Cortona is a medieval town perched on the Tuscan hills, the kind of Italian town where you’ve never seen a flat road or right angle. Steeped in history, since 2011 it has hosted Cortona on the Move, a photography festival that disrupts the routine of the old town every summer, overwhelms it with an international crowd and makes the atmosphere a little wilder.
This year’s turning point was when curators Antonio Carloni and Arianna Rinaldo, who had shaped the festival’s identity and led the festival from its inception, handed over the reins to director Veronica Nicolardi and artistic director Paolo Woods. The new duo have christened the current edition ‘Me, Myself and Eye’, which focuses on photography as a form of communication and emphasizes the photographer’s point of view.
Paolo Woods, who is also a photographer, creates conceptual works that are far from austere or minimal, but rather captivating at first glance and able to appeal to a wide audience. This line of thinking is reflected in a number of curatorial choices this year. ” Photography must do something with us »he said. ” It evokes a ping-pong effect: you see the work, it touches you, it raises questions. You go to read the text, then you come back with a second layer of consciousness and you deal with it in a different way. But the first level is important. Something has to come in, something has to click in. »
Palazzo Baldelli – one of the main exhibition sites and a vertical maze in the heart of the old town – is filled with these kinds of ping pong challenges, starting with three sets focused on passport photos. Ukraine’s post-USSR passport photos of Alexandr Chekmenev are dark and revealing. In 1994, all Ukrainian citizens were given a year to replace their Soviet passports with Ukrainian passports. At the time, Chekmenev was commissioned to photograph elderly or sick people in Luhansk who could not come to an office to be photographed. After seeing the circumstances of the first lady he was supposed to photograph, he went free. He had two cameras with him, one for the ID card and the other with a wider lens that allowed him to photograph the scene around the white background of relatives and social workers. His photographs show what the Soviet propaganda left behind and what remained outside the frame of the passport photos at the time they were taken.
Shot in Uganda and Peru respectively, the series by Martina Bacigalupo and Alessandro Cinque also responds to the photos of identity cards and examines the production conditions in which these photos reveal layers of socio-economic dynamics. ” In the case of Martina »says Paolo Woods, ” the missing part of the frame has been pasted onto a document used today by people in Uganda to open a bank account or to be recognized at a checkpoint, the other part can be seen in Cortona. For me it’s great ».
As a visitor, one can keep climbing the stairs and witness a meeting between two groundbreaking photo 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 series of diptychs, we find disturbing similarities in each of them between a list by Martin Parr – one of the most famous living photographers of the time – and a snapshot taken by an anonymous amateur.
Undoubtedly a bold statement by Martin Parr, the irreverent exhibition undermines the importance of authorship and ridicules the cult of photography’s “holy masters.” She also reminds us that the way we choose to frame certain moments aligns with a collective visual vocabulary and is rarely unique and never original.
What occasion, then, is photographically more sacred than a wedding? And what could be more profane than the intrusion of wedding photos into a photography festival? The curators followed one main rule for the next exhibition, with wedding scenes from different corners of the world: the photos themselves had to be taken on behalf of the newlyweds. From Saudi Arabia to China, from Valérie Baeriswyl in Haiti to Juan de la Cruz Megías in southern Spain, these photos of repeated but unpredictable moments are of a truth beyond what participants could have imagined, revealing fragments of culture which are largely invisible to those who are part of it. “ Sometimes I feel like a priest or a judge handling photographic evidence »writes Juan de la Cruz, who has photographed more than 2,500 weddings since 1979. ” To answer the usual questions I get, I promise not to go hang things on the walls the night before. It is not necessary. »
Nearby, in a former butcher’s warehouse, Christian Lutz’s ‘Burgers’ exhibition confronts speechless visitors with the far-right identity movements and populist parties currently emerging across Europe. In a poetic and haunting series that, unlike the usual devoted media coverage, reveals the nuances of the phenomenon, its capillarity and thus the difficulties of framing and combating it.
To recover from the darkness we can follow the pictures of Lucas Foglia from the church of San Marco to the fortress of Girifalco. The series by Lucas Foglia, in the making, evocatively describes the annual migration of Painted Lady butterflies from South Africa to Northern Europe across the Mediterranean. The journey, both physical and metaphorical, includes photos of people he meets along the way, some of whom are migrants themselves. Meeting the photos one by one while climbing in the heat is like a pilgrimage: the viewer’s own fatigue remembers the journeys depicted in the photos.
At the end of Via Crucis, yes, the fortress is equipped with a bar. One of the exhibits in this spectacular hilltop location, which overlooks the surrounding fields, is that of Stacy Kranitz, a Kentucky photographer who has devoted her career to shooting in Appalachia, the poorest in the United States. Far from the exploitative gaze that other photographers have cast on this region over the years, she sees no boundary between herself and the raw, noisy conditions that populate her images. Almost as a statement of this kind of vision, an underground space with an earthen floor houses his self-portraits, represented as large light boxes. Because no tripod or timer matched her instinctive style, these photos, in which she often interacts with other people, were taken by friends who worked under her direction, but also, as she points out, thanks to their own creativity.
This way of working from the belly of a community, without judgment and without discretion, is reflected in the immense work of Jacob Holdt, the great and daring introduction that this edition of the festival has offered to the Italian and international audience, currently on display at Camucia station. Holdt, a Dane who worked on racism in the United States in the 1970s, is genuinely blind to the common rules of documentary photography, whether they are today or yesterday, and it is because of this that he is so candid, disturbingly , unprecedented and unparalleled work.
After a few days in Corona, the common thread of the festival, the exhibitions and the recurring atmosphere becomes clear: Cortona on the Move focuses very little on photographers and a lot on questions of photography itself, on the forms it can take and the ways on which it can be used.
The ‘Cortona on the Move’ festival can be seen until October 2 in the city of Cortona, Italy.
Cover photo by Jacob Holdt