by Sara Guerrini, senior picture editor Yourpictureditor
For such a long time I haven’t been able to watch, during an exhibition, a video interview from the very first to the last minute: surrounded by the eighteenth century frescoes of Palazzo Palmieri, Liza Ambrossio helps me understand a very dense project (‘La ira de la devoción‘) that embraces death, femininity and the story of a young girl. Psychology, art, tradition and, of course, photography combined in violent associations directly hit your stomach. Later, I had the pleasure of listening to her talk and then to meet her in person in the evening.
These are the gifts of a condensed photography festival: time and contact. And, not to forget, a swim in the sea since we are in Monopoli and your accommodations won’t be more than a 2-minute (barefoot) walk from the shore.
I believe there are no precedents in my personal history of festival attendance: I have seen all the exhibitions. I’ve read and talked to the photographers, listening (willingly!) to the genesis of their projects, and thinking together about possible future developments. I’m happy to have discovered the amazing work of Michela Benaglia as she researched the power of masks in remote villages in Italy, and to have been bewitched by the words of Giulia Nausica Bianchi during her talk on the Women Priests Project.
Giovanni Troilo, artistic director and Arianna Rinaldo, curator of photography, answer our questions.
PhEST launched the 4th edition of the See Beyond the Sea Festival. Myths and Religions is this year’s theme: a topic that, although it may seem linked to a more traditional world of photography and art, opens relevant thoughts on our contemporary society. Like the new mosques architectures in Turkey by Norman Behrendt or the Women Priest Project by Giulia Bianchi, or again The research for eternal life by Alessandro Gandolfi in its Immortality Inc. project. Thinking to the previous editions of PhEST, what led you to choose this year this theme?
The thematic choices for PhEST have always been triggered by more than one idea: we are interested in macro-themes that can also relate to local culture. Religion is an extremely strong element in Apulia, and in italy in general, both on an individual scale and at a state level.
Our glance starts from here, the Mediterranean, cradle of the Abrahamic religions, and looks out towards the world. Religion and myths are part of humankind’s history on two levels, as an instrument of power creating complex social structures, in politics and business, but also as a more intimate, personal experience. They reflects our need to find solace, to offer space to our imagination. This need is universal: to belong, to go beyond reality, to believe.
God is certainly not dead, but it takes many forms. Without the pretence of being exhaustive we want to offer various layers of narration of this fascinating but delicate theme. The scope is to stimulate the visitors to play, think, imagine. Photography has the strong power to create new codes, imagine different worlds.
We are aware that one of the main mission of photography festivals started in small or medium towns is the interaction with the territory and the people who live within. Is this also one of the main task for PhEST? How does the choice of the this year’s edition theme fit into the relationship with the region Puglia?
PhEST’s DNA is rooted in the region. Since its inception the relationship with the territory and its culture and traditions has been strong. Commissioned work spanned from local fishermen to the magnificent olive trees and the multi-faceted world of ports and harbours. This year is no exception. For us, representing the local is the diving board to talk about the world and its complexities, in an attempt to challenge stereotypes and de/re-construct visions.
Apulia, like many regions in Italy, is a stronghold of traditions and religious celebrations. In just the month of August dozens of processions and town feasts happen on a weekly basis. Each village has its patron saint and finds a loud, colourful way to show devotion. It is interesting to observe that this cult for various saints becomes a form of polytheism of tolerance.
Sanne De Wilde, a photographer for the NOOR agency, was selected for this year’s site-specific collaboration. Can you tell us more about this collaboration and the work she has produced?
Yes, every year we commission a photographer to work on the year’s theme. Both Giovanni and I have worked with Sanne before and were fascinated by the way she looks at the world. She is interested in people, in details and the dynamics behind actions and relations.
For her, coming from Belgium, a northern-European country certainly not imbued in Catholic upbringing like southern Europeans, the experience in Apulia was a blast. She traveled through the region chasing saints and madonnas, and the crowds, families, kids and elderly that never miss out on the patron’s day celebrations.
Her glance is curious but deep, colourful but meaningful, focusing yes on the bright festive lights but also on the gestures and small details which reveal the strength and importance of these traditions, and their profound value for the people. Sanne’s way of looking is original, and that is what we look for: an original view on traditional things.
And last but not least, a YP’s must: Giovanni, you’re a photographer, a film director and now also a founder of a mix-arts festival in a beautiful Italian location. What was your dream job when you were a child?
G: Well, to stay in tune, I should say…a priest?
A: And should I say nun?!, Or maybe the first woman pope!
PhEst. International Festival of Photography and Art in Monopoli. Until November 3rd 2019
Cover photo: Daniel Ochoa de Olza from the series “La Maya”
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