Jon Bird - settembre 2005

“Ultimately, Photography is subversive not when it frightens, repels, or even stigmatizes, but when it is pensive, when it thinks."
Roland Barthes

For the current generation, black-and-white photography is an anachronism
The Guardian, 18/8.05

Raffaela Mariniello works against the grain of much contemporary photography which is dominated by large-scale, colour, and digitally manipulated imageryReferencing a history of documentary, landscape and black-and-white photography and working with a 1950s Linhof 4” x 5” plate camera using a long exposure time, she is admirably unfashionable and serious in her approach to her subject matter Only recently has she begun to experiment with other formats, specifically video, taking the implied movement that characterises many of her images – wind disturbing the outline of trees and bushes or blurring the shape of cloth or sails, the strange effect a fifteen minute exposure has upon the surface of water as the undulations of swell and current merge into an opaque smear – into a filmic dimension with multi-screen projections. Her photographs of the run-down areas of dockyards and ports around the Mediterranean and, most recently, Cardiff in S.Wales, or of those inbetween locations that demarcate the edges and borders of urban conurbations, for example, of her home city of Naples, are distinguished by a series of formal and conceptual oppositions: dark/light, nature/industry, land/water, stillness/movement, absence/presence, foreground/background, public/private…
The genre is landscape derived from the Northern European tradition of Netherlandish and British painting of the 17th and 18th centuries. This was when landscape shed its classical roots as artists began to depict the gradual domestication and organization of nature as the boundaries between country and city shifted and shrank, industry replaced the reliance upon an agrarian economy invading and disrupting the countryside with new technologies of ownership and production – the working mill, the merchant ship and the canal, the restructuring of agriculture, the mine and the factory. The earliest photographic archives document rapidly changing notions of the natural and the urban, revealing the constructed and intertextual character of such formulations. Even the most aestheticised and formal of representations attest to a politics of culture at work.
La prima e ovvia osservazione sull’attività fotografica di Raffaela Mariniello, oltre all’assenza della figura umana, è che l’immagine non si lascia ricondurre a fonte di informazione. Certo i soggetti sono in linea di massima riconoscibili, ma i loro particolari si presentano intriganti per l’ambiguità o per l’autonomia rispetto al contesto: che funzione avranno mai i tubi in plastica avvolti a spirale in primo piano rispetto all’area portuale di Palermo, o una raccolta di fusti di metallo lungo una via di Beirut, o quella che sembra essere un’esplosione di materiali appesi a una sbarra in un’altra area del porto di Palermo? Che cosa ci fanno tutti quei motorini abbandonati in una grotta a Napoli – cimitero di fantasie da dolce vita dei giovani italiani? Mentre la luce, secondo la tradizione filosofica occidentale, rivela il mondo conoscibile, lo sguardo di Raffaela Mariniello si volge all’indietro nell’antro oscuro di una grotta. È infatti il mito platonico della caverna che viene rappresentato – un interno desolato del quartiere di Billybanks a Cardiff che incornicia le luci della costa in lontananza - e sottolineato con ironia nella fotografia dei motorini confiscati. Non sono ragione e verità ad essere illuminate, ma un commento malinconico sulle limitazioni di certe libertà e un commento ironico sull’abbandono della dimensione utopistica della modernità sociale.

Perhaps the first and most obvious observation on Raffaela Mariniello’s practice of photography, beyond the absence of the human figure, is that the image is not, primarily, informational. Of course we recognise the subject matter in general terms, but much of the detail is either intriguingly ambiguous or at odds with its context: what might be the function of coiled plastic tubing occupying the foreground of the dockyard at Palermo, or an accumulation of metal drums lining a roadside in Beirut, or what appears to be an explosion of material hanging from a rail on another dockside at Palermo, and what are all those abandoned scooters doing in a cave in Naples – a graveyard to the dolce vitae fantasies of Italian youth. If light, in the Western philosophical tradition, reveals a knowable world, then Mariniello’s gaze is turned back into the cave’s shadowy interior. Indeed, Plato’s allegory of the cave is both figured – a barren interior space at Billybanks, Cardiff framing the distant lights of the far shoreline - and ironically restated in her photograph of the confiscated scooters; it is not reason or truth illuminated here but a melancholic commentary upon the curtailment of certain freedoms and a wry commentary upon the abandonment of the utopian dimension of social modernity.

