October 1, 2022

The Ping Pong Effect — Blind Magazine

Cortona is a medieval town perched on the Tuscan hills, the kind of Italian town where you’ve never seen a flat road or a straight turn. Thick with layers of history, since 2011 it has hosted Cortona on the Move, a photography festival that subverts the quiet routine of the old town every summer, flooding it with international crowds and making the vibe feel a bit wilder.

This year’s turning point saw curators Antonio Carloni and Arianna Rinaldo, who had shaped the festival’s identity and guided it since its birth, hand over the reins of the festival to director Veronica Nicolardi and artistic director Paolo Woods. The new duo have titled the current edition ‘Me, Myself and Eye’, emphasizing photography as a form of mutual communication and highlighting the photographer’s point of view.

© Tomeu Coll

As a photographer, Paolo Woods has the ability to create conceptual work that is far from austere or minimal, but rather engaging at first glance and able to speak to a wide audience. This line of thinking is reflected in many of this year’s curator picks. “Photography has to do something to us,” he says. “It triggers a ping pong effect: you see the work, it hits you, it provokes questions. You’re going to read the text, then you come back with a second layer of consciousness, and you engage with it in a different way. But the first level is important. Something has to come in, click inside.

Palazzo Baldelli – one of the main exhibition venues and a vertical maze in the heart of the old center – is filled with this kind of ping-pong challenge, starting with three sets focusing on passport photos. Alexandr Chekmenev’s post-USSR Ukraine passport photographs are dark and revealing. In 1994, all Ukrainian citizens had one year to replace their Soviet passport with a Ukrainian passport. At the time, Chekmenev received an underpaid offer to photograph elderly or sick people in Lugansk who could not come to an office to have their picture taken. After seeing the conditions of the first lady he was to photograph, he left for free. He carried two cameras, one for the photo ID and one with a wider lens that allowed him to photograph the scene around the white background held by family members and social workers. His photographs reveal what Soviet propaganda had left behind, and what was left of the photo ID frames at the time they were taken.

© Alexander Chekmenev

Martina Bacigalupo and Alessandro Cinque’s series, created in Uganda and Peru respectively, also reflect on identity photos and explore the circumstances of production in which these photographs reveal layers of socio-economic dynamics at play. of Martina”, explains Paolo Woods, “the missing part of the frame is pasted on a document used today by Ugandans to open a bank account or be recognized at a checkpoint, the other part is exposed in Cortona. It is extraordinary for me”.

As a visitor, one can continue to climb the stairs and witness an encounter between two seminal photographic archives of 50,000 and 800,000 images respectively, the first by photographer Martin Parr, the second collected by Lee Shulman in The Anonymous Project. Following a line of diptychs, one can find in each of them disturbing similarities between, on the one hand, a frame by Martin Parr – one of the most famous living photographers of the time – and, on the other hand , a snapshot of an anonymous amateur.

© Martin Parr
© The Anonymous Project

Undoubtedly a courageous statement by Martin Parr, the profaning exhibition undermines the importance of authority, ridiculing the cult of photography’s “sacred masters”. It also reminds us that the way we choose to frame particular moments taps into a collective visual vocabulary and is rarely unique, never original.

What occasion, then, is photographically more sacred than a wedding? And what could be more profane than the intrusion of wedding photography into a photo festival? The curators followed one main rule in the upcoming exhibition, which features scenes from weddings in different corners of the world: the photos themselves had to be commissioned by the bride and groom. Ranging from Saudi Arabia to China, from Valerie Baeriswyl in Haiti to Juan de la Cruz Megías in southern Spain, these rehearsal photographs the unpredictable moments are true beyond what participants could imagine, revealing fragments of culture largely invisible to those who are part of it. “Sometimes they make me feel like a priest, or a judge burdened with photographic evidence,” writes Juan de la Cruz, who has photographed more than 2,500 weddings since 1979. “In response to the usual questions I get asked, I promise I don’t go the night before to hang things on the walls. There’s no need.”

© Thomas Sauvin

A stone’s throw away, in a former warehouse of a butcher’s shop, Christian Lutz’s “Citizens” exhibition confronts speechless visitors with the far-right identity movements and populist parties that are currently rising throughout Europe, in a work poetic and haunting which, contrary to the usual dedicated reportage, reveals the nuances of the phenomenon, its capillarity and therefore the difficulties in framing it and combating it.

To recover from the darkness, one can follow the photographs of Lucas Foglia from the church of San Marco to the fortress of Girifalco. A work in progress, Foglia’s series evocatively chronicles the annual migration of Painted Lady butterflies from South Africa across the Mediterranean basin to Northern Europe. Both physical and metaphorical, the journey includes photographs of people he meets along the way, some of whom are migrants themselves. Meeting the photographs one by one while climbing in the heat is like a pilgrimage: the viewer’s own fatigue recalls the journeys depicted in the photographs.

© Christian Lutz
© Lucas Foglia

At the end of the Via Crucis, yes, the fortress is equipped with a bar. Among the exhibits at this spectacular hilltop location, which overlooks the surrounding fields, a standout is that of Stacy Kranitz, a Kentucky-born photographer who has dedicated her career to photographing in Appalachia, the poorest region in the United States. -United. Far from the exploitative gaze that many have cast on this region over the years, she sees no boundaries between herself and the raw and raucous circumstances that populate her images. Almost as an expression of this kind of vision, an underground space with a dirt floor houses his self-portraits, displayed in the form of large light boxes. Since no tripod or timer could suit her instinctive style, these frames, in which she often interacts with others, were photographed by friends working under her direction but also, as she points out, through their own creativity.

© Stacy Kranitz

This way of working from the belly of a community, without judgment or discretion, is reflected in the immense work of Jacob Holdt, the great and daring introduction that this edition offered to the Italian and international public, currently on display at the Camucia station . A Dane working on racism in the United States in the 1970s, Holdt was genuinely blind to the ordinary rules of documentary photography – whether today or yesterday, and because of this he was able to do such frank, disturbing, unprecedented and unequaled work.

After a few days in Corona, the common thread of the festival, its exhibitions and its recurring atmosphere becomes clearer: Cortona on the Move talks very little about photographers and a lot about the questions that lie behind photography itself, the forms that it can take and the ways in which it can be used.

Cortona on the Move is on view in the city of Cortona, Italy, until October 2.

Cover photo by Jacob Holdt