The Piazza Duomo in Milan. Photo by Domenico Zunino, Celotto/Getty Images
Nobody thought this would become an ethical issue, right?
The image you see on the left is next to impossible to achieve in normal circumstances. The square in front of the Duomo in Milan is always crowded, bustling with people. But this emptiness is real right now. After the official lockdown of Italy started, in spurts, on February 21 – first schools and cultural institutions, then stores and churches, and finally most workplaces closed – we are currently at a point that everyone needs a self-produced affidavit stating the urgent reason forcing them to be in the street. Continue reading →
Vernacular photography – often defined as “authorless”, but in reality, made by the same people who use it, for themselves or family/friends, or, alternatively, commercial but made directly for consumers (e.g. the Sears portrait service) – has been gaining a lot of attention in the past few years or decades. If you are a photographer yourself, you know the writings of Geoffrey Batchen, who was the engine of the research of that type of photography with his books, especially Each Wild Idea. Continue reading →
Now that the semester is over, I have to say it was really fun to teach both photography and Italian this year. Although formally the classes didn’t have anything in common, it was striking how much they were connected intellectually and as an experience.
For their final project, my students of Italian received the option to discuss a few classic photographs of Italy. As I was working on the assignment to decide what to include in it, so that they would learn both about Italian culture and art, I realized what a huge part of Italian photography is actually photos of Italy, in Italy, by non-Italians.
Alec Soth at UTA, in the shadow of his presentation. On the screen: a note with the dreams of his subjects
Last night, UTArlington and Arlington Camera hosted a discussion of the noted documentary photographer (and Magnum member) Alec Soth with the curator who gave him the first big push of public recognition, Anne Tucker of the Museum of Fine Art, Houston. These public conversations are always useful. It’s true that most probably the information they reveal can be easily found elsewhere. But there are always revelations that happen only in a face-to-face setting.
That’s the reason I used this particular image as an illustration for my post: Alec in the shadow and, on the screen, a note scribbled with the personal dreams of the people he has photographed. It is an approach he uses to get closer to his subjects and allow them to show something of themselves and make it visible in the portrait.
If you are following this blog, you might remember that last summer I started studying a series of photographs that are currently part of the collection of the Photographic Archive of Milan. I may have not mentioned though what this series is and why this research project is so exciting.
The images are of the reconstruction of the Sforza Castle, Milan’s perhaps most emblematic historic building, and the building of the impressive Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, arguably the first shopping mall (and the concept behind all those “galleria” type malls we find in many American cities today, by the way).
The images are remarkable for different reasons. First, because they show the wave of renewal that gave Milan the face we know today, the physical process of how it came to be. Second, because the sites are so emblematic for the city. The Sforza Castle was the seat of Milan’s ruling Renaissance dynasty. Although of course it had lost its significance by the 19th century, being a castle in the era of industrial revolution, its near destruction by Napoleon’s invasion was still an insult. So the new state of Italy (unified in 1861) and especially the municipality of Milan that was developing its first urban plan, wanted to elevate its historic legacy with the reconstruction some 30 years later. The Galleria, of course, was to showcase the wealth of the new industrial society. Think fashion. That’s why both are closely related to Milan’s identity as a city.
I feel a bit reluctant to write about the role of photography in Roger Spottiswoode’s film, when it’s really about something deeply personal – the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua and the unexpected angle I got to see it through Under Fire. First, it was exciting to see a movie about a place I know all too well even if I was constantly distracted by the Mexican accents and urban environment (it was filmed in Oaxaca).
Second, it was a rather crude reminder of my own preconceptions. I have to admit that growing up, I had a very simplistic picture of the American involvement in Latin American military regimes. Perhaps just like the simplistic pictures we get today about current world conflicts. All I knew was that Americans supported the hereditary dictator Somoza and aided his dictatorship financially. Only later when I went there did I learn that the reality was much more complex and that public opinion in the US was something different from the official policy. In fact, which is where the film comes, that tide changed with the murder of ABC reporter Bill Stewart by Somoza’s National Guard, documented by a fellow journalist. Continue reading →
By Giorgio Zaccaria. A circus artist, ca. 1880, silver bromide print
I just have to write about the Photographic Archive of Milan, not only in aid to those who may need to do research there, but also because it is such a great metaphor for Italy in general. Located in one of the wings of the magnificent Sforza Castle, a brief walk from the Duomo, it is really a pleasure to wander around its vast cobblestone yard before venturing inside.