In geographical terms we are on the periphery, in the margins looking towards…,well what? Certainly not towards the ideal city of either the classical or the modern imaginary. Despite various intimations of a rational social architecture in the housing and apartment blocks or varieties of industrial production, there is no promise of release or fulfilment over the horizon, just, we suspect, more of the same. This is the underbelly of a modernity characterised by uneven development and the repetitiveness of everyday life.

In his novel Les Miserables, Victor Hugo described the particular attraction of the inbetween, the area where the outskirts of the city and the country intersected, the ‘banlieue’: ‘To observe the banlieue is to observe an amphibian. End of trees, beginning of roofs, end of grass, beginning of paving tones, end of ploughed fields, beginning of shops, the end of the beaten track, the beginning of the passions, the end of the murmur of things divine, the beginning of the noise of humankind…’ The art historian, T.J. Clark developed this theme in his account of modernist painting, ‘The Painting of Modern Life, arguing that the banlieue was the territory of ‘ragpickers, gypsies, and gasometers’, the kind of melancholic spaces pictured by Van Gogh in his small painting ‘The Outskirts of Paris (1886).(2) Here the outline of distant buildings, factories and warehouses, provides a backdrop to the remnants of nature under duress – clumps of grass and weeds, a broken fence, paths constructed from smeared paint, a gaslamp and a few desultory figures. And a curiosity for the exoticism of the everyday also extended to photography at this time; Susan Sontag compares the photographer to that ubiquitous symbol of late 19th century bourgeois city life, the ‘flaneur’: ‘The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitring, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes’. Like the flaneur, it is not the mainstream that attracts the gaze, but the city’s ‘dark seamy corners, its neglected populations…’(3)

All of these elements, apart from the figure, are present in Raffaela Mariniello’s working method and aesthetic language. Indeed, her own account of photographing the outskirts of Naples has a Hugoesque quality, the ‘ragpickers and gypsies’ transformed into “bag-snatchers and drug addicts” as she worked in a constant state of apprehension, alert to the peculiar charms and threats of an urban landscape that carries the trace of the natural. A poetics of edges, borders and boundaries, of the seepage of the organic into the industrial, of paths leading nowhere or merging into shadow, billboards and windows blanked out, their messages of consumption or activity erased by the camera’s flash, and everywhere the proximity of water – spreading in puddles, filling the cracks and fissures of overworked or abandoned dockyards, or separating a harbour from distant buildings and the sea beyond. But there is no suggestion here of an oceanic sublime, an immense and ever-changing moving force, rather water is surface, light, reflection, separation, a milky, sometimes opalescent division between foreground and distance, or a silvery infill of the crevasses and concavities that are the traces of labour and industry. The long exposure time of each image – anything from twenty seconds to fifteen minutes – transforms any residual movement into a blur so that areas of water, vehicles on a road, wind rustling through trees and bushes creates spaces of uncertainty in the visual field haunted by the ghostly presence of time’s impress upon the body.

In some examples the combination of a long exposure and use of flash results in the elimination of detail leaving a totally blank white surface which functions as an anamorphic intrusion disrupting the coherence of the image and arresting our gaze. In fact the tonal variations, (some of which are achieved in the darkroom through overdeveloping and masking) – the photographic equivalent to the painters use of chiaroscuro – distort recessional perspective, confusing distance and spatial relationships already unstable through the absence of the human figure to provide measure and scale.

Raffaela Mariniello’s depictions of water reverse the usual cultural associations with a life-giving and regenerative force, metaphorically linked to the human subject, whose rhythmic movement – the ebb and flow of the tide acting under gravitational pressure – echoes our own inner patterns, a connection that has always carried reproductive and gendered associations. Her blurred seas, estuaries and harbour waters suggest a frozen surface, the sludge-like heaviness of partly solidified liquid, while smaller areas have the precision of polished steel absorbing all available light to create another cut into these urban wastelands. In some examples this can be read as industrial effluent – oil, or something of a more sinister, chemical nature. What is consistent is the implication that not much in the way of sea-life could thrive here, this is water infected by the processes and detritus of manufacturing and production. Such considerations raise questions about the social and political ‘content’ of the image that are the familiar territory of forms of critical realism. I don’t think that this is the intention here, but the accumulative effect of these images is of a particular and committed portrayal of urban landscape, a mournful and disenchanted reflection upon the world which comes close to allegory.

