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"Fotoromanzo e poi..."

A week ago I (Clarissa) had the chance to visit the exhibition Fotoromanzo e poi... in Reggio Emilia, Italy. The exhibition ran from April 20th to July 19th 2018 at the Spazio Gerra and was organized on three floors. The first floor struck the visitor with beautiful images, large-sized and high-quality photographs printed from old photo-novel negatives. It also showed how to create the layout of a photo-novel page and, at a light table with pages of old photo-novels without text, visitors could put into practice what they had just learned and use tracing paper to write their personalized text.

The second floor highlighted a brief history of the phenomenon of the photo-novel, with among others, panels on film-photo-novels, novels adapted into photo-novels, civic photo-novels, photo-novels and politics, christian photo-novels, and video material. It also showcased photographs from the Federico Vender Archive.

The third floor told the story of Cesare Zavattini's relationship with the photo-novel and exhibited one of his photo-novels, La Colpa. Next to the photo-novel from the 60s, it presented a brand new Instagram photo-novel realized specially for this exhibition, #NESSUNACOLPA. There was also an interactive section where visitors could be thrown back in time and enjoy reading photo-novels in an old hair salon.

I was lucky enough to be guided through the exhibition by Elisa Savignano and to sit at one of the exhibition's vintage sets with Stefania Carretti for a short talk. Find below, with my many thanks to the curators for their kindness and availability, the transcription of our talk, both in translation (English) and original (Italian).

(CC = Clarissa Colangelo | SC = Stefania Carretti)

CC: Why did you decide to organize an exhibition on photo-novels? What inspired and motivated you?

SC: First of all it’s important to know that this exhibition takes place in the context of a photography festival called Fotografia Europea 2018. In previous editions we organized exhibitions that analyzed photography as connected to other media – for example we organized various exhibitions on photography and music. This year we were interested in exploring the relationship between text and image, and so we thought of the photo-novel. We then discovered an interesting connection between the photo-novel and Cesare Zavattini, an eminent citizen born in Luzzara, in the province of Reggio Emilia, who left his archive to the Library Panizzi of Reggio Emilia. We knew that Zavattini dealt with publishing and with illustrated magazines, that with his dynamic nature he gave birth to many comics and that he was somehow at the origin of the birth of photo-novels. Moreover, he always tried to maintain a good bond with the readers and especially with the female readers of these women’s magazines, drawing inspiration for his scenarios from their stories, dreams and frustrations. We tried therefore to understand specifically what his role has been in the birth of a genre that turned out to be the most influential editorial phenomenon of the postwar period. We found some interesting letters: the correspondence with Mondadori indicated Zavattini as the author of various topics and scenarios of photo-novels. At the Zavattini Archive of the Library Panizzi of Reggio Emilia we found one of these scenarios and that was in fact the starting point of this exhibition. The core section of the exhibition revolves around Zavattini’s relationship with Mondadori and his collaboration for the magazine Bolero Film during the postwar period, when he helped conceiving stories that had a relevant societal impact and that linked back to his work for the cinema, thus highlighting his neorealist approach. We analyzed the photo-novel called La Colpa (“The Fault”), written by Zavattini under the pseudonym Cesare Altieri and published in episodes in Bolero Film in 1962 – then also translated in French. We tried to see whether and how this language, this medium of the photo-novel, of the image and the text could have, today, a re-birth through new communication tools and in particular through social media. We took up the challenge and made a photo-novel for Instagram. It is titled #NESSUNACOLPA (“No Fault”) and it is conceived as the sequel of Zavattini’s early-60s photo-novel, which we had found extremely relevant because the story begins with a sexual assault and touches upon the issue of either condemning the rape or keeping it a secret. We tried to imagine how a photo-novel of today would deal with the same theme: if in the past the fault was considered as shared between the perpetrator and the victim, who was deemed complicit to the crime, we thought