Please Touch

Please Touch

Most people who head to Florence do so to see its Renaissance art treasures. But did you know that Florence boasts one of the world’s finest photography museums?   Florence is the home of Alinari, the world’s oldest firm working in the field of documentation of

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Thu 18 Oct 2007 12:00 AM

Most people who head to Florence do so to see its Renaissance art treasures. But did you know that Florence boasts one of the world’s finest photography museums?

 

Florence is the home of Alinari, the world’s oldest firm working in the field of documentation of photography. Founded between 1852 and 1854, it is also a repository, holding more than four million pictures, along with related photographic equipment.

 

Alinari’s collection includes about 900,000 nineteenth- and twentieth-century vintage prints, many depicting the history of Florence. The photographs are preserved in 6,000 original photographic albums; 2,750,000 black and white and color negatives, glass plates to color photos; 20,000 books and journals on the history of photography in their library collection; 1,200 vintage cameras. A photography restoration lab works in collaboration with the Opificio delle Pietre Dure.

 

While the company’s historic headquarters are located at Largo F.lli. Alinari, the new Alinari museum, Museo Nazionale Alinari della Fotografia (MNAF), is in Piazza Santa Maria Novella, in a building that has undergone numerous transformations over eight centuries. The site of the Ospedale di San Paolo dei Convalescenti in the thirteenth century, it was converted into a girls’ school in1780, to teach domestic trades. The building will soon house both the photography museum and the museum of the municipal art collections, representing the visual arts of the twentieth century. (The construction underway around the piazza includes, among other things, the restoration of the facade of the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, and create a walkway through the piazza, connecting the church and the two museums.)

 

Beyond its extraordinary photography collection, this museum offers much more. While accessibility to persons with disabilities is extremely limited in museums everywhere, MNAF makes every effort, providing motorized mini-cars and sign language interpreters for guided tours. But the most amazing component of this museum is a special permanent exhibition, the Touch Museum, that makes the art of photography accessible to those with visual disabilities.

 

Using materials such as paper, glass, wood, fabric and sand, 20 of some of the most important photos in the collection have been ‘recreated’. The different materials express the intention of each photo.

 

For example, one of Julia Margaret Cameron’s portraits, Henry Taylor, in the style of Rembrandt (1866), is reproduced with the type of old-fashioned fabric Taylor is wearing, and his beard is presented in cotton. For Giacomo Brogi’s Stabilmento (circa 1900), a photograph of rocks of Capri hollowed out by the sea, the rough texture of the rocks is created with pine bark, while the contrasting smoothness of the sea is suggested through aluminum materials covered in tissue paper. After touching Laure Albin-Guillot’s Hand with a Rose (1935), a very slight perfume scent lingers on one’s hand. Information in Braille accompanies the ‘photographs’.

 

All visitors are welcome to experience each of these 20 works. I found this different way of ‘looking’ at art transforming, profoundly affecting my understanding of them.

 

MNAF’s self -guided touch tour, created in collaboration with the region of Tuscany’s Stamperia Braille (located in Florence), is among the first of its kind. I applaud MNAF and hope the exhibit will inspire other museums, in Florence and elsewhere, to follow this fine example.

The Touch Museum at the Museo Nazionale Alinari della Fotografia (MNAF)

 

 

Alinari National Museum of Photography

Piazza Santa Maria Novella 14/r

Entrance: 9 euro; 6 euro for those with disabilities

9:30am–7:30pm; Saturday, open until 11:30pm. Closed Wednesdays

 

Accessibility: Audio guides for the blind; self-guided touch tours for the blind; elevators, motorized mini-car, and sign language interpreters for guided tours.

 

Information and reservations: tel. 055/216310 and www.alinari.it.

 

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