Formally each image has a similar structure: “My photographs always have a foreground and a background”. What occupies the foreground is either a road or path leading into pictorial space, water, references to nature – trees or bushes, grass, weeds, earthmounds and sandbanks, domestic or industrial objects, non-descript building materials - orifices and protrubrances that function as metaphors for the body. Backgrounds mostly feature signs of industry or, occasionally housing, a rare intrusion of domestic space into these desolate vistas. Walls, railings and fencing enclose or connect foreground to background and the only evidence of a human presence, apart from our memorialisation in the trace of labour, is in the lit windows of a distant building.

All of these sites are documented as natural light fades and artificial illumination takes over, the hours of twilight and dusk (the ‘darker shade of twilight’). Twilight is ‘an intermediate condition or period….before or after full development’; ‘dim, obscure, shadowy’, that time of the day when vision plays tricks with perception, darkness envelops space and contracts distance and street lights flare like stars or caress the surfaces of form and matter. Reconnoitering by day, she selects her shot and returns as the evening descends, relying upon a combination of street lighting, photolamps and flash to supplement the rapidly diminishing daylight and to throw the foreground into relief creating Caravaggioesque contrasts and oppositions. Yet despite the actual or imagined dangers of these abandoned or peripheral locations, any threat is not of a theatrical or melodramatic order – we don’t anticipate a corpse half-concealed under a pile of rubble or a hand to emerge from the water, or some other body part hidden in the bushes – this is not David Lynch territory, more a sense of contingency and the overlooked. No, the crimes that have been committed are, rather, of omission: of the discarded, the ignored, the remaindered, of what is left after economic and social regimes have moved on. (And, since Barthes seminal writings on photography, particularly Camera Lucida, the photographic affect is consistently associated with feelings of mourning, melancholia and loss.) We could pursue the criminal metaphor further, finding in her method something analogous to a forensic investigation; searching for the right location, returning to the site with the relevant equipment, setting-up the investigative apparatus, recording the scene. The clues are there already waiting to be uncovered, the incidental and banal character of the subject adding to the deductive observation of the significant point-of-view, then the necessity for a long exposure to capture all the available light, the camera lens penetrating even those areas not immediately perceivable to the naked eye. This, then, is the opposite of the immediacy of most photo-journalism and the veracity of documentary, rather, it is photography as performative event. As such, there are references to the art practices of the 1960s and 1970, for example in the work of Dan Graham (the ‘Homes for America’ project) or Ed Ruscha (‘Gasoline Stations’ or the ‘Sunset Strip’ series).

Conceptual artists explorations of the photographic image have significantly influenced both the approach and subject matter of much recent lens-based practice, from a concern with the category of the everyday (first explored in the canonical works of Atget, Evans and Sander and then reinterpreted as the abject or dysfunctional side of social relations in the work of Nan Goldin, Wolfgang Tilmans, Richard Billingham and others) to the status of the indexicality of the photographic sign: of what is shown and concealed in the recording process itself. What Mariniello’s images present – that is, their articulation of a regime of visualisation – is the unseen, a spectral vision of an abandoned hinterland haunted by the memories of other histories, other lives. Although her titles annex the image to documentary, their content and structure (formal, technical, conceptual) suggest a more flexible approach to generical boundaries.

It has been the recovery of the unseen that has been both the radical promise and the limitation of the documentary tradition – witness Brecht’s famous criticism of a photograph of the Krupps steel works, that it revealed nothing about the economic and social inequalities underpinning forms of production. Truth is an elusive (and illusory) goal of documentary realism. Despite claims for documentary as the representation of a politics, the ‘being-there’ or facticity of the image is no longer even a truth of appearance, so much happens in the apparatus of photographing and printing (to say nothing of the manipulative possibilities of digital imaging) that we have to seek elsewhere for the truth of the image. The matter of the politics of the image, with regard to any truth claims, is perhaps better sought elsewhere, in an ethics of the gaze. For Barthes, ‘truth’ is only ever found elsewhere – in the ‘punctum’ of the image: ‘it occurs in the field of the photographed thing like a supplement that is at once inevitable and delightful…’(4)

