My friend Laura recently gave me an old photo she found in an antique store in New Hampshire. It’s a delightful, tender and sassy portrait of a girl in a studio, leaning on a bench, holding flowers. And she is wearing glasses and a sweet, knowing smirk. It was done in Argentina by Cesare Bizioli, an Italian painter and photographer who lived there at the close of the 19th century. A joy to view and think about the little girl, who she was and what became of her.
Bizioli was born in Bergamo, Northern Italy, in 1847, where he studied painting and photography; he moved to Buenos Aires in 1871. Yellow fever prevented him from starting his life in the New World right away: all passengers were held on the ship for some time and so he started making wetplate portraits of them and the crew. When he finally settled in the Italian neighborhood of the port city, he did portraits almost exclusively of the incoming Italian immigrants. He started working at the studio of Egidio Capitanio, a family friend, on Cuyo Street, but later opened his own studio with his brother Isaac.
He was quite successful in his photographic career, opening several branches of his business and traveling back to Bergamo for different reasons: to bring back the new dryplate technology that would help him get ahead of his competitors, to get married to a Bergamo girl (Antonietta Colsigoni), to build a house, and in 1890, to retire. He filed for a patent for a photographic process invention, the first Argentinian patent in the area of photography.
I am still thinking about the little girl, though. With all the business success Bizioli achieved, with all his inventiveness, his images are all that remains of his fame now. And that’s different from the work of a painter, because in photography we experience the additional impact of knowing that its subjects really existed when we study them, admire them and wonder about them. We trust photograph as true testimony and it moves us to connect to people whom we have no relationship with. It’s almost the same as knowing that girl.