Sotto il segno di Modena
What surprises us, in Severi’s works, is the balance between Causality and Necessity, changing casual events in everlasting shots. Indeed, Severi’s photography celebrates the concept of hic et nunc, explained by Benjamin, and punctum of R. Barthes.
Making herself “instrument” of the camera, Severi sets herself apart from alienation and from aesthetic tic. The artist, adding human irony, curiosity and sympathy to her pictures, rides out technologic gaze and catches deeply the essence of human beings.
In contrary with the common thought, taking good pictures is more difficult than painting.
If photography doesn’t request a tight contact with the art subject, painting, on the other hand, demands the artist to deal with the subject matter. Moreover this direct experience with the art subject makes the artist modest and aware of his limits. Contrary to what we said earlier, the main feature of Severi’s shots is a modest behavior towards camera.
According to me, the pictures, which are more emblematic, are the ones where human figure surfaces immediately from neutral background and, in the close-up, illustrates its social identity.
We must say that this particular style has a strong effect, as if it was happened a real fusion between zoom lens and artist’s eye. The psychological features are at the same level of colors and tissues, objects, walls, since we can really feel the rough surface of subjects matters. Pictures don’t judge, show and explain anything. What a relief the suspension of judgement!
The two ways for taking realistic pictures are “the decisive moment” and “the frozen moment”, whose the main theorist is Cartier Bresson. As the great photographer said: “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as the precise organization of forms which gives that event its proper expression”. On the other hands: “the shooting is extended towards infinity hanging by a moment unaware of time and stream of events. The photographer could be a wise man, a guru who is looking for eternal dimension. What we just said could be sum up ‘magic realism’ .” It can be said, although they have different languages, the feature that they have in common is unique aura of mystery. To my point of view, nowadays, what makes the pictures interesting is the suspension of meaning, coming from reserved behavior which avoids any judgement. Severi, apart from vulgarity, vanity and worldliness, is able to look around her home town and gives us a fascinating imagine of Modena.
I believe that these photographs will last forever because they show an unique characteristic of photography: to have an everlasting meaning during different times. These pictures will be, for sure, analyzed and studied with fervent curiosity. According to me, Maria Pia Severi’s viewpoint could be seen as a need of clarity, after many kaleidoscope effects, labyrinths and hallucinations.
Our cities, portrayed in XIX and XX century, seem deserted as if the photographer, before shooting, aimed to have the square, the street and the monument completely empty, uncontaminated by human beings. Fascinating, huge squares where you can see no one, waiting hours for the perfect shot.
From time to time, we can catch a glimpse of a woman in black who is hugging the wall (suddenly appeared), how about the lad who is watching and smiling? An hitch for the photographer who has been waiting for hours. The photographic album collected the views of the “Greatest World Cities” (in gold velvet cover) shows us the large Plebiscito square deserted under a shining sun, as if the citizens of Naples were suddenly run away…
We can say that the view either of the city or the monument, free from human beings, has been always appreciated by the photographer for many decades. Why? For sure, if the client is a statutory corporation, the photographer will concentrate his attention on the single monument, but how about the other situations? For example, how about amateur photographer. Even for him the crowd is disturbing element. I saw some old pictures about Carpi and Modena in which the two cities appear as cemeteries, as still life. At the contrary, Maria Pia Severi, walking on the street of Modena, seems to have forget monuments and houses looking for what the Japanese called Ukiyo-e, “pictures of the floating world”.
Is that a Modena without Modena? Modena clears the way for itself from objects, people and close up shots. At times you can see a stretch paving or a little portico, at others the city occupies the entire framing. The Cathedral, rising up from the market and the woman looking for a “trouvaille” (p. 70), seems immanent and austere. A waterfall of blond hair seems to light up an alley (p. 74). Thanks to an illusion of the camera lens, snowflakes turn into snowballs (pp. 17, 19, 21, 28, 29 etc.); and this motorbike leaning on a wet wall (p. 48), which the umbrella tries to protect, looks perfect for a movie scene. A rich Modena, where the citizens have a Middle-European attitude: they look self–assured, reserved and self-confident. Can it be a faraway echo of Habsburg-Este, at the time when the “eagle was white”? But, among all these appearances of person-characters when Modena appears alone, the city looks “self-confident”, occupying the framing with its fascinating winter nights (pp. 46, 47), its portici which make the street double, its long and narrow allies and with the color of its walls. Unreal moments: on a deserted square a puddle, a ray of sunshine and four doves (p. 68).
After having walked through squares and portici, suddenly appears a last emblematic image: a motorbike going to unknown future. Like the greatest photographers, even Maria Pia Severi doesn’t know how many emotions these pictures can suggest. Moreover, photographic hobbyists don’t want anyone explaining them photography: they prefer giving their own interpretations to the art object, floating through their culture and mood.
I won’t go on about the gaze of the portraits coming from the shots, the psychedelic lights of saturday night, the shop windows, the posters, the tree that covers two lovers (p. 94). All these pictures tell us about a relationship with a man size City and they are a “love conversation” that Maria Pia Severe wanted to offer to all the Modena citizens.
Dear Maria Pia,
as I promise, here I am, writing some words about your photos. (I take the liberty to use an informal speech. Even if our friendship is recent, however I decided to take this liberty because of the significant age gap between us and because I feel like speaking friendly and confidentially).
After your call I decided to come by myself to your studio, at Mazzini square and I did not want you to move for two good reasons: first of all because, old men like me, still have good manners, the ones that new generation dismisses; secondly because I always love to go to Mazzini square.
You showed me this photographic album, and it seems to me that you used the camera as you wanted to write a notebook; moreover you asked me, that I am just a modest doctor and writer since I haven’t published many books, to write some pages about your pictures.
As soon as I watched your photos, I wondered why you chose me for this role.
Smart and beautiful ladies have a special skill in catching men, and I have no defense. However I decided to accept this task because you wanted the opinion of a Modena citizen, the emotions of who has always been attached to the Ghirlandina tower, the Cathedral, the portici, the foggy weather and the wet heat summer, and to who has always feel abroad in Bologna and in Reggio Emilia. In fact, I born this way.
So here I am, not for writing a critic comment on your album, since the preface, written by the artist Franco Vaccari, is enough and explains concepts appreciated by “works personnel”, but for writing some ideas coming from your photographic film. I want to warn you that I could say unexpected and meaningless things. Indeed, I am writing you a letter because you can do whatever you want with a letter: you can either keep it close or read it and throw it away, or, if it is worthy, conserve it.
I loved this “crash” with photographic subjects which turn into characters. Since I am a man, I really appreciate your preference for female figures (with some exceptions: the two officer cadets and the muscle man). Young ladies are surrounded by winter landscape and look very determinate and self-confident which is the main women’s feature nowadays.
Your album is a homage to all the women: an homage to “stronger sex” which only feminism can deform. According to an influent journalist, men are the one who need to aim for gender equality. How sad is the condition of an old bachelor or a widow compares to women which, even if alone, survived by themselves, organizing their common days in such a way that all the men envy them.
For another reason I liked your preference for winter photos and for “winter ladies”: furs seem soft cocoon in which we can already see butterflies with eyes, lips, mysterious and meditative smiles.
I promise you that, when the gaze of your camera will be upon me, I would not pose but I will try to be spontaneous and natural as much as I can.
Director of Institute of Modena Clinical Pathology
at Ducale Foro Boario and President of Medical Association