In some of Raffaela Mariniello’s earlier works, for example the collection ‘Bagnoli, una fabbrica’ (1991), ghostly figures hover or glide across the image, a discarded boot or glove lie embedded in the ground referencing patterns of manual labour and a history of photography leading from Rodchenko to Man Ray. More recently, in her commissioned photo-essay of the city of Naples (2001), or this current body of work, the literalness of the Bagnoli series and a formal aesthetic close to the picturesque has been replaced by a richer and more complexly connotational visual rhetoric. These are still non-places, disregarded locations on the edge of industrial or social activity overlaid with an aura of melancholy, but the juxtaposition of objects and context shift meaning towards ambivalence and contradiction. As such, and given the recurrence of a metaphorics of the body, they gesture towards Surrealisms investment in the object(s) of desire, of the fascination that Surrealist photographers (particularly Man Ray) exhibited for the Readymade, and the double meaning and symbolic significance in the coding of reality. Often this was achieved through unlikely combinations, the paradigmatic ‘chance encounter’, and in Mariniello’s positioning of foreground object(s) and background location there is a similar dissonance opening the image to the action of metonymy, to chains of signification that annex it to a much wider range of cultural reference.

Raffaela Mariniello is not interested in the actual specifics of a place – the photographic tradition derived from a topographical inquiry into the scientific mapping of space. Geo-cultural signs of difference are far less apparent than the formal and atmospheric quality of a generalised sense of location. Whether the subject is South Wales or a Mediterranean port matters less than the effects of light on water, the contrast of shadow and illumination playing across a surface, or the interplay of organic and industrial or architectural form. There are, however, some clues to aid identification: a line of tiled rooftops and gardens, gathered net curtains, a dry stone wall, certain discernable varieties of vegetation implying a particular (hot) climate, a gasometer, an apartment block, all of which configure a sense of place and suggest patterns of everyday life and work – of how it might be to stand where the photographer stood to take the shot. But these are secondary characteristics to a narrative of displacement and uncertainty. These images are no more ‘views’ in the conventional sense – the singularity of the world presented to the camera – than they are typical landscapes in the art historical sense. I suspect that, in her reconnaissance trips prior to shooting, Mariniello isn’t simply looking for a combination of features, for example, the interface between the natural and the urban, but also how a place is imprinted corporeally upon the subject – a sense of unease or anxiety, a disjunction of form and function, the loss of a habitus – all of which subvert any voyeuristic tendency. These are places which return our gaze and challenge our intrusion.

The temporal dimension of Raffaela Mariniello’s images invokes both the momentary and the durational potential of photography. Mostly, as has been remarked, she shoots as natural light is receding at the onset of the night. The actual time of year is less obvious: there are few suggestions of seasonal change, perhaps the months between early summer and mid-autumn mark the calendrical span. It is the period of time that the shutter is open that marks the action of chronometric time, perceivable in the blurring and softening around the edges of forms, or across the surface of water – time segued into movement. In an earlier series she acknowledges the history of time-lapse photography, of Muybridge and Marey, but in her current photographic work there is almost the opposite effect to the analysis of movement through its constitutive moments. If anything, movement conceals rather than reveals as trees and bushes become cloud-like or adopt more apparitional guises, water congeals, and foreground objects loose their specificity and become uncanny. (Another source might be the Italian Futurist photographers, Arturo and Anton Giulio Bragaglia who experimented with long exposure times of moving figures in order to record an overall impression or gestalt of bodily action and gesture.) With Mariniello it is the contrast between duration and stillness that can be taken as metonymic of forms of experience – of being in the world, and of an inner life that parallels sensory perception. Simply put, this can be seen as a device to combat the photograph’s instantaneity – of getting time back into the image and, thus, holding the viewers attention. How long do we look at a photograph: a second or two, ten seconds, twenty, a minute…Generally out attention span is far less than when viewing a painting – the immediacy and profusion of reproductive imagery works against a more concentrated and extended encounter. Photographers have always employed devices and strategies to arrest and hold the viewer’s gaze, from detail and scientific accuracy, defamiliarisation, shock, scale, to framing. montage, the use of text, etc., all elements of a rich formal and conceptual aesthetic. However, photography (like film and unlike painting) reminds us of our investment in looking and of the inadequacy of vision, that the camera ‘sees’ what the eye cannot. There is also, of course, the unconscious – the structure of looking that embeds an image within memory and desire.

