In the fall of 2019, I traveled to Italy for a multi-week photography trip with the intent of capturing some unique Tuscan landscapes and the all too familiar abandoned building(s). But in the end, what I returned home with was much more than just a handful of my own work, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a photographic treasure of the past.
While visiting the popular antique market in Arezzo one Saturday afternoon, I ran across a table full of old cameras and other photographic related items that caught my eye. While glancing over his vintage offerings, I noticed the vendor had a few cardboard boxes haphazardly shoved under one of the tables. I realized that one of these boxes was overflowing with paper related items, that included some old printed photographs.
My interest in this box began to increase, and I continued to dig deeper.
Near the bottom, I found a paper folio containing several plastic sleeves of old 35mm negatives, equivalent to about six rolls of film. After some negotiation and the exchange of a modest twelve-euro for the lot, they were mine.
The negatives safely traveled home with me where, several weeks later, I finally had the opportunity to examine them more closely on my light table. They were simple snapshots, almost all of them containing people, and were most likely from the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. Some of the more famous monuments that are captured in the background give away the fact that they were taken in Rome and Florence, where others appear to be in a more rural unknown location.
I began to ask myself lots of questions about these images: Who was the photographer? Who were these people that were the subjects of the images? Who was related to whom? What did they do for a living? What were their names? Clearly, many of the photographs depict an Italy under German Nazi rule; did these people survive the war? Were any of them still alive today?
These questions began to circulate in my mind following this closer examination, and I quickly felt a moral and artistic obligation to share these images with the rest of the world, not as a representation or replacement of my own work, but instead as a celebration of the work created by others long ago.
This exhibition is considered to be both a dedication to, and a memorialization of, the Italian people and their culture during a time of great difficulty and grave sacrifice.
It is also a tribute to the image-maker or makers who captured these images for without their efforts, this exhibition would not exist. I am simply the vehicle to promote the work of others that would have ordinarily been permanently lost, or forever remain unseen at the bottom of a cardboard box.
I selected forty of the more meaningful images from the overall pool of nearly two hundred I had to choose from. I did this based on the personal impact each image had on me, and the unique story that each one of them told. Each image was carefully printed from the original negative using traditional analog silver gelatin techniques in my professional darkroom. In many cases, due to the worn, aged, and fragile condition of the negative, up to ten full size test prints had to be produced first in order to create one successful, and acceptable image. Technical imperfections such as images being out of focus, poor composition, camera light leaks, lack or excessive depth of field conditions are all part of the original image, and therefore could not be corrected within the darkroom environment. My artistic interpretation of the proper contrast values and tonal range are mine alone, and are therefore very subjective. I am quickly finding out that the darkroom process and the resulting end product is not an exact science, but one of a combination of science and art, just like photography itself.
Beginning with raw Poplar lumber, I personally milled, cut, assembled, and finished each of the gallery frames, and have matted each image using best practice conservation quality techniques and materials.
My goal and hope for this show is that you will enjoy each of these images as much as I have, and that you will leave this exhibition with one or two of these images ruminating in your mind, each telling you a personal story of your own.
© Greg A. Chianis Photography