"I'm no longer sure, although once I was, that we can improve the world with a photograph. However, I’m still convinced that bad photographs make it worse"
With about 200 black and white photographs printed in different formats, the exhibition spans the entire career of the Sicilian photographer and develops along an articulated narrative path, built on different chapters and following different exhibition design arrangements.
Ferdinando Scianna is one of the greatest masters of photography, not only in Italy. His interest in photography started back in the Sixties, when he began describing the culture and traditions of his native Sicily with his photos. His long artistic journey comprises several themes – current events, war, travel, popular religiosity – linked together by one common thread: a constant search for form in life’s chaos. Over 50 years of stories have provided us with plenty of fascinating pictures: from Bagheria to the Bolivian Andes, from religious festivals – the debut of his career – to his work with fashion, which began with Dolce & Gabbana and Marpessa. All this was followed by his work as a photojournalist (he was a member of Magnum photographic agency), photos of landscapes, and of some of his thematic obsessions such as mirrors, animals, objects, and finally by the portraits of his great friends, masters of the art and culture world, like Leonardo Sciascia, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Jorge Louis Borges, just to name a few.
In this exhibition, Ferdinando Scianna has decided to put on display the most extensive anthology of his photographic work. With his usual and marked self-mockery, he has chosen to quote Giorgio Manganelli at the beginning of the exhibition: "An anthology is an authorised carnage, a bloodbath seen with favourable eyes by civil and religious authorities. A clean operation aimed to chew up books that go around the world under their author’s name to obtain some sort of stew, timbale, goulash ..."
Ferdinando Scianna wrote of his work: "I see myself as a photo reporter. As such, Henri Cartier-Bresson is my special reference point, my master par excellence. In his view, a photographer must aspire to be an invisible witness, never stepping in to change the world and the moments of real life he reads and interprets. I have always clearly distinguished between images you happen to run into and those that are constructed. I have always felt I belong to those photographers who happen to run into images, those who tell you a story and tell a story about you, like in a mirror. Even when taking fashion photographs, I always happened to run into them through haphazard encounters with the world."
- MEMORY, Bagheria – Sicily – Religious festivals and holidays
- STORY, Lourdes – Chidren – Kami – Suffering
- OBSESSIONS, Sleep – Things – Shadows – Beasts – Mirrors
- JOURNEY, America – Wanderings – Places
- RITUALS AND MYTHS, Ceremonies – Women – Marpessa
Ferdinando Scianna was born in Bagheria, Sicily, in 1943. He began to take photographs of his native city when he was still very young, in the early sixties, telling about the culture and traditions of his homeland with his pictures.
Very early on, he decided to become a photographer, thus disrupting his parents’ projects who wanted him to be a lawyer or a doctor. The very first photos of the people of Bagheria, portrayed by Scianna with a curious and participatory tone, are loaded with intensity. In 1961, he enrolled in Literature and Philosophy at the University of Palermo, while his passion for photography became more and more structured. He was a student of the great critic Cesare Brandi and showed his photos to Enzo Sellerio who helped him learn about Bresson’s cultural universe. During these years, his political conscience was being shaped, which, together with his bond with his homeland and Sicilian tradition, was key in the evolution of his photography.
About two years later, he met the writer Leonardo Sciascia, a meeting that would prove fundamental for his professional and personal life. Scianna was only 21 years old when, together with Sciascia, published the essay Feste Religiose in Sicilia, a book awarded with the prestigious Nadar Award. The book, highlighting the materialistic essence of religious festivals, and Sciascia's texts in particular, created much controversy. However, the photos by a still young Scianna exerted a significant impact too. "Photography was the possibility of telling a human story. My teacher made me understand this, by introducing me to a certain way of seeing things, of reading, of thinking, of placing oneself in the world"
On the strength of the book’s success, Scianna moved to Milan where he worked as a photojournalist for the Europeo, then as a special and news correspondent from Paris, where he lived for 10 years. While in Paris he also began to write with great success. He would write for several newspapers, including Le Monde Diplomatique and the Quinzaune Litterarie. “I happened to be writing more than photographing, but I knew I was writing as a photographer” states Scianna. In the French capital, his work got special appreciation from Henri Cartier-Bresson, who in 1982 invited him to apply to join the Magnum Photos agency, which he had founded in 1947. Scianna went back to Milan and resigned from his job with the Europeo to fully devote himself to photography: “The agency is the tool of a group of independent photographers. The more you can use this tool, the better this organization capitalizes on your work. Magnum keeps surviving by following the egalitarian utopian tenets of its founders. Quite mysteriously, it manages to keep the most violent contradictions together”.