It is a characteristic of sight to look for order and pattern – for us to strive to make sense of our visual worlds however chaotic or unregulated things might appear. We relate the unknown to the familiar in order to locate ourselves, and our primary source of reference is the body. We see the body everywhere: whole or in part, factually or metaphorically, as internal organs, skin, gesture and movement, action and repose. When I contemplate Raffaela Mariniello’s photograph of the corrugated and lined surface of a mudbank revealed at low tide in Cardiff bay, or the intertwined coils of tubing on the dockside at Palermo, or the contrast between the unmade foreground area with its pools of water, weeds and stones and the regulated apartment blocks, TV aerials and street lamps of Valencia, my response is partly filtered through an empathetic and corporeal familiarity with the body’s limitations and potential. And, following Freud, a primary reference lies in our earliest memories, of our first experiences of being in the world and the pleasures and pains accompanying childhood. This is when the boundaries between self and other, body and space, inside and outside are in the process of formation and provide a template for adult experience. Visual representations that awaken these memories have a special hold over our attention – paths that lead into pictorial space, walls or enclosures defining one area from another, changes in the substance of things from solid to liquid or gas, divisions between interior and exterior – such distinctions repeat early learning experiences as we struggled to make sense and order of the unknown and the new. The philosopher Luce Irigary argues that this formative period marks the interrelation of sight and touch, a connection that the history of western philosophy has concealed under the privileging of vision. For her, the metaphor of light as truth is an idealisation that represses the fact of sexual difference. In her account, light is textured, tactile, and our sense of sight is implicated fundamentally in our sense of touch, a formulation that implies a corporeal relation to the world rather than the construction of an objective and disembodied subject surveying the visual field.(5) What I am suggesting, then, is that the affect of Mariniello’s images, as is the case with much of the art that holds our attention and lingers in the memory, is a contrary reminder of the body’s presence despite its (literal) absence from the image: of recognition and unfamiliarity, reassurance and uncertainty, form and void, movement and repose, of darkness and the light.

‘Between photographer and subject, there has to be a distance’ asserts Sontag (6), thus contributing to the debate that has always questioned the voyeurism of the photographic relation. This is unavoidable whenever the focus is upon the human subject, individuated or ‘en masse’, as an inevitable intrusion and expression of a discourse of power; but what of the ethical dimension of other genres of photographic representation, particularly landscape? Here the alliance with the growth and spread of mass tourism is the clearest evidence of the socio-economic consequences of a desire for possession. Kodak used to advertise potential sites for the camera’s gaze and today’s beauty spots carry instructions for the amateur photographer on where to stand for the optimum point-of-view. No landscape, whether natural or urban, wild, desolate or ordered, can easily resist the lure of the picturesque, the sublime, the symbolic or the moralistic. Even those projects that started out as systematic documents of form, function, or a way of life – Atget, Robert Frank, the Bechers – are exposed in their very indexicality as memorials to something lost; fragments adrift in meaning signifying either a generalised ‘past’ (nostalgic, sentimental), or annexed to particular narratives of history. It was Walter Benjamin who saw in Atget not only the forerunner to surrealist photography, but also a body of work that, in its repetitiveness, ordinariness and absence of human presence, destroyed the auratic object: ‘the city in these pictures looks cleared out, like a lodging that has not yet found a new tenant.’ (7)

