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The festival opens this weekend in the Italian city of Reggio Emilia, featuring exhibitions by Mary Ellen Mark, Ken Grant, Carmen Winant, Hoda Afshar, Guanyu Xu and more
“In the midst of winter, I found there was within me an invincible summer… No matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.” So says a quote by French philosopher Albert Camus (1913–1960) – a sentiment that inspired the theme for this year’s Fotografia Europea festival: An Invincible Summer.
Opening in the northern Italian city of Reggio Emilia this weekend, the festival follows two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as widespread social and political unrest around the world. Camus’ proposition is an invitation for viewers to reflect on the “forces that drive us as individuals” in this new reality.
“[Camus] didn’t like the word ‘hope’, which in his words is ‘tantamount to resignation – and to live is not to be resigned’,” says co-artistic director Tim Clark (also editor of 1000 Words). “His form of hope was rooted in wisdom, joy, beauty and individual freedom… As curators, we’re asking ourselves: what does it mean to resist today? How has that been documented and depicted through contemporary photography? And in what ways does that bring to the surface individuals, stories and trajectories that show some sense of defiance despite the adversity?”
After postponing an edition in 2020, festival organisers approached Clark to take a position as co-artistic director alongside Walter Guadagnini, director of Camera in Torino. “It’s been nothing but a super pleasurable experience,” he says. “It’s a form of paradise.” Located in the wealthy northern province of Emilia-Romagna, the city of Reggio Emilia is known as the birthplace of the Italian flag, and is characterised by grand public buildings and leafy parks. The festival’s main hub occupies the “vast, sprawling” grounds of a 16th century monastic complex – Chiostri di San Pietro – where artists such as Mary Ellen Mark, Nicola Lo Calzo, Carmen Winant and Chloé Jafé will exhibit full bodies of work.
Reggio Emilia and its neighbouring cities of Bologna, Parma and Modena “aren’t ‘typical’ Italian cities”, says Clark, referring to the cultural centres of Rome, Florence and Venice. “But there is so much to say about them… The region is very wealthy, left wing, and they invest and care deeply about the role of art in society and culture.”
The festival is supported by the municipality of Reggio Emilia and the Fondazione Palazzo Magnani, which runs its own exhibition programme throughout the year. “It’s fascinating to see the potential of what can happen when you’ve got all the politicians on board, committing to unlocking spaces, being enthusiastic, championing photography and backing your vision,” says Clark. “It’s not something I’ve seen in the UK at a festival level.”
“We’re able to bring together a set of photographic projects that are beautiful, at times poetic, and which offer slow considerations on society and cultures. Seeing them together, ricocheting off each other, I hope they resolve into an intellectual and creative reawakening following the pandemic.”
The city has “all the good ingredients”: “the enthusiasm, the resources, the support, the spaces, and the budget”. And the programme won’t disappoint either. Under the umbrella of the theme ‘An Invincible Summer’, the exhibitions are underpinned by notions of metamorphosis and transformation. “A lot of these projects relate to the courage to resist, to persist, to see with new eyes, and in many cases to face oneself,” says Clark.
Highlights include Carmen Winant’s found images of social dissent, and Guanyu Xu’s monumental exhibition of his celebrated series Temporarily Censored Home. These collages were secretly installed in his conservative parents’ house, and speak to Xu’s experience of being a gay man in China. The vast images will hang from the ceilings of the Chiostri di San Pietro.
Elsewhere, Japanese photographer Seiichi Furuya exhibits an intense and highly personal body of work, First Trip to Bologna 1978 / Last Trip to Venice 1985. Published by Chose Commune earlier this year, it revisits the first and final holidays he spent with his wife before her untimely death. The exhibition seeks to echo the book’s dual narrative in an emotionally charged exploration of the role of memory in experiences of love and loss.
There is something for everyone at this festival. It presents a huge variety of photographic expressions, from a range of territories, generations and perspectives. From contemporary projects like Hoda Afshar’s Speak the Wind, to traditional documentary work by Mary Ellen Mark and Ken Grant. “We’re able to bring together a set of photographic projects that are beautiful, at times poetic, and which offer slow considerations on society and cultures,” says Clark. “Seeing them together, ricocheting off each other, I hope they resolve into an intellectual and creative reawakening following the pandemic.”
Fotografia Europea takes place between 29 April and 12 June 2022 in Reggio Emilia, Italy.