I have approached this self assessment in a less structured way than normal because I recognise that in terms of creativity and technique this series is not a significant step forward. However, in terms of developing a personal voice this was an assignment that allowed me to explore a subject that was not just important to me and that I well understood but one in which I was emotionally invested. This was a project that I have wanted to undertake for three years and that could be continued and expanded over the next three.
I was conscious that documenting a community was a well trodden path and in my research it was interesting to identify such significant differences in intent between Gene Smith, Paul Strand and Stephen Shore when addressing the same idea – a single small community. From the outset this made me think carefully about what I wanted to say regarding Montefino. It also helped me reach the decision to let the photographs stand on their own, un-captioned and un-explained. Accepting that all photographs are ambiguous and that associating them with too much explanation chips away at that ambiguity I wanted to attempt a series that could stand-alone and be left to the viewer’s imagination. Whether it achieves that is for others to judge, I am too involved with the subject to pretend objectivity.
I wanted to create a series that was anchored by a set of simple portraits juxtaposed with architectural and trivial detail that helped describe the subjects. I could have explained my choices in the assignment write-up or as captions but consciously chose not to.
Each spread was carefully constructed to describe a different detail of the subject’s lives. In my mind the three pillars of the establishment in a single spread, (two) Carabinieri, the priest and the Mayor summarise the political structure of rural Italy; the elderly lady juxtaposed with the views of steep streets and crumbling masonry describe the challenge of living in hill top villages for an ageing population. However, whilst this is what I want to say it may not be the message conveyed.
The series is supported by several weeks of research, it took time to find the right references and they eventually came along together. The fact that a single Italian town has been extensively photographed by Paul Strand, Stephen Shore and at least three Italian photographers was helpful and it also opened my eyes to the different ways in which these practitioners approached a subject that was remarkable similar to “my” village.