Tag Archives: Italy

Italy in photographs

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.

See this, for example:

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Ruth Orkin. An American Girl in Italy, 1951

 

 

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Dangerous Heights

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If you follow this blog, you remember that last summer I started studying a series of photographs that today are 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 beautiful 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 places are so emblematic. 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) 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.

But this is not exactly why they are exciting. Continue reading

The Photographic Archive of Milan, Sforza Castle

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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.

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Anyway, your patience and skill in navigating the system will be richly rewarded.  Continue reading

Blips of summer: nostalgia on black & white film

A visual confession of what makes me nostalgic: black and white images from the summer of 2012.

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The Italian photo club culture


I’ve always insisted that American society is unique in its amazing community spirit that affords people the ability to start new things by getting together informally, united by a common goal. Individualism coming with a great sense of trust in a self-selected community.

Maybe that’s the reason I was so surprised to discover a thriving, historic photo club tradition in Italy that I haven’t observed elsewhere. Almost every Italian city has a photo club, most dating since the end of WWII. They started with the goal of sharing knowledge and experience in photography at a time when it wasn’t considered a subject matter for art schools – it was a craft to be learned through experimentation and from peers. So these clubs both satisfied and spurred the huge amateur interest in photography in postwar Italy that produced the likes of Mario Giacomelli and Letizia Battaglia. The Italian photo club federation, founded in 1948, is a testament to that fervor and a glance at each club’s website reveals a very strong production of compelling images over the decades.

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Summer in Black & White

Images from this summer. I included only those that don’t have a sibling in the color series. Click on each thumbnail to view larger image. Ilford film, Pentax 35mm. ©Ellie Ivanova.

Italy in color (2011)