Referring to the pre-Romantic concept of artificer (artifex), that is, one who, in the creation of a work, places technical skill on the same level as the idea, Del Conte autonomously follows all the work phases, which for Skyglow have involved: conceiving the project, researching and learning astrophotography techniques, executing the shots, developing the films, and finally printing. Hundreds of hours have been spent in the darkroom and in the lengthy photographic sessions during which to set up, calibrate instruments for astrophotography, wait for the right weather conditions, and make 45-minute exposures for each image. Del Conte’s practice is thus, in the era of digital photography and printing, a tribute to craftsmanship, technique, and slowness.


The ecological theme, announced from the title, is visually introduced by the eight diptychs in which equal portions of sky are portrayed from four different places, two alpine and two urban, with very different results: sharp stars on a black background in one case, and a considerably more faded version, in shades of gray-white, in the other. The in-depth study of the causes and consequences of light pollution is entrusted to two free-admission events, which will be held at Foto Forum on January 18 at 6 pm in Italian and on February 2, at the same time, in German, led by astrophysicists David Gruber (director of the Museum of Natural Sciences of Alto Adige and the Planetarium Alto Adige) and Sabrina Bernhard (collaborator of the Planetarium). The double appointment is titled Nachtlicht Bühne, from the name of the active European project also in Alto Adige, and will conclude by engaging the public in a short excursion where the main sources of urban skyglow will be shown.
A further collaboration is with Stephanie Wolters, an astronomy enthusiast, photographer, and president of the Max Valier Association of Amateur Astronomers, of which two images taken from the Steinegg observatory will be exhibited. This structure and the Planetarium Alto Adige are located between Collepietra and San Valentino in Campo, which are the first astro-villages in Europe and virtuous examples in the use of a new LED lighting system respectful of the darkness of the night. The exhibition will close on February 24 with a guided tour of the planetarium and observatory.

The exhibition is curated by Stefano Riba and takes place at Fotoforum Bolzano (IT)