Thoreau (2012 – 2013)

This project is the result of an artist residence conducted between 2012 and 2013 in Valle d’Aosta. The serie is inspired by the writings of Henry David Thoreau, especially “Walden, Life in the woods”, a manifesto about the relationship between man and nature which has permeated the entire American culture and environmentalist. Alessandro let his gaze wander in the Natural Park of Mont Avic with great freedom, without establishing rigid hierarchies or obsessive projects, but revealing and surprising us with their sophistication and sensitivity. This is also the reason why the work takes the form of a precious little book, to be read and carefully guard second nature, that speaks of nature and set of men, in a progressive succession of reflections on the concepts of wilderness and human settlement....

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A Drop in the Ocean (2014)

In collaboration with Milo Montelli Sergio Romagnoli was killed in 1994. He was 37 years old. Despite an official investigation at the time and subsequent enquiries by his family, the circumstances surrounding his murder have never been fully explained and remain a mystery to this day. He was a Professor of Natural Sciences and Geography, a passionate naturalist and also a keen photographer, frequent traveler and accomplished adventurer. An ardent anti-militarist, Sergio was a highly active supporter of many efforts to protect and preserve the environment; fighting a live long battle to document and denounce the dangerous pollution of the River Esino near his home in Jesi, a small city in the province of Ancona in Italy. At the time of his murder, Sergio and his wife were living on Sao Tomè and Príncipe, a small island nation in the Gulf of Guinea off the West Coast of Central Africa. They had ventured there to do voluntary work in an orphanage for visually impaired children during a particularly tragic moment in their lives; following as it did, the recent death of their baby son Luigi, who had died after a serious illness at the age of one.   The photographs gathered in this project, dating back from the 70s and 80s, are but a few of those Sergio Romagnoli produced during the course of his short life. Our primary interest, besides a human fascination towards his incredible story, lied in the possibility to interact with a rough body of images; free of any artistic claim, Sergio’s work reveals itself in tangible pureness, a comforting companion during the long hours spent leafing through his albums. Both simple and impacting at the same time, these photographs disclose an explosive photographic sensitivity, clung to the awareness of the real and to one’s own history: an experience of encounters, journeys, research, aimed at discovering, knowing, understanding. The act of seeing as common denominator. Photographs that could be defined as merely amateurish – it’s no coincidence that the term ideally justifies the imprecisions an enthusiast is more likely to run into – melt into others of scientific nature, driven by an almost obsessive need for cataloguing that involves the plant life above all. By triggering the relationship between such different approaches – however detached by labile boundaries – our attempt was to give voice to the unconsciously authorial potential lying within Sergio’s work, which would have otherwise never be brought to light. An unsolved possibility, overshadowed by a visual bearing that could be assimilated to that of a child. Hunting high and low the environment in which he is growing up, he crawls into the slow, wearing task of understanding himself and his role as a human being in the world. We did not conceive this project as a collection of archive photographs, or ourselves as curators. With great honor and gratitude, we pay homage to the musical score left undone by a composer now gone, leading the orchestra towards a new symphony of voices, colors, and silences. A Drop in the Ocean - Sergio Romagnoli By 3/3 Sergio had the exotic charm of an explorer. He was not a photographer in the strictest sense of the word, but he had the “eye” of a photographer and used it to study reality, humankind and nature, managing to express, through the thousands of photographs he took, a lot more than was shown in the actual photograph. What strikes us visual beings is precisely this immediate sensitivity, free of language, closer perhaps to the purity of the photographic act. But does this purity exist? Or is it just a useful reverse view? There are photographs that are striking because of their participation with reality, and we are prompted to speak of empathetic photography. Sergio does not hunt, nor does he wait; he absorbs snapshots of reality without judgement or precise answers. His gaze questions incessantly, yet does not impose. Even when the photograph