On April 7, the exhibition Ai Weiwei: Making Sense, dedicated to the work of the great Chinese artist, will open to the public at the Design Museum in London. Among the works on display, the most monumental and curious will be Water Lilies #1, a fifteen-meter-long curved panel reproducing one of the paintings dedicated to water lilies by Impressionist artist Claude Monet. The work is curious because the artist chose to represent Monet’s entire color palette using 650000 LEGO bricks of 22 different colors.
The LEGO bricks thus create a pixelated effect that is meant to make us reflect on the more industrial ways in which artworks are disseminated and how we have become more accustomed to recognizing great masterpieces of art. The only modification Ai Weiwei makes to Monet’s work is on the right side, where he inserts the detail of a dark portal representing the underground trapdoor in Xinjiang province where Ai and his father lived in forced exile in the 1960s. Ai Weiwei in London will also exhibit another work featuring the world’s most famous toy bricks, which will be given away to visitors in protest of the company that refused to sell the bricks to the Chinese artist in 2014.
In the Setting agenda managing the priority of information to be conveyed through the media, the environmental issue occupies a fluctuating position, alternating moments of high media attention (especially during special anniversaries such as that dedicated to Earth Day on April 22nd) to moments of total silence. However, issues relating to climate change, pollution or waste have been urgent for too many years. In the specific case of waste, it is estimated that global waste production will increase in 2050 to 3.88 billion tonnes if the world continues on its current trajectory, when it already reached 2.24 billion tonnes in 2020 (1). The fact that this issue has always been relevant is also demonstrated by the extreme attention that the world of photography has devoted over the years to the theme, often through works with a remarkable expressive power.
Already in 2014, the photographer Gregg Segal with his iconic “7 Days of Garbage” invited each individual to take responsibility for the production of household waste through a series of shots with a strong visual impact: a totally irresponsible relationship with the waste that was made explicit by laying the responsible people on real carpets of waste produced by themselves in a single week. An exorbitant amount that no individual was aware of until they were lying on it.
Segal has recreated the backgrounds in a meticulous way, reproducing all natural scenarios such as lakes, meadows, beaches, to underline that the presence of waste does not save even the non-human contexts, rather: often pleasant and uncontaminated places become deposits of waste and waste, thus ruining entire ecosystems. The result is a total dissonance between the posed bodies, often smiling or otherwise emotionally detached from the context, and the presence of the waste of industrial production daily produced. Families, couples, single people: no one is excluded from this test of self-awareness that remains sadly topical and that makes “7 Days of Garbage” a timeless project.
The waste is also at the center of Mandy Barker’s practice, a British photographer who has made the environmental cause the red thread of her photography production, focusing mainly on plastic pollution.At first glance, her shots seem to reproduce galaxies, portions of the universe in which solitary planets orbit, but the investigation has a completely different object: on closer inspection, all the compositions consist of thousands of debris that the artist has collected along the coasts of the world to denounce the current global crisis of marine pollution by plastic.
Among the others, her work “Every… snowflake is different” consists of a composition plastic elements recovered from the shoreline of the Spurn Point Nature Reserve in the UK and that include margarine jars, medicine packaging, coat hangers, lollipops, caps, trays, pans and much more.Again, the contradiction between the wonderful aesthetics of these scraps and the resulting ecological disaster aims to invite the viewer to become more aware and active in the production and management of waste: to achieve this goal, Mandy works closely with scientists and biologists so that her shots are supported by scientific data that can stimulate a real change in the viewer.
Having one’s work evaluated and read by an insider is always a decisive moment in the growth path of a photographer: it is like handing over one’s child to the world or, even better, laying bare and letting someone express his or her assessment of something to which one has devoted a lot of time, passion and effort and which one is convinced no one will be able to fully understand. Yet, facing the world, stepping out of one’s “comfort zone” and confronting an outside eye, is only the beginning of one of the most important challenges: that of approaching one’s work in a professional and conscious way. We asked Claudio Composti, one of the most in-demand Folio Reviewers in Italy, to give us some tips on how to handle the phase before, during and after the portfolio reading takes place.
Claudio Composti lives and works in Milan. He is founder and art director of mc2gallery and Art Advisor of private collections and independent curator of exhibitions in institutional, gallery or private spaces. For years he has been Folio Reviewer for the most important Italian and international Photography Festivals and is Guest Professor at Leica Akademie and Raffles Milano, Institute of Fashion Design and Photography, for the Master of Photography. Since 2023 he has been director of the Ragusa Foto Festival in Ibla – Ragusa and artistic director of White Carrara.
