Life: Raffaele Montepaone’s impactful photography

Raffaele Montepaone photographic work Life will be featured in the exhibition at Rocca Manenti in Sarteano, Siena, opening on Saturday, July 15th at 5.30 pm. The Italian photographer and the American Marshall Vernet are the winners of the RaM Sarteano Award 2017 whose exhibit has been possible thanks to the patronage of the Tuscany Region, the Province of Siena and the Union of Municipalities of Valdichiana Senese. Open to public till September 30th, everyday except Monday, from 10.30 to 19.00.

di Luigi Coluccia

When photographs are not only a simple description of reality, when they are not the mere attempt to appear formally beautiful to the viewer’s eye but they show that inner strength able to touch the soul and deeply engaging, then we are facing a real work of art. Raffaele Montepaone’s photography is all of this, and perhaps even more. I’ve been following Raffaele and his work for a long time, probably since the very beginning when he was almost unknown but his photographs already showed a special sensitivity and intensity. 

I’ve always been fascinated by his images, because I can feel in them all the warmth and authenticity of Southern Italy and its passionate and honest people who love their own land as their own life. Raffaele was born in Vibo Valentia in the ’80s. As a child he has been attracted by art and photography, moving his first artistic steps in the family studio. It is passionate about reportage photography, the 35 mm lens is the eye through which he watches the surrounding world. The human presence in his photographs always plays a key role.

It’s been so long since I first met photography,” says Raffaele, recalling his first approach to the photographic art – I was young, very young: I think I started communicating first through images than with words. I’ve always loved photography: this is my personal way to to be part of the world, I do not know any other way. Every time I take a picture, even after a long idle periods, a strong emotion crosses my soul; as I click the shutter to inexorably fix a time fragment, everything is different, my perception changes, the daily troubles fade and it is like entering a new dimension, actually my own, personal dimension.

In 2006, the flood struck Vibo Valentia, Raffaele documented the disaster in the project “July 3, 2006” and addressed the earnings to those people affected by the terrific event. This reportage has probably been the inspiration for his next work, the project Life which came to accomplishment in 2007. Life is a tribute to existence and a portrait of Calabria, the region where he was born.

It is a passionate portrait made through a closer look at faces marked by the lines of time and lively gazes of the elderly people living in his region. Those who practice photography, even just for passion, might know how difficult it is to photograph people, what level of empathy and confidence they need to reach with their subjects to express through photographs their essence, making them appear as people and human beings, touching their soul along with the soul of those who are admiring their portraits.

We can only imagine how much difficult it has been to collect such impactful images representing the elderly inhabitants of some small Calabrian villages. Those people are notoriously shy and skeptical and particularly reluctant to strangers and new things. Given that, we can even more appreciate the prestigious achievement of this project, and be aware, we are facing a truly gifted artist.

Life is the result of several trips to the most remote villages of Calabria.

The absolute protagonists of this work are undoubtedly the elderly women who live there, still animated by those values ​​and traditions that are now outdated, but still live with devotion and sense of belonging. The series of portraits tells about  life stories and timeless emotions. The deep admiration and respect that the artist shows dealing with the protagonists of his images are clearly perceivable. The gentle and sensitive approach allows him to get straight to their heart, faithfully reporting all those feelings of shyness, composure and pride that characterize these marvelous protagonists.

The masterly captured faces marked by the lines of time are the symbol of a gone world, a world where sacrifice still means something. Hypnotic gazes and accurate hairstyles are combined with dark cloths which effectively sharpen and enhance the contrast with the total white hair.

Describing his work, Raffaele says: “Life includes two series of works, Faces and Hands. Faces and hands of the elderly people apparently living in a gone world are dug by time and fatigue. The protagonists are the Calabrian centenaries, almost mythological figures, far from history and far from the contemporary viewer’s eyes. My monochrome vision increases that distance. They are the survivors of the past peasant world, a magical world which has been still for millennia. The bones of their faces look like stones, the skin recall the bark. They are elements of nature themselves, they are totally blended with it, they demonstrate the ability of human beings to resist to adversity.