But, the first surprise: it’s open only in the morning. And materials are available by prior appointment. You need to go in person first and explore the card catalog, arranged by subject matter. Said catalog is only partially digitized and can be found online along with all other public photography collections in Lombardy. Then you can place an order for what your heart desires. However, the staff is so extremely Italianly nice that they offered, in case I needed it in the future, to do any research for me and even send me scans of the images.
Anyway, your patience and skill in navigating the system will be richly rewarded. Continue reading →
If the first day of the year is auspicious about the rest of it, I’ll be watching photography-related movies all throughout 2013. But I bet you could’ve guessed that even if I didn’t watch a couple of them on January 1 🙂
One of them was the mesmerizing – in a quiet, subtle way – Brazilian film Found Memories (Julia Murat, 2011). Just like eavesdropping on a conversation and slowly realizing it’s about you, I realized this story could be about me: raking through a past with a camera lens and trying to bring it back to life, when the camera can only capture what’s here and now. Full of metaphors and lightly paced, it’s delightful to watch and ponder on the interweaving connection between photography and life. Continue reading →
My grandfather in 1940. Photograph by Kiro of Smardan
This is a portrait of my grandfather, taken while he was doing his military service in 1940 Bulgaria (not part of the Axis yet). I discovered it last summer while perusing the stack of family photos at my parents’ house.
And it was one of the delights of my summer. I saw, in this picture, something in him I had not known but was so excited to discover it. I saw how he felt in that particular moment of his life and some truths he never told me; things I would’ve discussed with him if only he were around today. This picture gave me back a great piece of my own personal puzzle that I didn’t know existed but am so glad I found.
So, what could I do with this treasure? I plundered it from my parents’ collection without telling them, or my sister. My only justification was that it was just temporary and I would scan it and print it in large format and give them copies. Continue reading →
Lee College in Baytown, TX, organized an exhibit drawn from the permanent human rights art collection at South Texas College back in April of 2012. It was called Discouraged Dialogs — Human Rights, Borders, War Zones and Bodies: Lee College Human Rights Art Exhibition and Symposium.
Artwork is featured in this video – can you recognize my pieces? They are in color and I haven’t worked much in color for some time… I miss it!
In any case, it’s one of the few collections in the country dedicated to human rights, with special emphasis on border issues. Here is the official description of the event: Continue reading →
Roma Transitions, an online portal for news related to Romani issues in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, recently published an interview with me about the Third Eye photography project. It was a great occasion for me to talk about the ideas behind it and thank all the people who contributed. Here is an excerpt: Continue reading →
Popular Photography from February 1954. Click on the image to view it large.
If you know my experience with old photography books, it is only logical to turn to magazines next and see how they fare at the distance of time. Do their topics seem outdated now? Their perspective silly? Do they provide a unique glimpse into what photography is, while giving us all a real-life demonstration of what endures? After all, magazines are meant to focus on the current and the fleeting, so this kind of fading of significance can only be expected. And it could help distill the significant out of the passing and lead us to a conclusion on the meaning of timeless art.
That’s how I started going through a stack of photo magazines dating from the 50s on. Continue reading →
This is a small selection of the work I completed at the Old School Art Residency. Since the theme was based on legends about the end of the world interpreted as a beginning, I used expired film from a country that no longer exists (East Germany) and expired paper from now privatized companies. The images I made show archetypal vignettes representing our expectations and anxieties related to endings and beginnings. Continue reading →
St. Elijah mass in a village church, Bulgaria. @ Ellie Ivanova, 2012
Anyone who has been in an Eastern Othodox church in Europe has admired the beautiful iconography and ethereal atmosphere of those architectural gems. But if you’ve attempted to take a picture to record your experience, you’ve probably been stopped by the stern voice of the priest. Or you’ve seen the “no photography” sign at the door and didn’t even dare raise the camera to your eye. And maybe you’ve felt both frustrated and puzzled by this prohibition.
So, why is photography in an Orthodox church frowned upon, even outside of mass? Is it a practical necessity or a doctrine? After all, the reason some priests give is: “this is a church, you can’t take pictures here”; it’s not that they forbid just the use of flash for fear of ruining the frescoes. Some would add that it’s disrespectful, others, that it’s too secular an act for a church.
In related news, I am at the seaside village of Ravda in Bulgaria where the first workshop in this summer’s series is taking place. It’s happening within a summer camp for Roma kids from Northwestern Bulgaria. We are very limited in terms of photographic material due to our location, but the kids are getting very creative with their modelling.
The most exciting thing so far? One of the teenagers from last year’s workshop is now a junior counselor in the camp! It was so great to see him again, especially in this capacity.