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Ferdinando Scianna
Maison Européenne de la Photographie
5/7 rue de Fourcy, 75004 Paris, France
June 24, 2009 - October 11, 2009

A High Light
by Georgia Fee


Gorgeous.  The word itself is held primarily in the throat and on the tongue...gorrrrrrrrgeoussss.  Saying it is a sensual experience.  Coming from "gorge" (throat), and from "gorgias" (jewelry-loving), this word suggests the neck region (the ruff at the neck; the necklace at the throat).  I think of the neck as that dazzling and splendid bridge between the body and the head.  I move from the head to the body and from the body to the head through that gorge.

In considering Ferdinando Scianna's work at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, one cannot help but resort to the word, gorgeous. Scianna's images are simply captivating.  Like Caravaggio, Scianna has an innate ability to seduce and reify through the mix of light and dark.  Both transport the viewer from the mundane to the sublime.  Both move me from the body to the head and from the head to the body.  I experience the sensuality of seeing through the contrast of light and dark; and I contemplate the meaning of enlightenment inherent in the metaphor.

Coming out of the style of the Italian neorealist filmmakers, Scianna is at heart a documenter and a humanist.  His work presents a compassionate and literary realism.  Scianna's primary output is in the form of the book.  He came to public attention at the age of 21 with his book, Feste religiose in Sicilia, produced with writer Leonardo Sciascia.  Since then he has collaborated with numerous writers, and produced several other books including Marpessa, Dormire, les Siciliens and Mondo Bambino.

Scianna works in series, which suggests the need to describe and tell.  He works on location, which defines him as an interpreter and an explorer.  And he centers in on people, which suggests his humanism.  His career has ranged from photo journalism to fashion to documentation.  His studies have ranged from literature to philosophy and art history.

But getting back to the gorge in Scianna, I must return to his use of shadow and light.  Chiaroscuro.  This lies at the center of his vision.  Certainly he selects his subjects carefully, gravitating towards those moments of devotion, seduction and passion.  From the highly charged images of Catholic ritual, to the voyeuristic probing of the sleeping subject, Scianna's eye captures the world and makes it heartbreakingly beautiful.  His images are not flat or unmediated - they are poetry for the eye.  He uses light and shadow for all that it is worth, creating that rise from the ordinary to the awesome, pulling the viewer from detached observer to fervent convert.  And not one to shy from the harshness of reality, Scianna can lay before us the squalor of poverty, the mangy hide of the homeless dog, and engage us so completely, through the power of his image, that we cannot help but experience the depths of sorrow, horror and bewilderment as we gorge ourselves on his feast.

 Along with the 120 photographs selected for the exhibit, be sure to spend the time to watch the interview with Scianna (translated from Italian into French).  And after taking in this exhibition, one can go to the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibit on the next floor.

Quote From Scianna: "A photograph is not created by a photographer. What they does is just to open a little window and capture it. The world then writes itself on the film. The act of the photographer is closer to reading than it is to writing. They are the readers of the world."

--Georgia Fee

(*Images:  Ferdinando Scianna, Marpessa en Dolce & Gabbana, Villa Palagonia, Bagheria, Italie, 1987; Ferdinando Scianna, Polizzi Generosa, Sicile, 1964; Ferdinando Scianna, Fête catholique des Saints Alfio et Filadelfo, Trecatagni, Sicile, Italie, 1963; Ferdinando Scianna, Les ghâts, Bénarès, Inde, 1972.  Images courtesy of MEP; @ Ferdinando Scianna, Magnum Photos)

Posted by Georgia Fee on 7/6/09

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Hi Georgia, Lovely piece... wondering also if you might be interested in writing about A BOOK ABOUT DEATH. See this: Feel free to contact me. Best, Matthew Rose / Paris, France

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