Tag Archives: Pier Paolo Pasolini

Forcella

Forcella is photobook by two photographers who have a history of working together on long-time projects and assignments: Valentina Piccinni and Jean-Marc Caimi. It was  first published in 2015 with Witty Kiwi as a 132-pages trade edition. The book takes us on a rough ride through the oldest neighbourhoods of Naples: Quartieri Spagnoli, Sanità, the city beaches of the Caracciolo broad walk and of course also Forcella,  an infamous quarter “stabbed in the deepest guts” of the city.

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© Valentina Piccinni & Jean-Marc Caimi

In its introduction the authors write: “In Forcella time is suspended, frozen in a undefined era that holds the breath from postwar to the Eighties; modernity and globalisation didn’t make their way through the daily life of common people.”

The authors could not have given us a better lead to their work. Indeed, Jean-Marc’s and Valentina’s Naples is far away from bling-bling Italy as it is stage-managed by Silvio Berlusconi on his television channels.  We are far away from temptation island where the grass is green and the botoxed girls are pretty. We are are also far away from urban, progressive but alltogether petty bourgeois subcultures. Forcella is presented as a rather uncomfortable setting, frozen indeed in cold and hard contrast B&W’s. We see tough plants resistent to the leaden sun on the city, tough animals showing their teeth, and tough folks in the austere conditions of their bare appartments.

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© Valentina Piccinni & Jean-Marc Caimi

The people of Forcella seem to be enjoying the nearness of the sea and the coolness of a shadow in town, but it is also clear that a walk and a talk is all they really have. Their skins may be elegantly tanned by the sun, our attention is only drawn to the moles of imperfection or to tattoos showing enigmatic messages. The looks in their eyes are not seducing the reader not even pleasing the photographers.

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© Valentina Piccinni & Jean-Marc Caimi

In an interview Jean-Marc Caimi explained that the neighbourhoods they photographed harbour a unique way of living. “A pure, old fashioned humanity is reigning, instant friendship is offered, derived from a widespread and unconscious awareness of all being in the same boat.” It is suggested that the locals are living along ancient mediterranean rites and codes of friendship, politeness, honour and hospitality. They seem to be leading their lifes as it was taught by their mothers, fathers, grandparents, uncles and aunts. The loyalty to their traditions makes them resilient against economic and cultural transitions that are making the powerless even more vulnerable.

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© Valentina Piccinni & Jean-Marc Caimi

But places like Forcella are also notorious enclaves in modern Italy; homes to the fiercest mafia groups of the continent. Their feuding is ruthless. The list of victims of extortions, crossfires or brutal targeted killings remains always open. When the state comes to find the perpetrators, codes of silence keep all mouths closed.

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© Valentina Piccinni & Jean-Marc Caimi

Jean-Marc and Valentina write about the neighbourhoods of the camorristas and their victims that these are “places where poverty is the queen and camorra the king.” The book is following a trail through these quarters, from beach to square to church and back. The social reality over there is evoked by details. We often find cheap, kitschy objects that are most probably “Made in China”: The only products of globalized culture that wash ashore in such environments. On the same trail that we follow,  we discover also effigies of the Madonna or parafernalia of SSC Napoli, highly valued objects that can offer hope and redemption.

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© Valentina Piccinni & Jean-Marc Caimi

Remarkably, the Neapolitans that we see, show themselves without any reservation. Sometimes they expose us their bodies, languorously. The looks at the camera and the bodies make me wonder who is leading the dance in Forcella. Is it “the queen” (poverty) or is it “the king” (traditional culture)?

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© Valentina Piccinni & Jean-Marc Caimi

Maybe “the unique way of living” is only a weak bid against a society where wealth and power are concentrating in ever smaller circles. Mental or emotional attachments to the codes of the past are maybe the last  straw for people that – in our challenging times- have been deprived of a proper education system. Maybe the barbaric vendettas  are only weird relics of the past, cultural fossils. Maybe they are practised only for the sake of local culture, maybe they are harmless for those who live outside Naples.

Let’s read the baffling but beautiful quote by Pier Paolo Pasolini about the Neapolitans at the beginning of the book: “I have realised this: Neapolitans are today a big tribe who, instead of living in the desert or in the savannah, (…) live in the belly of a great port city. This tribe has decided (…) to die out, by rejecting the new power, that is, what we call history or modernity. (This rejection) give a profund (sic) melancholy, like all tragedies that take place slowly (…). Neapolitans have decided to die out, by remaining until the very end who they are, that is unreachable, irreducible, and incorruptible.”

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© Valentina Piccinni & Jean-Marc Caimi

Pasolini is apocalyptical and hypnotising as ever. But we can also see the old, popular cultures of Naples as a fertile soil for a positive solution to the eternal conflict between the powerless and the system. Apparently, Naples has become “one of the most important examples of a European ‘rebel city’, in which municipal power is shared with social movements and civil society organisations to further the commons and innovate new forms of democratic participation“.

Anyway, Forcella’s trade edition is sold out now. Luckily,  the “binomial production team” self-published a “special dummy book edition” (30 copies) in June 2016. This second version is a 90-pages spiral bound notebook with a new selection of the images, xeroxed on French Lana Paper. It is presented as “the photographer’s cut“. And the photographer’s cut is even more uncompromomising than the trade edition. Against all the odds in Italy’s post-Berlusconi surreality, the authors clearly side with the rebels. Good stuff!

Thank you very much Mrs Piccinni and Mr. Caimi!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Iran, in the shadow of an immobile reality

How long had it been that we found in a bookshop such a precious little jewel, so pure as the booklet “Iran 1970” published by Humboldt Books in Milan? Each time we take it in our hands again, we forget about everything else.

