GEOGRAPHY OF A WAR ::
PAOLA DE PIETRI

After the extensive show dedicated to Pieter Hugo, which ended last April 29, the photographic section of MAXXI Museum in Rome continues in its programming putting the spotlight on one of the most interesting contemporary Italian photographers (that DROME already had the pleasure to discover some months ago, on show at Le Bal in Paris, EN): Paola De Pietri (Reggio Emilia, 1960).
The exhibition To Face, curated by Francesca Fabiani, is a journey through time, memory and space, which winds along the Italian-Austrian front of the First World War. On show, there are 21 large format photographs, part of a project which carried out between 2008 and 2011 – in the same places where some of the most dramatic events of history took place – and thanks to which Paola De Pietri has been the first Italian photographer to win the prestigious “Albert Renger-Patzsch”, awarded by the Dietrich Oppenberg Stiftung. To the project has been also dedicated a monographic book, published by the German Steidl, with texts chosen among the production of Mario Rigoni Stern and critical contributions by Roberta Valtorta.

On the occasion of To Face opening at MAXXI, DROME met the Emilian photographer: a talk about her project and, by extension, about the catastrophes of our time.

Paola De Pietri, Monte Fior, 2008-2011

DROME: How To Face was born, and how it blends with your own artistic path?
Paola De Pietri: I started working on the project in early 2008, when I was reading I racconti di guerra (War stories) by Mario Rigoni Stern: a work which reminded to me the stories related to World War that I heard in the family several times. Facts dating back over one hundred years ago, that people of my generation could only study in the history books or live through the stories from friends, relatives or neighbors. The traces of that conflict are still visible in the fabric of the mountains, especially in the Karst one, where, over the years, only the nature has transformed the landscape: landslides, bomb holes, trenches, caves and artifacts remains fully integrated into a new dimension, so as to be invisible to our eyes. With To Face I try to focus on what is usually observed carelessly, since this attitude characterizes also our way of relating to the recent past.

D: You explored the theme of memory through a research that “follows the thread of light transitions, the slow steps of the existential dimension in which things – although they seem immovable – are changed” (Francesca Fabiani). How did you manage to draw a theme dear to photojournalism in a so refined way?
PDP: The “time” factor marks a profound difference between my photographs and a classic war reportage. In my images, in fact, nothing happens that can be likened to a “decisive moment”: it is landscape photography focussed on historical memory, in which the passage of time in its atmospheric variations is the only manifested thing. My observation time is long, while the war reportage, being more tied to the chronicle, is related to contingent events that quickly follow each other. In my work I do not mean to speak of this war itself, but of the war in general, emphasizing that history shows evidences that can be understood or ignored.

Paola De Pietri, Prè de Padon, 2008-2011, UniCredit Collection on loan to MART of Trento and Rovereto

D: “To Face”, literally translated, means “to confront, stand against (even to an enemy), or take responsibility for one’s own actions”, but also “to look, stand in front of someone or something”. Photography tries to show evidence of what remains of the history which led to the present. According to you, the modern man can be defined as the result of a concatenation of catastrophic events?
PDP: Not only that, we are also the result of these events. Sometimes the disasters have natural origin, but, more often, they are caused by our actions, by our attitudes and, to a greater extent, by our desires.

D: The trench warfare involves a slow attrition of forces in the field, without a real upheaval of war equilibria. What does it mean for an artist, an intellectual or an ordinary citizen, “living in the trenches”? From what we still have to defend ourselves?
PDP: Feeling “in the trenches” doesn’t mean “to fight” or “to take action” but rather “to wait for something”, so it is an existential condition of stasis, a not desired constraint. I live with anxiety this state if I try to immerse myself in the past, and I note a sharp contrast compared to today, where speed of movement and communication tends to let disappear the very idea of being “in the trenches”. Perhaps our fears and our difficulties arise from a situation which is opposite to the one of that time, and are caused by the perception of living in an open space, full of possibilities, without shelter, refuges and protections.

interview curated by Fulvio Chimento
19.06.2012

PAOLA DE PIETRI
To Face
MAXXI – Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI Secolo
Via Guido Reni, 4 A
web: www.fondazionemaxxi.it

Rome, until September 30, 2012