is scientific, to be used for cataloguing, he seems to recognise a common approach, an opening beyond repetition, the intuition of uniqueness in generalisation, an accidental meaning that is revealed beyond the apparent communicative regularity of the image. Sergio is wave and wolf, tree elephant and mountain? There are so many travels. Sergio Romagnoli looks at his interior being through the evidence of his physical presence and interrogates the world in a continuous variation of distances. From the macro, in an attempt to capture elements of the “all”, to a wider field that still does not seem to capture enough; a constellation of images that is a challenge and a flow, a single story and a universal story, an observer where the eye wants to see even closer, to enter, to disassemble, include and at the same time broaden itself, distance itself in order to see more and beyond. I recognise the vitality of Sergio’s face in the images, something mysterious and energetic running through his history that does not stop, transforming itself again and again. A Drop in the Ocean shows this movement well, playing with scale and distance, with assonance and association while delineating the existence of an absent, yet very present, man. And I ask myself what it would have been like to speak with him. What would have I asked him? A drop in the ocean is better than nothing, writes Sergio, who is more or less the same age as us, with a family, wife, a recently lost child. He is anti-military, in love with the environment; who knows what it would have been like to meet him face to face, for us to look at one another within our generational discards. In the meantime, his eye is there before us, as if he were watching us, and he calls upon us to examine other possibilities of existence. If I could only have had that experience. Well, while looking at his photographs, I can get a glimpse at what I might have felt, and I ask myself how to examine this life. Not only his images, but the care with which he conserves them. His slides, his albums. There are two photographs where the profile of his dog is placed next to him springing out from a rock, and it seems like they are telling the same story. Although it is difficult to explain what that is. It is almost as if we can hear Sergio’s voice, as clearly as if it had been recorded on cassette. Despite everything, he begins powerfully, driven by an empathising power, a power of sharing and identification, as natural as ocean drops collected in a bottle, ready to travel, to impart the message of new worlds to be explored. It is natural to wonder whether this sense of continual, powerful transformation can manifest itself in this way once again, among us, the unidentified recipients who, on returning to his objections, collecting these intentional remains, become the successors, ready to give them new voices, new directions. The work on the photographs of Sergio Romagnoli is exactly this: a transformation and a continuation of his path. Alessandro Calabrese and Milo Montelli reopen his archive and arrange it with thousands of his images and writings, a new translation of his exploration of humanity and the visual. The sequenced images outline an initial pathway for our thoughts, a sketched history, an invitation to fill in the spaces and continue the observation, to overwhelm the discrepancy between the visible and invisible, between the full and the empty. The relationship with the archive never abandons nostalgia, even when it forces that particular function of proximity for which vernacular photography, precisely by virtue of the presumed lack of expectations with regards to the public or an intention, seems to get closer and bring closer the reality and sense of verisimilitude of the image. We find ourselves in a dialogue with a multitude of voices, in which Sergio, photographer-naturalist-man, remains the trigger of an open movement. And, like every interrogation at a certain point, there comes a time to stop. The pauses in this work are junctions that appear with minimum direct intervention on what we are given. The few photographs accompanying those taken by Sergio have the power of the gloss of an ancient, obscure language, and create a bridge between the personal, intimate approach and an open dialogue, leaving us, the participants, in a dimension of experience that speaks to us here so clearly. Once again we are reminded of title of this work and its reference to water and its immersive dimension. The multiplying effect of dialoguing voices harmonises with the first person, singular and plural, and reconnects in an unexpected way with the power of the real. With him, and with those who speak on his behalf about his life and his world, we find ourselves observing a thousand details and then, tired at last, we finally let our eyes wander....

