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PHOTOGRAPHY AND CATASTROPHE. Antonio Di Cecco in dialogue with the collections of the Photo Library

after the catastrophe

The archive is at once a place for the sedimentation of knowledge and a research laboratory. Taking this consciousness as its starting point, the last section of the exhibition explores the epistemological potential of photographic archives by comparing the photographic objects preserved in a photo library with photographic images selected by a photographer from within his own archive. Some photographs in the Photothek of the KHI dating to the early twentieth century, which show the towns of Venzone and Gemona with their main monuments, gain in historical depth and acquire new meanings thanks to manuscript annotations placed on their card mounts, which provide useful information on the damage and destruction successively caused by the Second World War and by earthquakes. These photos are now conserved together with many other images of the same monuments, taken after the earthquakes of May and September 1976. The afterlife of these photographs from the Istituto Italiano d’Arti Grafiche now in the Florentine collection thus corresponds to a form of stratification, at once material and semantic. Thanks also to the archivist’s input and expertise, this has generated a coherent nucleus dedicated to the documentation of the destruction and reconstruction of these towns in Friuli. The images of Venzone and Gemona potentially contain future disasters, as suggested by their annotations. Here they are placed in dialogue with some of Antonio Di Cecco’s own photographs, which instead presuppose catastrophe as generative event: the shots interpret the destruction that has taken place and recount the creation of new spatial concepts and contexts. Drawing from the ‘research notes’ in Di Cecco’s archive, the exhibition proposes a series of confrontations between past and present, through landscapes, buildings and townscapes. Proceeding southwards from Friuli to Sicily, through a territory punctuated by earthquakes over the last fifty years, we see historic town centres reflected in new settlements and in various types of post-emergency housing solutions. If the temporary housing units at San Felice sul Panaro reflect a ‘provisional’ situation, the little houses re-used at Collescille after the earthquake of 2016 are the persistent traces of an event now almost forgotten: the earthquake of the Valnerina in 1979. History here is written within the images produced by the research of the photographer, requiring a hermeneutic process comparable but opposite to the archival photos of Venzone.
The annotations sometimes form a palimpsest on the card mounts of the Photothek. By contrast the history of the catastrophe has preceded Antonio Di Cecco’s photographs, which explore instead the processes of ‘writing’ and ‘rewriting’ in post-disaster landscapes. The final sequence in the exhibition shows towns destroyed and reconstructed, or constructed anew, after the earthquake of Belice, the fiftieth anniversary of which we are celebrating this year. The last image is of Salemi. Here the superimposition between a ruined wall and that of a new building allows us to glimpse an unfinished building in the background; the narrative remains open, like that of the photographic archive itself.


Istituto Italiano d’Arti Grafiche, ante 1939, gelatin silver print, inv. KHI no. 122452 // VENZONE, Piazza del Municipio // Manuscript annotation: “Destroyed by the earthquakes of 1976. Severely damaged the Palazzo Pubblico, reconstructed after the destruction of 1944”. Venzone, Gemona and other towns in the province of Udine in Friuli were struck by a series of seismic events between May and September 1976, causing enormous destruction and a high death toll.

Antonio Di Cecco // SAN FELICE SUL PANARO (Modena), April 2016 // Temporary church and town hall. They were erected on the edge of the historic town, not far from one of the resettlement sites built after the earthquakes of 2012 to house those who had lost their homes.

Istituto Italiano d’Arti Grafiche, ante 1939, gelatin silver print, inv. KHI no. 122453 // VENZONE, Main street in the town // Manuscript annotation: “Destroyed by the earthquakes of 1976”.

Antonio Di Cecco // PESCARA DEL TRONTO (Ascoli Piceno), September 2016 // Historic town centre, collapsed buildings caused by the earthquake of 24 August 2016.

Antonio Di Cecco // BOLOGNOLA (Macerata), June 2018 // Church of San Michele Arcangelo, security shuttering of the building, made inaccessible by the earthquakes of 2016-2017.

Istituto Italiano d’Arti Grafiche, ante 1939, gelatin silver print, inv. KHI no. 122430 // GEMONA, Cathedral: the campanile // Manuscript annotation: “Destroyed by the earthquake of 1976”.

Istituto Italiano d’Arti Grafiche, ante 1939, gelatin silver print, inv. KHI no. 122482 // VENZONE, Cathedral: the campanile // Manuscript annotation: “Severely damaged by the earthquake of 6 May 1976. Entirely destroyed by the earthquake of 15 September 1976”. On the initiative of citizens and a group of conservationists, the Cathedral of Venzone was reconstructed where it was and as it was. First, all the fragments of architecture were recovered and catalogued. Then the church was rebuilt stone by stone.

Antonio Di Cecco // SAN FELICE SUL PANARO (Modena), March 2016 // Provisional housing modules (M.A.P. Moduli Abitativi Provvisori) realized by the Italian government after the earthquakes of 2012, but almost completey disused.

Antonio Di Cecco // SAVELLI DI NORCIA (Perugia), November 2016 // Church of San Michele Arcangelo, first emergency measures to secure the church after the earthquakes of August and October 2016.

Istituto Italiano d’Arti Grafiche, ante 1939, gelatin silver print, inv. KHI no. 122448 // VENZONE, Ruined town wall, east side // Manuscript annotation: “Destroyed by the earthquakes of 1976”.

Antonio Di Cecco // SALEMI (Trapani), August 2018 // Francesco Venezia’s project for the open-air theatre. In the foreground, emergency structures to stabilize some ruins caused by the earthquake of 1968; in the background, the valley of Belíce with the new town of Gibellina.

Anchise Tempestini, August 1976, gelatin silver print, inv. KHI no. 325520 // VENZONE (Udine), Stretch of town walls with the gate of San Genesio and the tower (1309) // Manuscript annotation: “Completely destroyed by the earthquake of 15 September 1976”.

Antonio Di Cecco // PESCARA DEL TRONTO (Ascoli Piceno), September 2016 // Historic town centre, collapsed buildings after the earthquakes of August 2016.

Antonio Di Cecco // AMATRICE (Rieti), February 2017 // Temporary housing units for the inhabitants of Amatrice, provided by a private donation.

Antonio Di Cecco // NORCIA (Perugia), November 2016 // Temporary housing units erected by citizens of the town using privately donated funds.

05_76 Antonio Di Cecco // COLLESCILLE DI PRECI (Perugia), November 2017 // Temporary housing units erected following the earthquake of 1979 and then re-used after the earthquake of 2016.

Antonio Di Cecco // FINALE EMILIA (Modena), April 2016 // Abandoned farmhouse in the environs of the town.

Antonio Di Cecco // FINALE EMILIA (Modena), April 2016 // Rifle range, Protective cloth covers.

Antonio Di Cecco // GIBELLINA (Trapani), August 2018 // Unfinished residential building.

Antonio Di Cecco // GIBELLINA (Trapani), August 2018 // Chiesa Madre, project by Ludovico Quaroni.

Antonio Di Cecco // GIBELLINA (Trapani), August 2018 // Piazza Beuys, project by Pierluigi Nicolin.

Antonio Di Cecco // GIBELLINA (Trapani), August 2018 // Unfinished residential building.

Antonio Di Cecco // GIBELLINA VECCHIA (Trapani), Alberto Burri’s Grande Cretto, August 2018.

Antonio Di Cecco // SALEMI (Trapani), August 2018 // Ruins, new constructions and unfinished buildings.




© KHI in Florence | 22.01.2020 03:22:28