Place and identity in Italian photography through a study of the town of Lugo
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This research is framed by the specific context of Italian photography since the late 1970s, which has defined its own aesthetic and cultural identity in relation to the idea of place. The definitive reference point for this context is the group project Viaggio in Italia conceived and curated by photographer Luigi Ghirri and presented in 1984, when an exhibition of three hundred photographs was held in Bari and a catalogue for the project was published. Viaggio in Italia brought together a generation of photographers who were creating a new cultural atmosphere around photography in Italy: they shared a new and intense focus on the landscape, turning their gaze to the poetics of everyday places and to the poetry and potential of the vernacular landscape. The leading figures in this adventure were Guido Guidi, Mario Cresci, Gabriele Basilico, Vincenzo Castella, Vittore Fossati and Olivo Barbieri. Within this context, this research attempts to actuate, redefine and further engage with the ideas and issues of place and landscape engendered by Viaggio in Italia by focusing on the town of Lugo in the Bassa Romagna (or the lowlands of Emilia-Romagna), in the north-east of Italy. The premise of my research is that Lugo is of particular interest for a series of historical reasons, and through my curatorial and artistic practice I have explored this location in a multi-faceted photographic case study. I have investigated and edited specific bodies of photographic work realised in Lugo from the late nineteenth century up to the present day. This research process has involved the discovery of previously unknown archives, which I have investigated and interpreted for the first time. Following the current fertile debate around place, which favours an interdisciplinary approach, I have drawn first on a specific history of spatial thinking, developed since the 1970s across various disciplines in the humanities (philosophy, geography and social science), which has reflected on the nature of space and place in a new way. The main innovation in this debate was a new conception of space, not as something preordained but rather as one that is relative, relational, and dependent on social interactions. Within this context, I have then followed an approach to place which combines phenomenology (inspired by Heidegger’s philosophical approach that favours a subjective and existential approach) with the postmodern theory of assemblage (an ontological framework developed around 1980 by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari that has proved particularly appropriate for place-based research). I have employed these theoretical frameworks and my historical research to inform my own reflexive photographic practice, which further explores Lugo from my own personal perspective. In this way my research combines different photographic narratives and ways of investigating a territory into a unique and coherent whole, creating a new and distinct case study within the context of Italian photography and place-based research.