Photographic Dependence

Fondazione Prada finally opens Osservatorio, a reconverted space dedicated to photography and visual languages. An unexpected attic located over Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II’s rooftops, in the very centre of Milan. The Galleria is often nicknamed “il salotto di Milano” (Milan’s drawing room), due to its numerous shops and importance as a common Milanese meeting and dining place.

The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is one of the world’s oldest shopping malls. Housed within a four-storey double arcade in central Milan, It was designed in 1861 and built between 1865 and 1877. The structure consists of two glass-vaulted arcades intersecting in an octagon covering the street connecting Piazza del Duomo to Piazza della Scala, two of Milan’s most famous landmarks. The street is covered by an arching glass and cast iron roof, a popular design for 19th century arcades, such as the Burlington Arcade in London.

The central octagonal space is topped with a glass dome and Prada’s Osservatorio precisely observes sky changes and ancient, embossed metal sheets from there. The Milan arcade was also special because of the large spans of the vaults and the ethereal effect of the entire glass canopy. The roof that we see today, from Osservatorio, has gone through different historic modifications and represents complicated conservation issues.

As of 2013, the arcade principally contains luxury retailers selling haute couture, jewellery, books and paintings, as well as restaurants, cafés, and bars. The Galleria is famous for being home to some of the oldest shops and restaurants in Milan, such as Biffi Caffè (founded in 1867 by Paolo Biffi, pastry chef to the monarch), the Savini restaurant, the Art Nouveau classic Camparino in Galleria and, of course, for hosting the very first Prada’s family shop.

For its very first opening, the new Prada’s exhibition annex, extending across the fifth and sixth floors of one of the Galleria’s main building, provides an 800 square metres’ space, perfectly restored and developed across two levels. Give me Yesterday, the inaugural exhibition set there, boasts more than 50 works, by 14 artists, from the Italian Irene Fenara’s Polaroids, to the performative photographs by Lebohang Kganye (Her-story, 2013), coming from South Africa, to Camera Woman’s project by Portuguese Tomè Duarte, to the pale, free and wild portraits by Ryan McGinley.

The selection’s heterogeneity investigates a new generation of photographers committed to investigating their own private universes sprang up in parallel with the proliferation of digital platforms based essentially on image-sharing. A greater awareness of the omnipresence of the photo camera in everyday life created an attitude of constant acting and performative tension. In their hands the photo-diary is no longer pure recording of facts in full respects of the rules governing documentary styles, but rather the result of a continuous stage setting, more or less complex and articulated, that aims to selectively rebuild several aspects of everyday life, in a very unusual place like Obsservatorio.

On both its levels, the exhibition introduces a series of projects that lay the foundation of the “new photo diary,” realised during the first part of the period taken into consideration: images by Leigh Ledare who blends the codes of snapshot and posed portraits in a series dedicated to his intense redhead mother; Wen Ling (founder of the first Chinese photoblog in 2001) utilises the internet’s enormous potential to transform minimal, everyday-life gestures into public events posted in real time. On the same floor, more recent works by Maurice van Es and Vendula Knopovà dialogue together over a familiar dimension: for van Es the mother’s presence is embodied with ordered piles of household objects; while for Knopovà, a hard-disk filled with family photographs become a raw nostalgia representation.

The second floor exhibition, identifies portraits as the fil-rouge of this display, responding to a reason that is not only of a historical and artistic nature, but hopes to be once more a chance for reflecting upon our relationship with images (by Irene Fenara’s installation, Joanna Piotrowska’s staged family shots and Antonio Rovaldi’s horizons) , with their meaning and their employment, beginning with the great examples of artistic productions (in this specific case with photography) from the present and from the future. Therefore the portrait, on one hand because it is a genre that marks evident continuity (at least in the beginning of Give me Yesterday) between photography and digital painting from the standpoint of iconographic choices, codes of the language representing the face and the body (as Melanie Bonajo’s crying self-portraits and Izumi Miyazaki digital disconnections); and on the other hand because it marks an momentous rift from that same tradition, representing one

Ginevra Bria

Give Me Yesterday runs until 12 March at Fondazione Prada’s Milan Osservatorio. Find out more:

1. Delfino Sisto Legnani e Marco Cappelletti. Courtesy Fondazione Prada.