Like her predecessors, Raffaela Mariniello works in series – the City of Naples, the ports of the Mediterranean, Cardiff – and most of her images suggest the proximity of industrialisation and the anonymity of the overlooked, forms of production and their detritus common to a global economic system. Similarly, the domestic habitus is only rarely specified but figured as a mass of identical units comprising a housing block or estate. Naming the country and city of origin – Valencia, Naples, Palermo, Cardiff – does nothing to dispel the impression of an enclosed and regulated existence, indeed the caption could equally imply a prison or barracks, and the only interruption to this regime of order comes with two pictures of houses in Penarth Marina, one of them an interior shot. But even here the strict geometry of the net curtains and radiator belies any suggestion of a random or personalised taste at work, we predict an identical arrangement in every house on the block. In fact, the details that interrupt what might otherwise become an orthodox rhetoric describing the costs of industrial modernisation are of a more aberrant kind. Cracks in a pavement and stains on a wall; a profusion of wild flowers bordering a road or fronting an estate; the silvery sheen of a puddle at night; discarded ropes and sprouting iron spikes decorating a Bari dockside; a collapsed stone wall on the outskirts of Beirut; a mountain of some dark, dense material ominously occupying the foreground of Cardiff port or the delicate tracery of barbed wire and netting across the bay; a lonely motorbike incongruously sheltering under a boat hull outside a factory in Athens; an enigmatic, table-like concrete structure amidst bushes and grasses at Syracuse, Sicily and a rough path through shrubland leading to a refinery are all juxtapositions suggesting endless narrative possibilities. But these images also tell a story about photography: about the camera as both a technical and a social apparatus, about the photograph as a form of projective geometry closely linked to the perspectival system of representation, (witness the number of Mariniello’s images that either ‘stage’ a scene, or lead the eye into pictorial space), as a privileged relation to the real, (in Christian Metz’s expression ‘a cut inside the referent’) (8) and as an expression of the visible world that can still capture us with its mysteries and revelations.

September 2005

1. Roland Barthes Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, trans. Richard Howard, New York 1981, p38
2. T.J.Clark The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and his Followers, London 1985
3. Susan Sontag On Photography, London 1978, p55-56
4. Barthes, p47
5. see Cathryn Vasseleu Textures of Light: Vision and Touch in Irigaray, Levinas and Merleau-Ponty, London 1998
6. Sontag, p13
7. Walter Benjamin ‘A Small History of Photography’ in One-Way Street, trans. Edmond Jephcott and Kingsley Shorter, London 1979, p251
8. Christian Metz ‘Photography and Fetish’ in Carol Squiers (ed) The Critical Image: Essays on Photography, Seattle 1990

The photograph: imprint and rip

Achille Bonito Oliva

Art history has trained us to consider its production to be a subjective practice of the eye that moulds reality to its own image and likeness using the tools of language to do so. The image is always the consequence of a folding, of a torsion of the eye around its own visual field, an ineluctably subjective and emotional movement.
Photography has instead introduced an emotionless procedure, a mentality that seems to calculate objects best of all and strip away the surface skin from reality. A common belief assigns to photography the piace of cruel objectivity, the sense of a surgical practice that dissects, cuts and removes the detail from the network of relations with the world.
Hence, a distribution of roles assigns to the artist the piace of the eccentric gaze, and to the photographer that of the statistical one, it assigns art the privilege of supporting the disease of subjectivity, and photography the task of developing the impossible attitude of impassibility and neutrality.
Photography overturns this common belief by rigorously using the tools of photographic language.
Photography is not random and instantaneous, it is not the result of an elementary doubling, rather, it consists of a pose that complicates and renders ambiguous the reality it starts out from. In her work Raffaela Mariniello hones the multiple operative moments on the basis of the project of a scene that must first be constructed and then captured by the photographic eye. Now, the eye accepts the disease, the introduction of an imaginary that succeeds, first of all, in arranging things according to a spatial rigour directly connected to the possibilities of the photographic result, and then to capture them by using a specific perspective.
Finally, with the series of colour postcards called Souvenirs d'ltalie, Raffaela Mariniello's photography takes on the artifice of pre-arranging reality and of perceiving the event with no surprises or improvisation, but rather with the expectation of an image that emotionally reflects a subjective vision.
The world as loss of proximity, a nostalgia for the eroticism that not even art manages to reconstruct, but only represent by means of distance: this appears to be the Neapolitan photographer's philosophy.
Presiding over her work is the pathos of distance which returns to this Nietzschian concept through the citation of the instruments of observation that waver between analysis and synthesis. These are dimensions that both stem from the metalinguistic consciousness of art, the awareness of a presence, a diaphragm made up by the language that makes it possible to name things, but not possess them.
Naming signifies observing, i.e. observing a distance that is indispensable to be able to bave a vision of the world and control it. Language thus signifies control, the dramatic capacity to dominate each incongruity in order to achieve understanding. In Raffaela Mariniello's work photography and video are both understanding and loss, an ambivalent condition between the meaning of things and the impossibility of reproducing them linguistically. On this is based the iconic adoption of objects and the vision almost from above. The awareness of a need that helps to have an obsessive gaze upon the world and at the same time the hindrance of a total crossing of the material and its breadth.
The gaze that dominates vision uses a conventional mode to stage the being between objects and with objects. Raffaela Mariniello's photography often uses vision from above precisely according to the meaning asserted by Goethe for irony as passion that is liberated in detachment. Hence, we have images that are almost cinematographic and that contradict their intimacy by way of the descriptive capacity of a daily life that's captured by photography.
The detachment is born from the tangle of a language that constitutes a siege of reality but that is not fooled into thinking that it can identify with life. In this sense vision is joined with the literary and at the same time extremely figurative reality that meticulously and metaphysically describes reality as an pportunity for pure classification.
Raffaela Mariniello assembles her cameras (for photographs and videos), the view cameras of a gaze from above that is both omnipotent and capable of dominating large territories where life pulsates in its particulars and details. These features become the visual structure of a system of seeing that is abstract, yet concrete, the descriptive and synthetic analysis of the qualities of a space concentrated within the confines of a labyrinthine and at the same time familiar vision.
Photography employs the same civil hypocrisy of cohabitation as the one described by the video, it uses conventions that represent and at the same time deny the representation between abstraction and figuration. It wavers freely with pleasure and pain building up images that are both present and allusive, near and far. Proximity is dictated by the choice of the visual convention that asserts and confirms the precision of the gaze. Distance is represented by the philosophy of the gaze itself that is aware of its possibility and also contains the memory of a contact that is by now impossible to realize and reconstruct.

