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Through the Other

Research, experience and ethnographic survey: photography according to Aniello Barone

, Aniello Barone et Susanna Crispino

Tutte le versioni di questo articolo: [English] [italiano]

But a photograph is not just the result of an encounter between an event and a photographer; it is an event in itself, and with ever more peremptory rights - to interfere with, to invade or to ignore what happens [3].

Or, by observing the shots by Aniello Barone, you may add to cross it.
Born in Naples in 1965, graduated in sociology, Barone approaches to photography immediately after university, making it the primary tool for research and ethnographic inquiry.

The first landmark of this investigation is Sahrawi - La terra sospesa (Sahrawi - the suspended land - 2001), the only book of photographs the author made abroad and the book from which some characteristic features of his work emerge: such as the predilection for black-and-white photography and the absence of a personalistic connotation of the subject, which ends up transcending the hic et nunc of the shot in favour of an universal dimension that, in this case, is is linked to the condition of refugee [4].

Therefore Barone’s approach to image is only apparently utilitarian: instead, it reveals itself as the cornerstone of a poetics that can disregard the cumbersome presence of the fathers of documentary and ethnographic photography, as Lewis Hine and Jacob Riis, to structure its own path with some references such as the Düsseldorf School of Photography, but also the Frankfurt School, according to a multi-disciplinary method that informs all its creative process.

A path which is inseparable from the research on human being, on that Other whose definition seems more and more elusive in a mutating social systems and whose life takes place just beyond the lens.

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Detta Innominata - (Known as nameless), Napoli 2006

The first photographic survey that concerns him is condensed in the volumes La Comunità accanto (The next door Community - 2002) dealing with the communities from Africa, Asia, South America and continental Europe which settled down in Campania and Detta Innominata (Known as nameless - 2006), whose title refers to the street in San Giovanni a Teduccio, the neighbourhood where the author was born and lives, on the Eastern outskirts of Naples.

The lack of definition inherent this name reveals the programmatic exclusion which the suburbs of contemporary metropolis are subject to. In spite of such preclusion, however, the identity of the community - or rather of the communities - who inhabits it emerges strongly from the pictures by Barone.

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Detta Innominata - (Known as nameless), Napoli 2006

The crumbling architectural structures are the antithesis of the looks and the faces of its inhabitants, the details - a tattoo, playing hide and seek around the corner from the railway - emerge through a range of greys expertly modulated to provide the observer with an outline of the community through its people, their rituals and the urban landscape they are surrounded from.

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Detta Innominata - (Known as nameless), Napoli 2006

An analysis that lasted almost ten years: one of the characteristics of Barone’s photos is the programmatic slowness in the structure of the photographic narrative.

As he likes to say, its surveys are a process of crossing places and situations, his photography «is to meet the things in order to tell them». But every story - often condensed in a book - is both the starting and the arrival point, it is the end of a "thought" that, even if it is connected with the following works, maintains its uniqueness and completeness.

Starting from the technical tools which is strictly analog: each project is realized with a different camera, with instruments (such as the optical bench or the panoramic camera) which engage the artist in a systematic, point-like, exclusive analysis.

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Detta Innominata - (Known as nameless), Napoli 2006

Each photo series contains the questioning of the thought that led to the specific analysis, a questioning that starts from the mechanical tool to achieve – snapshot after snapshot - a complete working out, which may find its conclusion in a volume or in an exhibition.

The photographic surveys by Barone often last for years because their genesis arises from a preliminary study of the context and of the community taken into analysis, from a contact with its members built up by continual approaches, friendships, extended social network. In short, from the knowledge of people who receive him. The photograph closes the process only when the presence of the author is no longer viewed as extraneous, but belonging to the group.

So Barone, during the same years of Detta Innominata devotes to the research on the migrant population, which origins from his education and his cultural and academic background, and reaches completeness and deepening in photography.

In open protest to a quantitative view of immigration, which focuses its attention on the number of presences in the country, Barone defines a qualitative approach: it is not about how many people have immigrated to Italy, but what are their names and surnames, what is their nationality, what are their customs and traditions, their daily life in the family home.

His studies in this sense lead to Igboland (2011), a survey on animist rites of the Yam Festival, a religious ceremony organized between 1995 and 2007 [5] by Igbo Nigerian migrants settled in Campania in the area between Naples and Caserta.

