My first solo exhibition in Italy will open next week at Savignano sul Rubicone. It will be in conjunction with SI Fest Off, a festival of photography in its 26th edition, and is related to this year’s theme of the festival: Dialectic Strategies.
Hidden ID is a series of pinhole images that juxtapose public identity to interior privacy through using the metaphor of the archive as a substitution for the construction of the self. The images are based on a hybrid pinhole capture with in-camera photogram elements. 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.
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.
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 →
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.
When I was a kid, we used to go on field trips to a local textile factory. There was one machine that sat separately in a large production hall. The manager proudly explained that it was an electronic loom and it could reproduce exactly and quickly any design you enter in its computer memory. We looked at it in awe and tried to imagine a future in which any image we come up with can become a flawless, exact reality.
20 years later, all looms are electronic. But when I was in Northern Italy this summer, the cradle of the famed textile and fashion industry we all admire, I was surprised to hear people speaking of mechanical looms with nostalgia. Something has changed in the last decades and it’s not just cheap Chinese competition. The machine as we know it is gone, quietly.
I had the chance to visit a small family-owned textile factory North of Milan and was allowed to take pictures. There was one single mechanical loom, the first one the owner had purchased when he opened his factory, which he keeps now set aside in a niche, as a good-luck charm.
There’s something touchy-feely about mechanical machines, with their levers, steering wheels and belts. They tell a story through the moving thread they help propel that actually makes us see how things are made.
I believe there’s something more important we lose when we replace machines with computers. We lose our personal connection to how things work as we’ve relegated that commanding task to a computer. We lose wonderment of how things work. Here is my visual argument.