Wandering through two of Florence’s loveliest exhibition venues, Forte di Belvedere and Villa Bardini, from now until October 2, offers a glimpse of Fotografe!, the exhibition pairing contemporary women photographers from Italy with their historic counterparts from the Alinari Archives.
Big names like Julia Margaret Cameron, Dorothea Lange and Margaret Bourke-White are on show there, while those who can face the slope up to Forte di Belvedere will be worthy of the views to be had at the city’s beloved fort, both outside and under the exhibition spotlight. Among the multiple rooms and hundreds of images on show, the pictures displayed here will tempt you to seek out the room featuring Edith Arnaldi (1884–1978) and Marina Caneve (b. 1988), whose playful comparison, the exhibition’s co-curator, Walter Guadagnini, was kind enough to summarize as follows:
“The idea of putting Edith Arnaldi’s work on display with that of contemporary photographer Marina Caneve was inspired by the fact that they both use their craft as a form of documentation. If we don’t want to call Arnaldi a ‘travel photographer’, we can certainly call her a ‘travelling photographer'”.
Behind the camera, Arnaldi is much like a witness, and she presents her version of reality in full view. She shows the scene, captures the protagonists completely and their context is clear. What is interesting about this juxtaposition—and fun about Caneve’s A fior di terra series, in general—is that she shows us fragments. Her gaze is far more contemporary because she zeroes in on a mere fraction of reality,” Guadagnini continues. “In other words, Caneve’s photographic series on the excavation of marble is ‘an excavation’ in its own right, and we, as viewers, are led to discover her work in depth and close-up, like archaeologists.”
In my own view, your trip to Fotografe! ought to include a long stop in this room for several reasons. Firstly, because Arnaldi’s 10,000-plus negatives at the Alinari Archives are almost entirely unpublished. Yet, they have recently been at the centre of a wider research project conceived by the not-for-profit organization Calliope Arts and the Fondazione Alinari per la Fotografia, which includes both the study and the digitalization of her most significant works. The “restitution” of unseen photographic collections by women is notable and newsworthy, and reveling in Arnaldi’s display is part of that celebration, one that the art-loving public should enjoy in person, if possible.
Vienna-born Arnaldi produced a largely ethnographic oeuvre and she travelled with astounding frequency for her time, capturing shots in Greece, Tunisia, Somalia, Algeria and, most of all, Italy. Her Italian works are a reminder of how photography was paramount to the founding of Italy as a modern-day nation. Indeed, it was only with the advent of photography that regionally minded Italians had access to real-life images of their young country. As far as national identity was concerned, what went on behind the lens made a world of difference. Lastly, I want to introduce readers to the Arnaldi-Caneve room because I’ve decided to become lifelong friends with both of the photographers.
Edith Arnaldi’s Italian works are a reminder of how photography was paramount to the founding of Italy as a modern-day nation.
Arnaldi draws us in for her revolutionary air. “I like photography,” she wrote in the 1930s, “because it’s an art that is still searching for its laws of aesthetics, its canons and rules.” Caneve, on the other hand, seems to have a bit of detective in her—and artists who seek values like mystery and investigation are unavoidably kindred spirits with all those intent on exploring the achievements of women through the centuries and today.
This exhibition is organized by the Alinari Foundation for Photography and the Fondazione CR Firenze, in collaboration with the Municipality of Florence, with Calliope Arts as donor, in support of the Wanda and Marion Wulz/Arnaldi rooms at Villa Bardini and Forte di Belvedere.
Fotografe! From the Alinari Archives to today
Villa Bardini + Forte di Belvedere
Until October 2