A visit to the Italian heartland
Open Shutter Gallery exhibits “10 days in italy … “

“Laundry Drying With Grapes, Veranzza,” by Paul Boyer

by Jules Masterjohn

For someone whose heritage hails from the Italian peninsula, viewing the photographic exhibit, “10 days in italy…” at the Open Shutter Gallery is not only a tour of my ancestral homeland but a journey through my heartland as well. There is just something about Italian landscapes, street scenes, and portraits that plucks a genetic chord in me. It doesn’t matter if it’s a photo of the pastoral Tuscan countryside or a sunny seascape of the Italian Riviera: Seeing these images transports me back to my childhood, sitting in the parlor of my immigrant Italian relatives’ home, listening to the aunts and uncles speaking Italian. Eventually during a family visit, the men would retreat to the kitchen to talk, drink homemade wine and smoke cigars. Unable to understand Italian, I could tell from the inflections in their voices and the occasional laughter exploding from the room, that some great stories were being shared. Witnessing this camaraderie, I learned early that being Italian meant enjoying people and loving life.

“10 days in italy…” is a display of photographs that captures the flavors of a place I have only traveled to in my imagination. As I walk the perimeter of the gallery, smells, tastes and sounds flood over me from a romantic past I have never known. Seeing an image of people gathered on the street, I can hear the excited conversation of my uncles and granddad from the kitchen, more than three decades ago. For me, there are two Italys – the actual country situated on the Mediterranean Sea and another located in my mind’s eye. To access the latter, I need only pinch my right cheek, as my granddad did upon greeting me, and the nostalgia for a place I have never been comes rushing forward.

The subject matter of the photographs in the exhibit are quintessentially Italian – grapes, wine-making, canals, countryside, bicycles, Old World faces. The images are but a small selection of digital photographs taken by Margy Dudley, Paul Boyer and the participants in the Open Shutter photographic workshops held in Italy each autumn. The annual workshop brings participants to a 15th century villa near Florence used as a “home base” for 10 days, enabling the group to take day trips for photography and cultural immersion. Evenings are generally spent back at the villa eating home-cooked Italian meals, drinking wine and viewing the photographs taken by the travelers during the day. Boyer uses a digital projector to show the group’s daily photographs and offers instruction while sharing images with the group. In terms of an art and cultural experience, this might be the best – merging the old with the new, using cutting edge digital technology to document the Old World.

Dudley, Open Shutter’s proprietor, has an eye for compositional elements, creating dynamic and interesting photographs. Her solid use of line, shape, color and depth places the viewer at the photographer’s vantage point, giving one an understanding of what captured her interest. The color print, “Cypress and Villa,” invites us to walk the gradually converging parallel tire ruts across a slightly rising hill toward the horizon where the Montepulciano sky meets a row of cypress trees, standing like exclamation marks on the hill’s crest. Classic, beautiful and restful, this stirs in me a desire to walk that road in search of my long-lost relatives.

Another image, “Views of Vernazza, The Cinque Terre,” gives the viewer a grounded sense of place. Overlooking the coastal town of Vernazzo, one of the five villages on the Italian Riviera known as The Cinque Terre, one sees a medieval fortress perhaps built to protect the natural harbor below, a marina still used today. The churning turquoise of the sea laps up the sides of the cliffs where the town nests. Pink, yellow and beige stucco buildings mix with modern brick and ancient stone walls, proof of the village’s centuries of habitation. I could hear the hushed roar of the ocean as it surged against the rocky coast below. In the distance, a nurturing arm of land hugs the water, offering a revealing portrait of the relationship between land and sea.

Dudley’s keen sense of composition can be seen throughout. Her still life photograph, “Grape Harvest, Tuscany” is a playful study in repeating shapes and vivid color. Four bright red bowls hold large clumps of green and purple grapes. Close enough to smell the aromatic fruit and see the subtle variations on each individual grape skin, this photo makes my eyes laugh. Another, “Gelaterria” depicts towers of stacked ice cream cones, some covered in chocolate and nuts, leaning precariously into the picture frame over the top of a white umbrella. “Empty Wine Bottles, The Cinque Terre” shows three empty wine bottles sitting next to each other against a paint-peeled turquoise wall. Though no people are present in these images, they tell stories of human activities.

Dudley is primarily interested in human stories. Her favorite subjects are street scenes, where she photographs people interacting, “capturing a moment that will never be the same.”

Paul Boyer agrees. After more than 35 years as a professional photographer, Boyer is clear about what subjects attract him. “I’m not much interested in pure landscape … a picture needs evidence of people to catch my eye.” In his photo, “Laundry With Drying Grapes, Veranzza,” we can see what Boyer refers to as “evidence.” Bunches of yellow-orange grapes and men’s white briefs hang on the same clothesline off a balcony. The soft yellow and green walls are a neutral background for this scene, the grape clusters outnumbering the underwear, perhaps indicating the nation’s priorities. Boyer comments, “We couldn’t have set that up! That’s the cool thing about photographing in Italy.” Dudley concurs, “It’s incredible, we turn around and there are great things happening to photograph. Italy’s just that way … great photographic opportunities unfold at every turn.” •

“10 days in italy…” is on display through March 22. Open Shutter is located at 755 E. Second Ave. in Durango. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday–Saturday.

 

 

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