More than Borges, Italian photography is reminiscent of Bioy Casares' in The Invention of Morel, the story of a fugitive who, to escape the police, takes refuge on an island. From his secluded hiding piace he observes the life that unfolds before him, both public and private. In the end he discovers that he is before an unreal world reproduced by a sort of cinematographic sequence encouraged by a movie camera, moved by the tides, hidden in the cellars of the building, which obsessively represents life spent on the island.
Raffaela Mariniello's photography uses the same device, that of a language that needs verisimilitude, the presence of an essential vision capable of authorising the image, of de-dramatising everything in favour of a figurable presentjustified by the language.
In the artist's postcards for Souvenirs d'ltalie, the genius loci discovers its recognition and its application. It succeeds in holding the ambivalence of the twofold representation by building an image that is cordial and hostile at the same time. Indeed, by way of description it seems to give us the control and the knowledge of a territory but also of a specific access. The map floats in the abstraction of a geometry made up of lines and footholds, which are at the same time generic.
Photography seen from above produces the dream of possession, but not the real control of the territory. It shows us all the possibilities for flight, overlaps, occlusions and shifts, but not the concrete and felicitous ones of space and its occupation. To inhabit the world -this is the problem that occupies the camera of the gaze set up by this photographer, who reconverts the feeling of iconic control, of a vision that perhaps confirms each impossibility, as it allows us to control and foresee each chance for movement.
Mariniello exorcises the pathos of distance; she uses forms to recognise it and use it as an instrument for analysis and synthesis. Seeing does not signify an arrogant gaze, it means acknowledging the artifice of the arrogant gaze that always tends towards abstraction. Abstraction as in-depth study and subtraction, descent and ascent within the heart of the image.
Photographic language speaks the third person of form which creates a condition of resistance and impenetrability even before the viewer's admiring contemplation. Here, then, is the need to assure oneself by means of the machine of language: maps, toponyms or views from a distance.
The structure of the work takes on the features of a long-established language, that of an abstraction (the photographic image without people in it) and of a figuration ennobled in the video by many presences of varying humanity. In this case the cordialness of sweet scenes that are easily recognisable and that hark back to the common practices of the social is justified and maintained. Photography's goal is to make the gaze rise up, creating works that are tangibly and at the same time dizzyingly controlled. The photographer's task is the cohabitation of these two moments; he or she does not seek shelter but rather the opportunity, by way of the creative experience, to represent the twofold polarity.
Hence, Mariniello's image is not figurative but, rather, figurable, at the limit between recognition and deviation, assertion and loss of meaning. These images represent the trajectory of meaning from its foundation to its abstraction, a pathway realised with the cleverness of an extremely highly trolled linguistic game.
A control that is naturally not born from technical ability, but from the ansietas described by Marsilio Ficino, which uses every assurance to represent and naturally disown the difficulties of existence. This explains why Mariniello never hesitates; she navigates with moral assurance into life's territories, as the bearer of a formal order that justifies the game and guarantees the results.
Raffaela Mariniello's photography protects her right to daclare the loss and her own definitive mourning, through the adult behaviour of the creative experience, made up of discipline and lucidity, tension and control, joint action and difference. The distance of art guarantees the extraneousness of the results and at the same time the constant loyalty to oneself, one's precarious safety in a world that nonetheless always harks back to an elsewhere, retracted in the photography, an impression and stripping away of reality, preserved in shots that are wholly Italian (in terms of memory, formal spirit, symmetry, proportion and harmony) and that bestow us with an absolutely original creative scenario.

