In December, Fondazione Prada will unveil its new exhibition space, Osservatorio, dedicated to photography and visual languages and located in Milan’s iconic Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which sits between La Scala and the Duomo. It was in the Galleria that Mario Prada opened his first shop in 1913 and over a century later it is still there, while so many other shops and bars have come and gone.
Poetic, then, that it is on the fifth and sixth floors of one of the Galleria’s main buildings that the 800-square-meter Osservatorio is located, sitting just below the glass and iron dome that covers the Victorian arcades.
Although the Fondazione — co-chaired by Miuccia Prada and Patrizio Bertelli — has been organising important contemporary art and cultural events in its exhibition spaces in Milan since the mid-90s, it really caught the public imagination after the opening of its permanent base in Milan last year. To create this large and diverse space, a former distillery dating back to the 1910s was transformed, creating huge halls and intimate underground spaces, sprawling corridors and open-air courtyards, as well as allowing space for film director Wes Anderson’s delightful retro café. It has quickly become an essential entry on the tourist’s ‘things to do in Milan’ list.
The blurb for the new space states:
Osservatorio will be a place where trends and expressions in contemporary photography are explored, investigating the constant evolution of this medium and its connections with other disciplines and creative realms. At a time when photography has become part of the global flow of digital communications, through Osservatorio’s activities Fondazione Prada will question the cultural and social implications of current photographic production and its reception. Fondazione is thus extending the range of tools and approaches through which it interprets and interacts with present times.
The inaugural exhibition, Give Me Yesterday, is curated by Francesco Zanot and runs from 21 December 2016 until 12 March 2017. It will explore the use of photography as a personal diary over a period of time ranging from the early 2000s until today. Works by 14 artists will be featured: Melanie Bonajo, Kenta Cobayashi, Tomé Duarte, Irene Fenara, Lebohang Kganye, Vendula Knopova, Leigh Ledare, Wen Ling, Ryan McGinley, Izumi Miyazaki, Joanna Piotrowska, Greg Reynolds, Antonio Rovaldi and Maurice van Es.
Photography devices and an uninterrupted circulation of images produced and shared through digital platforms will surround the visitor. A generation of young artists has transformed the photographic diary into an instrument to focus on their own daily lives and intimate, personal rituals.
The photographs turn the immediacy and spontaneity of documentary style into an extreme control over the gaze of those who observe and are observed. This creates a new diary in which instant photography is mixed with exhibition photography, imitating the repetitive cataloguing of the internet and employing the performative component of images to affirm individual or collective identities.
The Prada Foundation says that its ‘mission’ is that,
We embrace the idea that culture is deeply useful and necessary as well as attractive and engaging. Culture should help us with our everyday lives, and understand how we, and the world, are changing.
And nowhere is that truer than with this startling collection of autobiographical photography which examines, often in extreme close-up, some of the most intimate areas of our lives.
New Yorker, Ryan McGinley, started this shift from an instant photography approach to a more accurate one that nullifies the credibility of a natural, spontaneous diary, in the early 2000s. He photographed his friends in private, often in risqué situations, in their homes or in New York nightclubs. In his next series, McGinley focused on a calculated representation that celebrates the naked body within the beauty of nature.
Dutch photographer Melanie Bonajo photographed herself every time she cried, producing a paradoxical inventory of selfies. The 23-year-old Tomé Duarte from Portugal, created self-portraits while wearing his ex-girlfriend’s clothes in an attempt to reconnect with her and his identity; and the even younger, Japanese photographer Izumi Miyazaki shoots self-portraits in ironic and surreal situations.
The American Leigh Ledare makes his mother the protagonist of his shots, capturing her in intimate situations or posed portraits that express the complexity of familial relationships, simultaneously acquiring both an artistic and therapeutic value. South African photographer Lebohang Kganye also focuses on the maternal figure, but in a completely different perspective: the artist inserts her own image into old instant shots of her mother, who has passed away, emphasising the archival nature of photography.
Maurice van Es, from The Netherlands, photographs objects and items of clothing tied up by his mother in their home, turning them into elegant, accidental sculptures. Another Japanese artist, Kenta Cobayashi, explores the numerous transformative opportunities that digital imagery offers, manipulating them in such a way as to affirm their fragility and instability. The Czech, Vendula Knopova, reflects on the permeability between public and private spheres, using a codified imagery such as that of a family photo album.
Through the creation of one of the first Chinese photography blogs, Wen Ling daily documents the relationships, places and customs of a close circle of friends and family members. Joanna Piotrowska from Poland applies the philosophy of German psychologist Bert Hellinger in order to investigate the theme of family trauma in a series of carefully conceived collective portraits The Italian, Irene Fenara, through an effort similarly based on scientific premises, points out the distance between the lens and the subject she photographs, comparing physical proximity and emotional closeness.
American Greg Reynolds presents – after a three-decade gap – photographs taken during summer camps promoted by an Evangelical Christian organisation, which the artist abandoned in 1983 after coming out as a gay man. Only now he realises that this photographic documentation allowed him to express a truth that was impossible for him to reveal publicly at the time.
Between 2011 and 2014, Italian Antonio Rovaldi shot dozens of images of horizons which, when viewed together, express a personal vision of landscape and trace the outlines of an ideal journey to Italy.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.