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Igboland, Foligno 2011

In the images the night shooting has been preferred, both because the rituals have place after sunset and for the nature itself of the photographs, in which the comparison between the deep blacks and the opalescent whites seems to recreate the shadow and contrast area in which these religious ceremonies are located, renewing an ancestral link with the memory of the motherland, suspended as they are between the ancient and rural character of their origins and the contemporary and alienating dimension of the depersonalized West in which they were celebrated (soccer fields, empty warehouse) [6]

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Igboland, Foligno 2011

The inspiration offered by the Festival ends up revealing images which, instead of representing or documenting the ritual itself, show the individuals who officiate and await it, the sublimation of their emotions, the dichotomy of their existence between two worlds, the native land and the adopted homeland.

Inside the pictures one can see the motivation that leads Barone to reject the traditional contrast between anthropology and ethnography, the creeping eastern prejudice hiding behind the word extracomunitario" (who does not belong to the European Community, non-European) that the artist replaces with the broader concept of “società complessa” (complex society): «In a scientific field, the scholar dealing with non-European culture is usually the ethnographer, while the anthropologist studies indigenous cultures. In this case, I place myself as one who has studied the non-European cultures in a European territory. For this reason, the only reference I can give is to ethnography of complex societies»

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Igboland, Foligno 2011

The ritual becomes song and gesture, women (for whom the ritual prescribes the role of spectators) emerge from the darkness as an architectural Greek frieze, the devotees concentration shows all the solemnity of the ceremony.

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Igboland, Foligno 2011

Igboland represents the first point of arrival for Barone’s work, in the subsequent "thoughts" the attention to the corporality of the human figure reduces till only the traces of its existence it is considered.

With the series ( ) Casa (Home - 2012), this passage takes on a connotation of the contemporary uncertainty: made in a nomad camp from which the inhabitants have been cleared, it is a journey within the condition of the Gipsies who lived there through their absence.

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( ) Casa - (Home), Roma 2013

The concepts of home, hearth and haven find an almost poetic definition within the images, where the use of colour, the first and only artist’s experiment in this sense, gives a feeling of familiarity.

But since the colour - whether it consists of a range of greys or of more or less saturate colours - takes in his shots a precise semiotics value, the examination of the apparently abandoned [7] Gipsy camp is made with de-saturated reddish tones: what remains of the houses is set on fire while the survey is still in progress, so the red then becomes a symbol of destruction.

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( ) Casa - (Home), Roma 2013

In the images the traces of human presence are obvious: in the house furnishing, in the sheets used as a screen, in the things abandoned in a rush – some clothes, the table set for two, a fabric decoration – and they make up the identity of an individual and collective everyday life.

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( ) Casa - (Home), Roma 2013

However, in their construction some references - or homages – to art history strongly emerge too: the blades of light and the drapes which takes origin from Caravaggio’s works, the polemical spatial covering which recall Thomas Hirschhorn, the chromatic suggestions that seem to pay homage to Mark Rothko and Color Field, in a vision that sublimates a life condition on the margins of industrialized societies in a kind of symbolic and theatrical representation through the things they owned and the environments that hosted them.

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Paesaggio - (Landscape), 2013

Along the same line of a complex contemporariness you can find Paesaggi (Landscapes - 2013), a series of seemingly traditional images with a horizontal structure and a panoramic shot in which the eye barely identifies the disturbing element: in the peaceful horizon of the sea, the ruins of buildings and abandoned constructions; in the perfect geometry of the landscape, the heaps of garbage, the ecoballe (big bundles of press refuses directed to be disposed of by incinerators to generate electicity), or the wastes that formed the "emergency" in Campania between 1994 and 2009 [8].

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Paesaggio - (Landscape), 2013

The traces of life experience identified in this series concern to what the individual or the society removes, throws away, in fact refuses. An urge and need that cannot be eliminated: for people - especially in industrialized societies - it is impossible to not produce waste.

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Paesaggio - (Landscape), 2013

So in the deserted images the human presence is tangible and imminent: a fierce criticism against the consumer society and its destructive instinct emerges from the desolation of debris which were abandoned on the shore of the sea, in the countryside, between the boundary walls that barely hold garbage bags, in the panoramic vision of an open field against whose horizon rise the ecoballe.

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Paesaggio - (Landscape), 2013

All that clearly lets out one of the guidelines of Barone’s photography: the need to take a political position which is independent from sectarian militancy, detached from party organizations, movements, groups, free from the manipulations of a short-sighted activism that sometimes turns into dullness and bad faith. It is a political position in the broadest sense of the word, that is, referred to the common life and often dissonant against the dominant thinking.

