Private and Collective Memory

La Triennale di Milano boasts almost 150 photographs and photo books, belonging to a private collection. The Donata Pizzi Collection is now revealing one of the widest representation of Italian women photographers ever exhibited in the last 20 years. The collection comprises works taken by 50 practitioners  from different generations, ranging from the pioneering work of Paola Agosti, Letizia Battaglia, Lisetta Carmi, Carla Cerati, Paola Mattioli, and Marialba Russo, through to experimental works from the 1990s to 2015 by Marina Ballo Charmet, Silvia Camporesi, Monica Carocci, Gea Casolaro, Paola Di Bello, Luisa Lambri, Raffaella Mariniello, Marzia Migliora, Moira Ricci, Alessandra Spranzi and many others.

L’altro sguardo: Italian Women Photographers 1965-2015 represents a reflection on how, in Italy, one had to wait until the end of the decade to have the first historical studies of photography that focused on gender, an approach which has struggled to emerge in the country to this very day, with the exception of the contribution of a handful of scholars. Motifs that link images together belong to otherwise different times and genres, from photos of political activism to experimental images. The exhibition is set up in chronological order and is organised into four sections, devoted respectively to photography of journalism and social exposés (Dentro le storie – Inside the Stories); to the relationship between the photographic image and feminist thought (Cosa ne pensi tu del femminismo? – What Do You Think about Feminism); to themes linked to identity and to the representation of emotional bonds (Identità e relazione – Identity and Relationships); and, finally, to contemporary experimentations based on the exploration of the expressive potential of photography (Vedere oltre – Seeing Beyond.)

In the very first section Dentro le storie, the domestic sphere, a place traditionally considered the woman’s domain, is also addressed in the series Tornando a casa realised by Alessandra Spranzi in 1997. Here the photographs do not belong to the artist’s family life, but are taken from old magazines of the 1960s. Spranzi selects images of bourgeois interiors that embody the dreams of the Italian middle class in the years of the economic boom, transformed into a restricted environment. An effect of alienation is also produced by the series Gulu Real Art Studio (2011) by Martina Bacigalupo, a researched enhanced in the oldest photography studio in Gulu, a town in northern Uganda, afflicted by civil war for the last twenty years.

The portraits all have the peculiarity of featuring an empty space where the face should be. In parallel,  Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful (1967-1972),  juxtaposes  images of the Vietnam War with those of the insides of American homes, in order to highlight the horror of the war. Spranzi’s works are not directly linked to current affairs, but rather shed light on obscure and enigmatic aspects of an unconscious everyday life.

Along the exhibiting path, the 1980s propose very few women as able to carve out a space for themselves in the main trends of the period, both in painting and photography. But the 1990s introduce the presence of women artists and photographers in Italian museums and galleries as significant, after a decade dominated almost exclusively by men. In in the 1990s, a new generation of artists and photographers, including Beatrice Pediconi, Agnese Purgatorio, Luisa Rabbia, Sara Rossi and Silvia Camporesi, met with success in Italy, and increasingly often garnered important recognition abroad as well.

In various cases the same project is developed with different language and tools (photos, video, video installations, performance art, etc.), as for instance in Rä di Martino’s  Authentic News of Invisible Things, featuring a photograph and a video. The photo is the reproduction of archive image of 1918, preserved in the Imperial War Museum of London, which depicts a group of civilians observing a fake tank, used in World War I to deceive the enemy. From the archive photo, nearly 100 years later Rä di Martino has made a video in which she reconstructs the original scene: the artist built a set in Bolzano where several people dressed in clothes from the early 20th century look at a dummy tank. Next, the artist shows instead the spontaneous reactions of passers-by to a real tank that rolls through the streets of Bolzano.

Ginevra Bria

THE OTHER VIEW ITALIAN WOMEN PHOTOGRAPHERS 1965-2015 runs until 8 January at La Triennale di Milano. Find out more:

1. Anna Di Prospero, Self-portrait with my mother, (2011). Courtesy of the Triennale di Milano.