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Photography

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Gaza

They could be two different images. The backdrop of one is prevalently yellow ochre, with three soldiers in full battle gear clambering diagonally up the steep, sandy incline.  In the other, a composite crowd of children, adolescents, men, and women wave their flags against a predominantly green, grassy background. Separating the two is a barbed wire fence. The photograph was taken Friday March 30 in Gaza, when 16 Palestinian demonstrators were killed and 1,400 wounded. On Saturday there were two more deaths, and the tally of the wounded is not known. A crowd of 30,000 had gathered along the fence that separates Gaza from the State of Israel. They threw stones and rudimentary incendiary devices against the border fence, where over 100 select Israeli Army snipers had been positioned. The Israeli Minister of Defense, Avigdor Lieberman, stated that orders were orders, and that if any of the demonstrators approached the fence, his soldiers had been given orders to fire. The inhabitants of the Gaza strip, many of whom are followers of Hamas, have lived segregated lives for years. The living conditions in the territory have been reported by journalists and writers, but it is hard...

Respectable Memories: Postcards from South Africa

A Short History of South African Photography, by Rory Bester, Thato Mogotsi and Rita Potenza, is an exhibition hosted by Fotografia Europea XII at the Cloisters of St. Peter, Reggio Emilia, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the agreement (June 26, 1977) between Reggio Emilia and the African National Congress, and the centenary of the birth of Oliver Tambo (1917-1993), leader of the anti-apartheid movement and the ANC.   Chronologically ordered, it is a selection of images that traces the history of South Africa from the dominion of the British Empire to present day. The photographs come from archival collections (Die Erfenisstigting Archives, UWC Robben Island Museum Mayibuye Archive, BAHA, Transnet, Times Media, Independent Media Archive), museums (Museum Africa, McGregor Museum, Smithsonian Institution), and artists. It is notable how the authorship of individual photographers gains more and more importance as the show moves forward, progressing closer to the present day. This also marks a shift from a photograph that is historical documentation to one that is historical metaphor.   Jodie Bieber, The Silence of the Ranto Twins, 1995, Courtesy the Artist   It is a...

Photography and life: an interview to Letizia Battaglia

I had wanted to meet Letizia Battaglia for some time, but I hadn’t found the guts to write her yet.  I had always considered that like one of those appointments you keep on postponing to keep your hope alive, the hope that it wouldn’t end in the very moment it happend. However, something suggested me that I couldn’t interview her without visiting her city first. So I went to Palermo with my sister and we stayed for a few days. I tried to catch the secrets of that place, to tune up with what surrounded me: the road sounds, the smells, the markets, the suburbs, the places of the dead portraied by Letizia. Palermo is weird. You find yourself shrouded in a grip of contradictions, it is both a cradle and a grave, sea and asphalt, beauty and death. The city gives something new to your eyes, a dump veil stuck on your skin, just like the voices heard down the streets. I absorb every single thing. I don’t wanna miss a thing, I do want to understand every sign passing by. I cannot let go. So I take my decision: I tear off the interview I prepared before my departure after reading books and watching pictures on catalogues. They do not make sense any longer. I rewrite all the questions at...

Contemporary photography in Benin

Italian Version.   The first edition of the Mois de la Photographie, recently held at the Institut Français of Cotonou, has showcased the work of four Beninese and French photographers – Laeïla Adjovi, Léonce Agbodjelou, Jean-Jacques Moles, and Catherine Laurent – all focusing on contemporary Benin. The exhibition shed light on a little-known scenario, less established and thriving than that of other countries, such as neighboring Nigeria, but increasingly aware of its striking potential (as clearly emerges from the pictures showcased and other projects). Art and culture in Benin are significantly supported by the Institut Français, the French government agency for the promotion of French culture overseas , and Fondation Zinsou, a local foundation operating in the visual arts field and committed to broadening access to reading through a network of mini-libraries spread across the country.   Placed next to each other, the works of these four photographers – exhibited in Cotonou from January to March, 2016 – sketch out the image of a country caught between past and future, between the certainties of traditional community life and the challenges of individual freedom, between the...

Santu Mofokeng: A Silent Solitude

“A gift is the evidence of an act, a symbolic gesture that is at once free and obligatory,” writes Katia Anguelova, curator of AtWork Dakar 2012. “Considered in terms of a give-and-take relationship, the work of art can therefore be regarded as a gift or a representation of a gift.” This is the central idea of AtWork, the educational format created by lettera27 and Simon Njami. Its key element is a workshop during which participants produce a personalized notebook, which they can choose to donate to lettera27, thus becoming part of AtWork Community. The workshop that has recently taken place in Italy, in partnership with Fondazione Fotografia Modena, was entirely dedicated to the photographic image and was attended, among others, by the young Ivorian aspiring photographer Mohamed Keita. The notebooks produced during the workshop were displayed in an exhibition co-curated by the students at the Fondazione Fotografia Modena’s atelier in Via Giardini. Drawing on Foucault’s idea of heterotopy, Simon Njami chose “heterochrony” as the main theme of the workshop, describing it as “a break with real-time that introduces multiple time-spaces from which it is possible to reconsider...

Gabriele Basilico: a Slow Gaze

I presented Gabriele Basilico’s last book, Lezioni di fotografia (Rizzoli, 2012), at the Castello Sforzesco in Milan at the end of 2012. Looking tired, but with all his lucidity intact, Basilico spoke about his photography, his choice of themes, his travels, his thirty-year career, and some of his most famous photographs. He also contributed his views on urban landscapes, and on photography as a daily habit and as a life choice.   I have never really believed that the photographic medium has its own specificity. Rather, as I have studied the endless variety of their characters, grammars, functions, vocabularies and themes, I have always seen in photographs as images a deeply uncanny element; in things portrayed are “as they are”, whether they are famous or anonymous, I sense a ghost-like quality, an unexpected hardness, an alien gaze can suddenly transfix me: the darker side of things revealed as a further possibility, a jetty from which to cast off.   In their apparent objectivity, their masterly teasing with metaphysical suspension, Gabriele Basilico’s photographs, in my view, express the turmoil of a sudden recognition – “this is it, it is here, it is this place” – at the...

Jeff Wall: Reportage Readymade

Retrospectives of contemporary photographers have only been hosted in contemporary art galleries in the past ten years, on a par with monographs of other visual artists. One of the better known examples was the retrospective of the Canadian photographer, Jeff Wall, held at Tate Modern and MoMA in 2006 and 2007, and later on show at Milan’s PAC art space with a smaller selection of works.            Thanks to the efforts of Stefano Graziani, Italians can now read Wall’s most important writings, collected in an anthology he edited, published by Quodlibet (Gestus. Scritti sull’arte e la fotografie, 2013). Personally I would have added Depiction, Object, Event, published by Afterall in 2007, but nevertheless the anthology contains some of the most important and influential texts on contemporary photography in the last thirty years. These include Dan Graham’s  Kammerspiel (1982), and Signs of Indifference: Aspects of Photography in (and as) Conceptual Art (1995). In Sign of Indifference, Wall offers both a photographer’s and a critic’s interpretation of photographic practice in the 1960s, which has been much debated both because it is regularly cited by historians of art and...