Portfolio readings provide a time for a professional in the world of photography (e.g., a photographer, photo editor, gallery owner, or critic) to discuss a photographer’s work. Why should photographers, especially emerging ones, choose to have their portfolios read?
The portfolio reading is an essential time for photographers both to present their work and to meet with curators, photo editors, or collectors who can correct their aim and give some pointers and suggestions to improve their work. Confrontation-constructive and intelligent-is always good when it is there, but you have to know how to handle it and how to accept it. This, too, is part of an artist’s training.
A photographer’s greatest anxiety is probably the preparatory one in which you need to put your production in order and then submit it to the gaze of a professional. So can you tell us how you prepare and present a portfolio?
Usually portfolio readings take place at festivals and so time is limited, usually you have about 20 minutes: knowing how to present your work clearly and concisely is therefore crucial. And presenting it as well as possible-assuming there is something to discuss-is already a very good calling card. The experienced eye does not miss the quality of the materials chosen for printing and how a portfolio is presented. Better to present not too many nor too few photos. Sometimes, even a book that has already been published can be very helpful in giving an idea of one’s work, or a mock-up of a book in fieri can help to get a sense of goals and visions. I would say that the key thing is never to inundate with randomly chosen images or, for example, those belonging to several projects and presented in different formats: presenting a single concept or project-though incomplete-is always better than providing many incomplete cues.
After reading one thinks that everything is concluded, that it is only necessary, perhaps, to listen to the suggestions received and apply them to one’s own work. But this is actually not the case: what should a photographer constantly do to see his or her work grow?
Keep working, see exhibitions, compare with other artists. See See See: films, exhibitions, read books and feed on anything that will feed visual and imaginative culture. And then seek out both portfolio readers and galleries that may have an interest in one’s work. There is no point in approaching those who do anything else; it means not having self-awareness and what you want and do.
When approaching a portfolio reading, one must start with the awareness that one may also receive strong opinions or otherwise capable of shaking the author’s certainties. In other cases, however, the portfolio reading can confirm the validity of the path taken. What advice do you feel like giving photographers to keep in touch with reviewers? What to take home from the positive/negative judgment received?
Definitely, if the review is positive, you should try to maintain contact and hope that it will result in a collaboration of some kind. In truth, I assure you that if the artist is interesting to the reader, he or she will be the one to make sure that relationships are maintained: in this sense, the interest in contact is mutual. Should the reading have a negative outcome, it would be good to focus on what was not appreciated. First of all, it is necessary to understand and accept constructive criticism, but without giving in to judgment: remember, however, that every opinion can also be subjective. The line between objective and personal judgment is always very difficult to identify, both for the giver and the receiver. In exchange we always grow in two.
Liquida photofestival returns to Turin with its second edition curated by Laura Tota and included in the frame of Paratissima. From May 4 to 7, 2023, photographs selected from the open call will animate the halls of the Cavallerizza Reale with the aim of spreading hope, beauty, sharing, coexistence, resilience and love, in accordance with the theme “Better Days Will Come.” The festival will be divided into three sections: the Exhibition area will welcome the best photographic projects, while the Grant section will host the ten shots selected by the jury and, finally, the EdiTable area will be dedicated to publishing. While waiting for the festival to start, let’s find out the ten Grant winning photographers with their shots.
#1 Alvaro Gómez Pidal – A ladder in front of the Ministry in Moscow. An accidental allegory full of meanings of things that were to come. Alvaro Gómez Pidal is a Spanish photographer, artist and filmmaker, born in Madrid in 1989. Pidal understands photography as a simple reaction to life; he himself, quoting Jonas Mekas, says “I film because I live, and I live because I film.”
#2 Chiara Benzi – Capri Chiara Benzi is a photographer from Bologna who focuses her practice on the physical and digital manipulation of her photographs. To an image that is quintessentially a reflection of reality, she applies an alteration that borders on alienation. The photograph “Capri” evokes a rock that looks like a glacier but, at the same time, the title refers to a maritime and summer scenario.
#3 Ernesto Sumarkho – Emilia Ernesto Sumarkho is a Venezuelan-born Art Director and photographer who uses a conceptual approach to photography to explore themes about nature, people, identity, and how they interact with each other. In “Emilia” he draws inspiration from magic realism to explore the boundaries between reality and fantasy.