Life is an intimate historical document, showing that part of Calabria that has survived to the modern, fast-paced society.” – says Raffaele, going forward and describing the project: “It is a romantic and genuine world, living in a suspended time, whose rhythms are only marked by nature. It is also a warning for the new generations, an invitation to stop, to regain the value and the greatness of small things, to listen and watch away from the diversion of noises and colors. Life aims at conveying a resilience message through a gentle but powerful photography that marks the limit to the lack of values ​​of modern society, generating beautiful and robust young generations but with very fragile souls. Life is a tribute to past values that have survived to modernity and in some way mock at it.

The timeless beauty of these shots has been reported by the Italian newspaper La Repubblica which has dedicated to this remarkable project a prestigious photo gallery called “Calabria in bianco e nero“. Raffaele won the Talent Prize 2015. In November 2015 he then exhibited at the Caroussel du Louvre in Paris with the Spazio gallery Farini 6. In 2016 Archivio Fotografico Italiano promotes a personal exhibition in the city of Legnano during the European Photo Festival. In the same period, Christie’s beats one of his photographic work, including it into the book Characters and Landscapes of Italy, edited by of the auction house itself. Raffaele addressed the earning to a charity. His works have been also part of a collective exhibition in Grenoble, at the Maison de L’International and at the EX-NIHILO gallery.

It is with “Memoria”, a beautiful image that is part of the Life reportage, that Raffaele, along with American photographer Marshall Vernet, wins the first edition of the RaM Sarteano Prize promoted by the cooperative Clanis Service, manager of the Castle of Sarteano in collaboration with The Municipality of Sarteano and MIA Photo Fair. The award is reserved to independent photographers and has the dual purpose of highlighting the new artistic proposals that have contributed to the development of Contemporary Art of our country while at the same time enhancing a very fascinating and rich territory such as that of Valdichiana Senese, where the municipality of Sarteano is located.

Memoria – © Raffaele Montepaone

The two winners were rewarded among all the artists participating in the session Proposta MIA 2017 at MIA Photo Fair 2017, the most important international art fair dedicated to photography that in the last edition hosted 25,000 visitors, 130 exhibitors, 80 Art galleries, 20 independent artists, 15 specialized publishers, with the representation of 13 different nations, also presenting 16 conferences and awarding 6 prestigious prizes.

Raffaele Montepaone and Marshall Vernet will exhibit at Rocca Manenti, in Sarteano, in the province of Siena, opening on July 15th at 5.30 pm till September 30th. The works of the two artists will be welcomed in the fortress of the castle of Siena, built in 1480, used as an exhibition space with the name of RaM, Rocca Manenti Art.

The castle, an example of the Sienese military fortification, is halfway between Rome and Florence. It is surrounded by a secular hollyhock park and is located on the acropolis of the village, representing the very symbol of the village of Sarteano, located on the foothills of the Val d’Orcia on a plateau bordering the Valdichiana. The structure consists of 4 floors, 4 rooms per floor, 4 meters for 4 with an exhibition area that develops for a total of 380 square meters.

During the exhibition opening visitors will also take part to the presentation of the book Life which collects the wonderful images of Raffale Montepaone and whose preface is by the Italian Master of Photography Ferdinando Scianna.

If nostalgia is in its practice, it seems to me that it is nostalgia for photography as it is rarely practiced today. Observing and knowing what to look at, to turn as much as possible into the photographic art of beauty. – Ferdinando Scianna

Life

I could hardly imagine that Life’s introduction was signed by Ferdinando Scianna, a master who was and is to me a source of inspiration. – says Raffaele and concludes: “Well, this is a great reward for having worked hard over the last few years and makes me believe that I have done well. This is a great achievement to me and an answer to those who did not believe in me to succeed and to those who always encouraged me and supported me.

Life was just a dream and such would has remained if my dear Roberta didn’t come into my life. The book is a result of her tenacity and it is to her that I dedicate this work. It was by chance that she already saw the publication coming true in 2007, when our destinies has not crossed yet. But she was there when I took Life’s first photograph to Aunt Concetta and I realized that that ancient world fascinated me so much. And again Roberta is closing the circle today. Thanks to her Life is no longer a series of photographs stored into a hard drive,  but a tangible memory over time.


More info on the artist’s works at his website here.

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