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© Humboldt Books

The book contains the travelogue of a young man exploring together with a few friends an enormous country “flattening out towards high plateaus“, driving along endless roads in a complete and unprecedented freedom. It is a “whistle-stop tour”, from cheap hotel to cheap hotel, eating peaches and kebabs, drinking only water. The trip is only occasionally interrupted: to repair the Fiat 124 or to recover from a fever provoked by poor nutrition, deep fatigue and the dirty dust.

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© Humboldt Books

The travelling company is cruising from Italy to the far ends of Iran “along straight roads intersecting spaces which they look upon with awe: a dimension that alters their sensitivity, giving them a sense of an even greater broadening of spaces and atmospheres.”

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© Gabriele Basilico

The young man who made the photographs for the travelogue was Gabriele Basilico, more than ten years before he would become one of the most important landscape photographers ever. And the travelogue, as far as we may say something so personal with regard to the great Basilico, is nothing else than the story of how he fell in love with his lifetime mission as a photographer. It is the proclamation of his vocation to record how the contemporary, urban landscapes in Western Europe are subjected to a permanent transformation, imposed by the forces of economic globalization and social hybridization.

Basilico, who passed away too young in 2013 did not see this precious publication but, reportedly, he had carefully stored away these pictures, thinking about turning them into a book one day.

Iran 1970” contains, apart from afterwords by Luca Donelli and by Basilico’s compagnon de route Giovanna Calvenzi, also some “notes for a text” by the photographer himself. In this notes he describes the Iranian capital Tehran as one of the “great ports of call” of their long Persian voyage. We are nine years before the Islamic Revolution that would kick out US poodle Shah Reza Pahlavi. And Basilico describes Tehran as a frenetic city, in which an American-style capitalist culture is imposed onto customs which are thousands of years old – yet without managing to change them completely- and onto abject poverty. He describes how the country both participates in and is subjected to a process of capitalist economic growth.

But Basilico doesn’t show anything of all this. We don’t see the intrusions of modernity, the effects of the economic globalization or the social hybridization. Instead he finds that the Americanization of Iran takes place “in the shadow of an immobile reality”.  And it is this “immobile reality” that he wants us to see. We see the vast landscapes and the great historical buildings in Isfahan, Shiraz, Qom and Persepolis.   We see the monumental mosques, “with their blue or golden domes, establishing a relationship of the spiritual order with the rest of the city, and they thereby stand as proof of the psychological power of religion.”  We see the eternal beauty of Cappadocia’s Fairy Chimneys along the way to Iran. We see the eternal beauty of the architecture of Persepolis and of an abandoned caravanserail. And, it is in these photographs of architecture and landscapes, made with simple means and without any arty farty pretentions, that we can feel how Basilico’s heart started to beat the way it would beat throughout his life thereafter.

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© Gabriele Basilico

 

 

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© Gabriele Basilico

Although human beings would never again show up in his later work,  we can see as well how the young Basilico has photographed the “rapidly vibrating shades of the women running away to hide from the sight of the visitors, and the crowding of men drawn to us with childish curiosity“. We like to consider these men and women also as a part of  the “immobile reality” Basilico wrote about. Indeed, we like to see an “immobile reality” in the gesture of a lady, holding her hijab before her mouth. We like to see an “immobile reality” in the light of the pilgrim’s eyes that are reflecting the soul’s fulfillment, after having reached at last the site of the shrine of Fatimah al Masumeh in the holy city of Qom.

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© Gabriele Basilico

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© Gabriele Basilico

We believe that Basilico-before-Basilico, as Donelli gently describes the author of this book, knew all too well that forces were extinguishing the light in the eyes of these simple but profoundly living Iranians. He knew how the identity and dignity of everyone was threatened.

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© Gabriele Basilico

These purely human emanations of beauty, though as eternal as the Turkish landscape or as Persepolis, are much more vulnerable to the omnivorous forces of globalization, consuming the souls and hearts of us all. When Basilico points his lens at some guests of a traditional restaurant in Isfahan, he sees (and shows) how they feel uneasy, not knowing how to behave in front of the unnaturalness of his technological equipment. But the photographer does not want to judge or condescend. Maybe he merely reads the uneasiness of their gaze as a sign of resistance to what is happening around them. With respect to this, Francesco Bonami points out in his introduction to the Phaidon “best off” edition, that the photographer throughout his work attempted to salvage the remains of the individual’s autonomy and independence in the context of the continuous and tragic transformation of the world. It is as if Basilico wanted to show how disappointed he was about the rescue of what he believed is still hidden in the decay of contemporary society. Bonami relates Basilico with respect to this with his mentor Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Interestingly, Pasolini visited Isfahan a few months after Basilico’s passage through Iran. In one of his famous essays Pasolini raged against Iranian youngsters having their haircut in a western style. As if these westernized Iranians wanted to show that they did not belong to  their countrymen:”the underdeveloped have-nothings“, “the backward barbarians“. In revenge, with regard to those who never saw western vogues, Pasolini praised “the dignified and simple boys with their beautiful necks, the beautiful, bright faces under innocent haircuts.”

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© Gabriele Basilico

Heavy stuff!! But don’t let you be discouraged by it. Go to Iran 1970 as well, become a part of the traveller’s company, drive with them through the deserts of Turkey and Iran, take a stroll under the leaden sun above Persepolis, show respect to the pilgim and meet Basilico-before-Basilico. And come back safely!

David Nollet