#4 Pasquale Farinelli – Fiore mio Pasquale Farinelli is a self-taught photographer, born in 1986. Through photography he explores environments, observes objects and investigates people, paying special attention to those sclerotic and obsessive attitudes that characterize our everyday life. The approach is that of a curious voyeur who emphasizes details in an almost fetishistic way.
#5 Alessandro Truffa – Fuoco contro Fuoco Alessandro Truffa was born in Turin in 1996 and attended ISIA in Urbino, exploring the editorial restitution of the image. He recently published “Fuoco contro Fuoco,” his first photobook focused on an ancient ritual used to cure St. Anthony’s fire and based on the principle of analogy and the use of natural elements.
#6 Elena Costa – Inverno Elena Costa was born in 1997 in Moncalieri. The photographer searches for the natural essence of things, with the awareness that nothing remains, that everything is ephemeral and in continuous becoming. For this reason, her photography has an emotional approach that she highlights through the use of film and light.
#7 Vito Lauciello – True white horse Vito Lauciello has been pursuing his passion for photography since childhood, developing a strong passion for analog photography. His portrait projects start from the subject: he gets inspired by it and develops an empathic relationship that allows him to build the project through a combination of character and feelings. In the case of “True white horse,” the photographer focuses on the detail of the eye, evoking with a single element the entire subject: the horse.
#8 Erica Bardi – Untitled Erica Bardi was born in Naples in 1998. She graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts of Brera and later attended the Cfp Bauer. An autobiographical component is evident within her photographic research. It emerges from memories, evoked by places and subjects. Through photography, Bardi intends to combine motherhood with an intimate and personal sphere, through an unrealistic dimension.
#9 Blanka Urbane – Untitled 04 Polish but Austrian adopted photographer Blanka Urbanek lives and works in Vienna. Her approach to photography is realistic and natural. Sometimes she is part of the photographic staging while at other times she is just an observer. She herself sees her work as melancholy poetry.
#10 Lucrezia Testa Iannilli – Untitled, from the series New Humans, New Gods. Lucrezia Testa Iannilli was born in Rome in 1977 and is a photographer and performer who works with cross-disciplinary investigations, researching the weaknesses and criticalities of the art sector, with a focus on the relational sphere. Through open air, site-specific photographic installations and performance cycles using the human and animal body, Lucrezia In her research practices she intervenes with open air, site-specific photographic installations and performance cycles in decontextualized spaces, using the human and animal body.
Visual artistAda Marino, Italian but based in Wales, works by combining installation and photography, seeking a visual transposition of traumas buried in the past. Her works, often in black and white, conceal an agony, suffering and sense of helplessness that manifest themselves in a form of cynical surrealism. The images that Ada Marino evokes belong to her personal experience and, more generally, those of women, focusing on gender issues. The project “Paterfamilias” is autobiographical and therefore particularly charged with pathos. The artist investigates the phenomenon of patriarchy circumscribed to the domestic sphere, drawing from her past family traumas. In fact, Ada Marino dedicates the project to her grandmother, abused and denigrated by an authoritarian husband.
“To my grandmother who was abused and denigrated by an authoritarian husband. To her that when she was not beaten was impregnated, as sign of ‘love’ and punishment and often beaten while she was expecting, as sign of correction and discipline.” wrote Ada.
“Paterfamilias” visually describes a suffocating and toxic environment. A place where home is no longer a safe haven but the scene of violence and denigration. A place where man dominates every choice and marks time. Ada Marino, although not making the violence explicit through images, is able to evoke it with specific gestures, positions or behaviors. A man’s hand grips a woman’s hair; in another shot he forcefully holds a bird, preventing it from breathing. Broken dishes are stowed a sideboard, milk overflows from a glass. The man, shielded by a newspaper, pierces it with his arm in order to eat. Still two legs are seen floating in the air in a bathroom, a woman is hanging, evoking suicide. Fragments of life that every woman is able to perceive as dangerous. Symbols that in their apparent simplicity carry with them the sense of oppression that continues to linger to this day, highlighting how today’s society itself fails to eradicate patriarchy, despite many words and hard efforts.
Ada Marino is able to convey disquiet where there might not be any, as in the case of overflowing milk, managing to strike at those universally dramatic gestures. Marino’s photographs conceptualize the effect of repulsion/attraction, reevaluating the very concept of ugliness.