In spring, it’s photography time in the Italian region of Reggio Emilia. The most important event of the year is, in fact, Fotografia Europea, urban festival dedicated to the art of darkness and light. The 2017 edition revolves around a stimulating concept: Mappe del tempo. Memorie, archivi, futuro (Maps of time. Memories, archives, future). A subject that, in the intentions of the organisers, confronts itself with the concreteness of places and stories, trying to find paths of sense that originate in the past and help in understanding the present.
The utopy within the project is again found in the attempt of opening the archives, transforming what is a concluded, (justly) preserved knowledge to an open, diffused form of cognition, from which one can freely draw. As the curators (Elio Grazioli, Walter Guadagni and Diane Dufour) state “going through archives, a photographer finds his inspiration through images: these images from the past change, once pulled out of an archive, and become part of a more or less plausible story, of a more or less applicable utopia”.
And it’s starting from the extraordinary documentation on rural Italy, created by Cesare Zavattini and Paul Strand in 1957, that the ideal course of the exhibition unfolds. The project, titled Un Paese (A Country), was one of the first to be produced in Italy (not to be missed is the unveiled correspondence between Zavattini and the editors of the time) and told, through “Za”’s texts and Strand’s snapshots, the story of a town in the Po valley – Luzzara – and its inhabitants. The result is a touching post-neorealist storytelling on the feelings of a population, gathered in a precise historical moment – but, at the same time, a universal testimony to the relationship between man and the earth.
The exhibition then illustrates the path that germinated from the first project: two decades later, Zavattini creates, together with Gianni Berengo Gardin, Un Paese vent’anni dopo (1976). It’s possible to say that the project was never really concluded; the successive research by Luigi Ghirri, Claudio Parmiggiani, Olivo Barbieri and that of many other authors continued to grow on the fertile soil of that first investigation, still alive today and very much able to communicate with the present.
From this ideal starting point unravel paths that lead to the other rich exhibitive proposals: such is the case with the not-to-be-missed Les Nouveaux Encyclopédistes project, curated by the photographer and theorist Joan Fontcuberta, inspired by the utopy of the French Encyclopédie of the 18th century and a meditation on the subject of the contemporary proliferation of images. Another fundamental stop is the Breve Storia della fotografia Sudafricana, which opens a gash in the history of the South-African macro region through a hundred images from numerous sources and archives: a selection of shots far from the folkloristic conception of the southern part of the continent. These depict the area’s culture, its esthetic, the relationship between natives and settlers as well as the apartheid, political and social battles, daily life. Then there’s Wolfgang, a project dedicated to the scientist Wolfgang Ernst Pauli, between science and fiction, created by David Fathi. Among the parallel events is also the site-specific project by Elisabetta Benassi in the Maramotti collection, titled It starts with firing, and La forza delle immagini in the MAST collection, a selection of images on industry and work that surprise for their visual power.
With a formula that sees the whole city involved, spreading the exhibition sites on the entire urban area and on the now mythical axis of the via Emilia, Fotografia Europea is one of the most beautiful appointments of the exhibition period preceding summer. Visiting the shows, moving from one place to the other, walking around the streets of the city, becomes a part of the visitor experience, bringing visitors back on a territory of reflection that escapes the compulsive pace of digital fruition. An invitation to come and go from museums, indulging for a weekend in the role of flâneur, feeling part of a city and of a collective cultural project.