‘STAGED PHOTOGRAPHY HAS THE ABILITY TO ASK QUESTIONS, NOT TO PROVIDE ANSWERS’ – READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH WALTER GUADAGNINI, DIRECTOR OF EUROPEAN PHOTOGRAPHY FESTIVAL
Curated by Fiammetta Cesana
Waiting for the 2021 edition of Fotografia Europea, two major exhibitions in Reggio Emilia will accompany us until January. Palazzo Magnani Foundation and the Municipality of Reggio Emilia have joined forces to make us travel between fantasy and reality. ‘True Fictions – visionary photography from the 60s to today’ and ‘Atlases, Portraits and Other Stories – 6 young European photographers’ collect the works of masters and emerging artists from the continent who, by building up a surreal but plausible world, question a future based on distorted / fictitious images and information that end up shaping tangible reality.
Today Walter Guadagnini – curator of the two exhibitions and artistic director of the European Photography Festival – encourages us to capture the charming ambiguity of a fantastic representation of reality.
From Jeff Wall’s complex scenographies, whose intimate meaning is appreciated only after careful observation, to the houses in the water of James Casebere which deepen the mystery between oneiric and physical realm by combining photography with architecture and design, to Cindy Sherman’s personification of different women to question stereotypes, till the histrionic realism of Erwin Olaf who made the boundary between life and its staging even more blurred…
Fiammetta Cesana: ‘True Fictions’ tell us about a phenomenon, the staged photography, which since its inception has been increasingly central and controversial: first explored in the arts in the 1970s, it has opened up to infinite new creative horizons by the 2000s with the advent of Photoshop, up to today as it definitively intrudes itself in everyday life. Do the artists we discover in the exhibition have a specific social objective in representing a disguised truth?
Walter Guadagnini: Since this is a collective show featuring numerous authors – about seventy -, belonging to at least two generations, there are different approaches to this practice, including the so to speak social one. Thomas Demand and James Casebere, for example, explicitly state that their starting point is in contemporary news. Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons, Tracey Moffatt touch on the theme of women’s role in Western society: in these cases the camouflage of truth has a social objective. Conversely, all the images on display can also be read as a warning against the deceptions that are found daily in the circuit of communication through images, and therefore we can assume a sort of ‘notice to skippers’ regardless of the individual poetic.
Joan Fontcuberta, one of the artists on show, had said that his constructions of images first of all had a pedagogical value, encouraging the viewer to be critical on the ‘truths’ told through photography. To you, if we had really learned the teaching that these artists wanted to convey to us with their true fictions, perhaps today we would be more responsible in the vision / creation of social media content?
If only the intentions of the artists were enough, there would be no more wars neither… I wouldn’t reduce staged photography and its protagonists to pedagogues of the use of the image, even if this aspect undoubtedly exists. Indeed, personally I definitely prefer their ambiguous aspect: what I find truly fascinating about this practice is precisely the accentuation of the ambiguity of the image, the ability to not close oneself in a single communication, and to ask questions, not to provide answers. And I am even more fascinated by the ability to invent worlds, instead of considering one’s navel as the center of the world, as happens mostly in social media: not by chance the exhibition’s subtitle brings up the term ‘visionary photography’.
Moving on to the second exhibition ‘Atlases, Portraits and Other Stories’, aimed at giving space to young artists, also in this case the element of altered reality is central. Why do young people, and older too, need so much to escape into fantasies to survive in reality?
Generally, because this is what artists are used to, to talk about our world by creating a parallel world, thus helping us to look at reality from another point of view. Specifically, I believe that the relationship with reality is still strongly present in the authors on show, what is avoided is the linear narration of a story, realism understood in the nineteenth-century sense (with all its twentieth-century neorealist tails, or reportage and documentary if we remain in the specific photographic field). If we talk about fantasy for these authors, it seems to me that it should be defined according to the terms that Remo Ceserani used to define fantastic literature, the ability to “question the relationships that are established, in every historical period, between the paradigm of reality, language and our representation strategies”.
How much is important the social and ethical role of a young photographer in a moment of global crisis like today’s in the interpretation of the upcoming future?
I’d not overload the photographers with such burdens, to me that specific role belongs to other figures in society. Let them make some pictures: as the beginning of an extraordinary book by Carmelo Bene from more than half a century ago says “Love me! It’s a lot, you know, it’s a lot if we saved our eyes”.
Among the artists on show we find Jeff Wall, Cindy Sherman, James Casebere, Sandy Skoglund, Yasumasa Morimura, Laurie Simmons, Erwin Olaf, David Lachapelle, Nic Nicosia, Emily Allchurch, Joan Fontcuberta, Julia Fullerton Batten, Paolo Ventura, Lori Nix, Miwa Yanagi, Alison Jackson, Jung Yeondoo, Jiang Pengyi, Bernard Faucon, Eileen Cowin, Bruce Charlesworth, David Levinthal.
Simultaneously, ‘Atlanti, Ritratti e Altre Storie – 6 giovani fotografi europei’ is exhibited at Palazzo Mosti, showing the operas of the three winning artists of the open call launched by Fotografia Europea 2020. In addition to the three artists, three other projects are displayed which have been selected by the jury of Walter Guadagnino, Maria Pia Bernardoni, international project curator of LagosPhoto Festival, and Oliva Maria Rubio, independent curator.
The young artists we discover are Alessandra Baldoni, Alexia Fiasco, Francesco Merlini, Manon Lanjouère, Giaime Meloni, Denisse Ariana Pérez.