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Die Deutsche Punkinvasion (2015)

Few years ago I got interested in the aesthetics of the crashed and abandoned cars I frequently ran into while wandering around Milan. Hence, I decided to visit a big junkyard in my hometown, Trento. Besides taking photographs, I intended to collect some keepsakes from the vehicles, as objects that were certainly destined to be suppressed and forgotten. Among others, inside what appeared to be the ruined trunk of an economy car, I found the booklet of a 90’s German punk compilation CD, titled: “Die Deutsche Punkinvasion vol. III”. Covered in dust, the booklet included a series of photographs of anarchic demonstrations and revolts from those years. As I flipped through the pages, I was amazed by the uncovering of a visual coincidence between the two situations and by the purely fortuitous nature of this connection....

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A Failed Entertainment (2012 – 2016)

This project is the result of a three-year research on the territory of the city where I live, Milan. Here, I photographed a variety of realities that, on one hand, identify the city itself and, on the other, they define my experience of the place: from the outskirts to downtown, from the streets to the institutional venues, from the abandoned buildings to the construction sites of the new ones, up to the people I care of. As a color-film photographer I have always held with the concept of authorship, approaching reality in a straight way. Intrigued by the potential of the Reverse Image Search (https://youtu.be/t99BfDnBZcI) powered by Google, I got interested in whether and how the digital visual patrimony, boundless and democratic, could fit within a similar attitude. I uploaded my photographs to the website: each of them would generate dozens of images to be considered as visually similar, at least according to the standards of similarity of the algorithm located in the application. Once collected – according to a random selection in terms of quantity and type – all sorts of images I received from the web, I put aside the original photographs, hiding them within the new body of work, and started to print each of the anonymous files on acetate sheets, always keeping their original download size. The overlapping of multiple layers, backlit as some kind of multifaceted light box, separated the visually similar images from the original ones, increasingly. All in all, I scanned each group of acetates into one digital image, flattening them and seeing them merge into a new single vision: it was so close to my work, from which it was generated, and still completely unfamiliar. The metamorphosis of my work was finally accomplished. From the point of view of images By Taco Hidde Bakker At the basis of Alessandro Calabrese's series A Failed Entertainment lie analogue photographs he took over the past three years on strolls through Milan, the city he's based in and where he teaches photography; focussing on a variety of topics, including the city's outskirts, construction sites, abandoned buildings, street scenes and people whom he cares about; images that to a large extent were inspired by classical Italian photographic realism. Despite a fascination for illustrious Italian sources of inspiration, Calabrese developed an ambiguous relationship with the notion of the singular, authored photograph. His interest in the internet, algorithms and Google, made him discover the artistic potential of a powerful tool by Google, called Reverse Image Search, to which he uploaded his Milanese photographs, which then would generate images, sometimes up to several dozens, that the application thinks are "visually similar", as defined by its pre-programmed algorithms. In a promotion film for the application a statement is made that perfectly describes what Calabrese had in mind for what his new project could lead to: "Now, every image is a jumping off point to explore, examine, and discover." From the results for each of the photographs Calabrese processed through the Reverse Image Search, he randomly selected a handful which he then printed in their original sizes on separate acetate sheets. By overlapping the sheets and including his own made source image in the centre, Calabrese arrived at colourful collages for which his photographs were but the starting point; merged into a new vision, as he calls it, calculated by the algorithm, at once close to his photographs yet completely different. Calabrese sees his process for A Failed Entertainment as a form of selfcriticism with regards to authorship in photography: why do you take a picture, when and where? What are a photographers' options when there is so much to choose from? Google's image-matching algorithm was supposed to cancel out authorship, but it slipped back in when Calabrese had to make choices regarding his selection, the style of overlapping and deciding at what point to stop: "What we see is the end of a process, a performative action so to say, in which all the images are merged together. It proved impossible not to stop, so in the end I was forced to make a choice." What fascinates Calabrese are photography's basics, in this case his own straightforward registrations of things and situations that strike him, but combined with the concept of infinite reproduction, represented through the theory of the fractal: an object that is build up from an infinite number of constituents similar to it in shape. David Foster Wallace's complex, dystopian novel Infinite Jest (1996) of interwoven plots starts from the fractal theory and was originally to be called A Failed Entertainment. It is with this project that Calabrese pays homage to a writer that inspired his thinking on and dealing with photography in the networked age. Within each of the images of A Failed Entertainment the source image is supposed to hide inside the black hole occupying the centre. "It might just be an idea, though I'm not very fond of ideas in photography, as my images could as well be absent altogether, but they are there, hidden inside the gravitational black centre." The whole project alludes to the overwhelming amount of images available to us nowadays, and for Calabrese the black hole is a representation of the frustration of being confronted with the unsettling idea of not being able to follow the ongoing stream of pictures and words anymore. At the same time, the black hole seems to stand for a kind of catharsis too, a blind spot and a garbage can for our image-overload, into which now ironically Calabrese's own, carefully crafted photographs have disappeared from sight. "My ambition was to show something more objective. With an apparently simple tool I called up pictures starting from my pictures. I want to show something about the world using other people's photographs, not so much from a point of view of singular authorship, but from the point of view of images." And Calabrese added that his is also a reflection on the archive, his own archive filled with real photographs, as well as the boundless archive of images circulating the world wide web: "Perhaps they're gone already, deleted from the web, when I wish to revisit them. So in a way I freeze the moment wherein my images generated these supposedly similar images." Every new input may yield completely different results, which Calabrese thinks to be an equally frightening as satisfying thought, as it has led to some sort of new decisive moment, in its technological sense, but it worries him too, because it might go on infinitely: "I do need to know the line that I cannot cross. When should I stop?"...

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