text by Salvatore D’Agostino
Between 1951 and 1953 the writer and photographer Fosco Maraini, together with the editor Diego De Donato started their trip from Campania to Sicily. His intent was to «put between two covers all, just all our South: magnificence and horrors - writes Maraini - middle class and farmers, sailors, bishops and Mafioso's, everything, i say everything». But, after collecting a huge amount of materials, the project that should have been called Nostro Sud, was abandoned because of a wearing down «owerpowered by the wealth of things, the richness of the aspects, the multitude of faces and destinies, we end up to the immense fire of South».
|Fosco Maraini: Piana degli Albanesi (1952) and La torre nuvolaria near Termini Imerese (1952)|
Nostro Sud, if published, it would have been the first narrative for images of the South, just because, before the ambitious Maraini's project, photography in Sicily was used to serve something else instead of being an autonomous tale.
The middle class of the island used photography to produce masturbatory images, often rich of classic and charmy poses. The verist writers such as Luigi Capuana, Federico De Roberto and Giovanni Verga used photography to collect a sample of human types or places to develop later in literature. Elio Vittorini in 1950 commissioned to the photographer Luigi Crocenzi to complete a reportage, to tell by images his romance Conversazione in Sicilia, but a technical incident ruined over a one thousand five hundred negatives. So Vittorini decided to use just some surviving photographs and he completed the book using images from other photographers and Renaro Guttuso's drawings. «Conversazione in Sicilia - writes the young photographer René Burri, after he joined Magnum photos agency - was my Sicilian guide. When i arrived to that village between the mountains, it seemed to me that those stairs were leading to the sky». Those photos of villages and people who he met along is journey in 1956, were sent to worldwide magazines such as Life, Look, Stern, Paris-Match and Epoca and represented one of the first reportages - not about war - realised in Sicily. Finally, film directors that from after the second War to the 60s shot more than thirty films in Sicily, from La terra trema (1948) by Luchino Visconti to L'avventura (1960) by Michelangelo Antonioni, they used this land to fix their typical scenes in their films. The worldwide diffusion of those films chatched the attention of several photographers such as Brassaï, Bruce Davidson, Herbert List, Leonard von Matt, Fulvio Roiter and David Seymour who retraced the scenes seen in the films.
So many photographers then came to Sicily looking for the exotic, the uncontaminated, or just to accompany an anthropology usable for the infinite production of historical, books published as memory books. Sicily, since the end of the second War, becomes a set that reiterates, in most of the cases, useless places about Sicily and the Sicilians. After the never finished book Nostro Sud By Marini, so many photographers wanted to use images. Not so many of them thought of using them as writings; but between those that did, some of them achieved it. There are projects like Paesi dell'Etna by Enzo Sellerio and I siciliani by Ferdinando Scianna.
In the photos of Paesi dell'Etna, work realised between the 1962 and the 1967 with more than three thousand photographs, Sellerio does not look for the Sicilian colour, his eye is often surreal, amused and a little childish. In his journey through Etna's villages he does not seem worried to catch the strain in workers faces. For Sellerio, in those places made of lava stones, coal, agriculture, the man is territory, he is not an independent part, but territory itself: «I think that a real photographer - writes Enzo Sellerio - has to be like a writer who writes and expresses himself by images». The book will never be curated and published by the author.
|Enzo Sellerio: Peasantry Maletto (1963) and Harvesters Milo (1963)|
I Siciliani or Les Siciliens, published at the same time in Italy by Einaudi and in France by Denoël in 1977, collects photographs of the young wandering, from the early 60s to the 1977, of Ferdinandio Scianna. The photos are simple, often slightly out of focus, frank, and they reveal a natural talent, pure and still, far from the aesthetic of Scianna's photography in which, afterwords, he would trap himself. Quoting an anecdote written by Dominique Fernandez in the prologue of the book, they are patched photographs: «In this way the apron of the woman from Pietraperzia, patched as it is, truly represents the symbol of Sicily; and the woman, wearing it incarnates three thousand years of uncertain history, in motion, always restarted».
|Ferdinando Scianna: Gibellina after the earthquake of 1969|
The photos by those two last authors do not feed on Sicilian visual stereotypes, they do not make easy connections with the past, do not fall in an excess of aesthetic and do not make an advert to promote the idea of the Isle. I wanted to write about those three photographic narrations, including Nostro Sud because, along the years, the relationship between photography and the photographic narrative in Sicily has been complicated; Fosco Maraini thought that: «The South is still today (in its good way) the most prolific Italian reserve of philosophers, intellectuals, rhetoricians, life mentors, and (in its bad way) the sanctuary of an empty cult of the word, of the noble adjective, of the sentence that sounds great and it does say nothing». Keeping out some photographs with no frills like It is happening that… made by Letizia Battaglia and some unreleased works by Josef Koudelka, in those last years it is been preferred to publish almanacs of verdant photos that, in the end, tell about nothing and it has been forgotten to tell us about the present days: what it is today.
|Letizia Battaglia Killed while he was in the garage Palermo (1976) and Josef Koudelka Sicily (2005)|
In this Sicilian project, Sudlimazione, Pietro Motisi rereads the notion of paesaggio: a portion of territory to isolate because it is sublime and it deserves attention. He puts inside the landscape the here and now, not to be confused with modernity or contemporaneity, but in the natural and continuous evolving of time. The present day is all it is possible to see, that He wants see, by walking into it. The present day, in its inner essence, what is visible with no redundance, is the visual control of Pietro Motisi. In his journey, he did not look for exotic places, typical, historical and, if they are included, he kept them secret. The elements of the landscape, eroded by the light, natural or artificial, appear in the daily use and abuse of those who live in the territory, they are there, at least in that present day when Pietro Motisi photographed them.
photos by Pietro Motisi