In Milan, he worked for various newspapers. He also started to photograph for two young emerging designers, Dolce & Gabbana. This was a casual meeting, which would lead to one of the most successful partnerships in fashion photography. Scianna was asked to create a catalogue by putting the beautiful model Marpessa in the context of his Sicily. Scianna managed to masterfully mix the visual registers of the fashion world with his photojournalist experience, thus creating an original result that breaks away from the glossy monotony of fashion photography. This success would lead him to work for prestigious international fashion magazines and create other fashion photo-services where he would skilfully combine fiction with authenticity.
This sudden and unexpected turn opened up Scianna’s photographic world to new experiences, in parallel to his more traditional photojournalism experience, namely advertising and commercial photographs. At the same time, he never neglected social reportage, portraits, and journalism: "Now, with unchanged passion, fun and irony, I work in the most diverse fields. I do a bit of fashion, some advertising, reportage, and more than ever I try to make portraits. Also, I retrieve material from my photographic archives for numerous projects. In my exhibitions, I make no distinction between photos coming from my work as a photojournalist and fashion photos, for example. I arrange all of them seamlessly, which, at the end of the day, is what I do everyday in my work.".
In over a century of history, the Gallery of Modern Art has gone through a long evolution towards increasing its collections by acquiring new pieces and, most of all, gaining credit as one of the most modern and vital cultural institutions in Palermo.
The museum boasts more than two hundred works of art, including both paintings and sculptures, distributed in fourteen thematic and monographic sections, illustrate the evolution of Italian figurative arts in the period between the 19th and the 20th centuries. They bear witness to the role that painters and sculptors of national renown played in Modernist Palermo.
Among the numerous masterpieces, it suffices to mention the large-scale paintings by Giuseppe Sciuti, the landscapes by Francesco Lojacono, the naturalist works by Antonio Leto, the art nouveau taste of the paintings by Ettore De Maria Bergler, and the beaming and glowing touch of the canvases by Giovanni Boldini. The intense season of the Novecento Italiano movement in the 20th century is presented through the works of artists like Massimo Campigli, Felice Casorati, Mario Sironi, Renato Guttuso, and Franz von Stuck, who succeeded in putting the atmosphere and distinctive signs of a genuinely European capital on canvas.
To experience your visit to the fullest, you can take advantage of various services provided for single visitors or groups. A wide range of educational activities have been specially designed for families and schools.
The architectural complex of Sant’Anna that hosts the Museum is fully accessible for physically impaired people.
Varanasi, 1972 - © Ferdinando Scianna
FERDINANDO SCIANNA - Journey Story Memory
From 21st February to 28th July 2019
Palermo, Galleria d’arte Moderna "Empedocle Restivo" Via sant'Anna 21
Tuesday to Sunday 9:30 am to 6:30
Ticket office closes at 5:30 pm
Closed on Monday
€ 10.00 Full price
€ 7.00 reduced price for groups (at least 15 people), visitors aged 19 and 25 years, senior citizens (65 and older) and holders of special discount cards (valid in Italy).
Free Admission for visitors under the age of 18, school groups and one escorting teacher, disabled people and their escorts, accredited journalists, students of the Palermo School of Fine Arts, ICOM members, tour guides.
Special price Exhibition + Museum € 12.00
Rental audioguide, available in Italian and English: € 2.00
To book guided visits for adult and school groups
Leonardo Sciascia. Racalmuto, 1964 - Ferdinando Scianna
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