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:
Ruth Orkin. An American Girl in Italy, 1951
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
A visual confession of what makes me nostalgic: black and white images from the summer of 2012.
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.