First of all, I plead guilty of never going to Reggio Emilia, whose museums, as I found out, literally kick ass. Eloquent preface aside, let’s go back to why I am mentioning Reggio now. I recently went there to attend the press preview of photography festival Fotografia Europea, and what a dense tour de force it was. Almost 20 exhibitions in different palaces and museums of the city (that is quite small, with everything nearby), most of them indeed deserving at least one visit, and all of them providing a pleasant contrast with the historical, impeccably restored spaces hosting them.
As with previous editions of this festival, the photography exhibitions take places in various parts and historical buildings of the town, but main corpus of Fotografia Europea 2022 is on the beautiful Chiostri di San Pietro. About ten photographers, each one with their own exhibition, are on display between the basement and the first floor of this impressive complex. In particular, I was touched by four of them: Hoda Afshar’s Speak the wind, Seiichi Furuya’s First trip to Bologna 1978/Last trip to Venice 1986, Jonas Bendiksen’s The Book of Veles and Chloé Jafe’s I give you my life.
Let’s start with the latter, a small but fascinating study on the tattoed bodies of some women of the Yakuza, first chapter of a trilogy on this subject. To achieve the result she had in mind, author Chloe Jafé spent some years in Japan, learnt the language, and eventually managed to have some partial access, a rare glimpse, of the generally impenetrable world of the Japanese mafia. Fiercely looking at the camera, the portrayed women reveal their affiliation to the Yakuza, and consequent impossibility to belong to “normal” society, in the form of elaborate, widespread tattoos that cover most of their backs and arms.
A totally different matter, Jonas Bendiksen’s The Book of Veles is a mindblowing journey into the North Macedonian town of Veles, which is supposed to be one of the main epicenters of fake news production on a global scale. But the exhibition is also the story of legendary manuscript bearing the same name, The Book of Veles, supposedly the epic story of Slavic migrations, more realistically a literary forgery. And also of a second Book of Veles, containing Bendiksen’sphotos and being anothre forgery, since, as explained in its entry on the World Press Photo website, “all the people portrayed are computer-generated 3D models, and all text was written by an AI. Bendiksen acquired base characters and morphed them to create a range of characters before adding clothing and texture”. Confused? You’re not the only one.
Then there is the touching, remarkably sad First trip to Bologna 1978/Last trip to Venice 1986 by Seiichi Furuya. Furuya is a well-known photographer and cofounder of Camera Austria International, and his works always revolve around his late wife Christine, who took her own life and who continues to be the subject of Furuya’s exhibitions. This particular series features stills from a super 8 film roll documenting the couple’s very first trip together, in in 1978 to Bologna, and shots from their last trip in Venice in 1985, the year of her death.
Hoda Afshar’s Speak the wind takes us to yet another world. According to a legend from the islands of the Strait of Hormuz, off the southern coast of Iran, some winds can possess a person, bringing illness and disease. A similar belief is present in other countries. Afshar’s photos seem to capture the power of sun-drenched, solitary landscapes as filtered through the perception of fear, surrender and rituals. The result is magnetic. And beautiful.
These are just a handful of the many projects on display for this edition of Fotografia Europea, on until June 12th, and I strongly recommend you to go see them, possibly on more than one visit (you cannot visit the same exhibition twice with the same ticket, but one ticket covers the whole festival for all of its duration). By the way, Reggio is just a 40 minutes, 6 euros train ride.