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Paesaggio - (Landscape), 2013

The human presence in the absence of the figure is highlighted through the historical dimension, which is the legacy from which the culture of Barone arises form: the Magna Grecia and its monuments that become inspiration for the evidence of a past which is extinct but yet present and living in the descendants of those who inhabited those places. This is the case of Liternum (2012), a selection of images that highlights - as well as an openness to the roots of Italian history - another face of his work

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Liternum, Napoli 2012

The images by Barone do not want simply to tell his private "crossing" of places or situations, but aim to share it with the audience. This sharing often shows features that he experiences in private, through the volume in which the photographs are collected and that becomes an "experiential object": In addition to the images, Barone defines the weight, the texture, he shares it with the viewer as it were an object of his own, realized for himself.

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Liternum, Napoli 2012

Such a sharing is even more evident in the case of the exhibition of the works and, in particular for Liternum: the space chosen to exhibit the photographs is set up so that the viewer must turn around the images and raise his head to look at them: exactly the same movement that the author had to make in order to observe and photograph the archaeological ruins of the town [9] of Campania.

A shared experience that is not limited to the observation of the images, but aims to make the viewer a participant to the situation in which they were taken.

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Archivio - (Archive), 2013

History –no longer meant as a common root, but as individual stories - returns in Archivio (Archive - 2013), a series made up of photographs taken from the archive of the Real Casa dell’Annunziata (Royal House of the Annunciation).

The essence of the place, which was the largest orphanage in Italy, makes it full of memories: founded in the fourteenth century by the Neapolitan nobles Nicolò and Jacopo Scondito with the support of Queen Sancha of Majorca, wife of Robert of Anjou, the Real Casa dell’Annunziata was aimed to host the infants which were abandoned for poverty or because they were illegitimate [10].

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Archivio - (Archive), 2013

Their "interrupted stories" are made particularly suggestive by two elements: the "wheel for exposed" or the hole equipped with a mechanism that allowed to leave the baby without being seen, and the habit of tying to the abandoned child half of an object - a holy medal, a coin - or a sacred image; the other half was kept by the parents with a view to a future reunion. A chance that occurred infrequently, as we can see by the many Esposito (derived precisely from "esposto” or exposed) living in Naples.

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Archivio - (Archive), 2013

In Barone’s images the fragmented nature of those origins seems to repeat itself through the snapped details: the plumb bobs (the seals that were affixed since the seventeenth century to the neck of children when they entered the orphanage), the string that ties up the document folders, the fluttering handwriting of certificates, fragments of the never happened reunion.

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Archivio - (Archive), 2013

The range of greys shows much lighter tone than the other works, as to exalt a historical dimension now far away or to gently draw the stories of those lonely children and of their parents just beyond the wheel.

Despite the sensitivity of the subject, the artist takes away from easy pathetic declinations: in balance between history and current events, Aniello Barone photographs are essentially a work of research, that is scientific in its realization.

The respect with which the subject is treated is the cornerstone around which the images are built, the cornerstone that legitimates the curiosity and the sensitivity of the man behind the camera and his desire to travel the world through the lens.

Note

[1S. Sontag, Sulla fotografia, Einaudi, Torino 2011, p.11

[2S. Sontag, Sulla fotografia, Einaudi, Torino 2011, p.11

[3S. Sontag, Sulla fotografia, Einaudi, Torino 2011, p.11

[4As a result of conflict concerning the decolonization of the country, the Sahrawis were subjected to the Moroccan occupation and many refugees found haven in the oasis of Tindouf in Algeria (see. http://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/sahara-occidentale_%28Dizionario_di_Storia%29/)

[5The Festival was a ritual to thank the dead / ancestors and the gods and took place in areas where the ethnic group Igbo, the third in the entire Nigeria, proves to be more numerous, or the area between the provinces of Naples and Caserta. See. A. Barone, Il rito tra archetipo e memoria, in Igbolabnd, Foligno 2001, pp. 62-76

[6In the southern part of Nigeria, which is the area of the former Biafra, where the analyzed rituals stem from, they are no longer observed and were replaced by worship bounded to Christian churches (ibid, p. 71-72).

[7During consecutive visits, the artist realized that the objects were moved or disappeared, he found traces of recent stays or clandestine meetings. See. Paolo Barbaro Aniello Barone, attraverso una terra, in Aniello Barone. Fotografie 1995-2013, Skira, Milano 2013, p. 17

[8See. Http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crisi_dei_rifiuti_in_Campania and the Law 123 of 14 July 2008

Aknowledgments:
Antonella Opera for supervision of English translation