Viaggio in Italia. L'arcipelago dell'immaginario

Giovanni Fiorentino

Photography works more or less like an island: presence and absence, corroboration yet distance, fragment and elsewhere, but always the experience of a journey in one’s gaze. A gaze that shuffles the world around and redesigns it by materializing it in images. Historically, photographs have made the mental edifice of the imaginary visible, and the modern dream of the island has become concrete for the Western world by way of photography’s media experience. While it may not have actually invented the journey, photography has nonetheless played an essential role in a reworking of the Grand Tour and in the development and invention of the most popular form of sight-seeing holiday. Raffaela Mariniello’s photography as a whole is an archipelago that inverts the canons of the mass image and openly toys with them: it overturns the paradigm of the journey across Italy that she pursues, and reproduces the city as a matrix of images, it works on the boundaries of the collective imaginary, submerging it once again into the tourist experience of the present-day, it turns the eye-machine into a sort of lifestyle, allowing ethics and aesthetics to overlap. Naples first of all, in the experience of a photographic eye that’s open and hybrid at the same time, but extremely pure, built around her roots and her city.

Then, the invention of a slow and new journey for the eye, a sort of visual probing that crosses Italy and the historical stop-overs on the Grand Tour. The photographer explores and artificially experiences—from her photographic cockpit—the Italian world of mass tourism, and even the more reassuring one of tourist villages and radio-controlled visits to Porto Cervo; she produces and reproduces it, depending on different formats and layouts; later she mounts and installs in the exhibition spaces—just like in the pages of this book—an imaginary lighting up of today’s Italy. From a black and white Naples that represents the work of a lifetime, from the eternal commute between the historical part of the city and the Neapolitan outskirts, she now focuses her attention on the recognizable and recognized capital of the journey across Italy, of mass imaginary and of mass media; she pursues the ghost of the consumer in tourist plazas with her instantaneously capturing and voracious “fast food” eye, which moves in a globalized present and pans around as if it were inside an outlet or some large shopping mall. In this sort of souvenir tour, the Italy brand, with its historical sites and coordinated images, lingers in the background.

The icon—art, nature, history—the source of her infinite reproductions (Holmes 1859-63) makes room, at the centre of the shot, for the colourful merry-go-round of objects, for an amusement park that accounts for the present and that could indeed be found in any large shopping mall. This photographer’s eye could, of course, have sociological, anthropological, historical value, but it cannot be reduced to a photographic inclination that’s functional to the human sciences. Raffaela Mariniello uses the shot in a deliberately central way, akin to the pictorial manner of Piero della Francesca; she pursues a continuous blending of artificial and natural lights as she finds her way around in the darkness, revisiting an expressive tradition that goes back to Caravaggio; she seeks the artificial and excessive colour of consumerism, inscribed in Pop Art as well as in American hyperrealism, overexposing it, or overlapping it, upon the monochrome of the backgrounds, used here like abandoned stage scenery. Lastly, she aesthetically explores—and in an indissoluble association, ethically as well—the lateral, contradictory, and vital nature of photography. We are within a realm that immediately points to the phenomena of global consumption, which was broadly developed during the last half of the twentieth century and lies somewhere between “McDonaldization” and “Disneyzation”, added to which is the entirely Italian social, political and media-related characterization of these past twenty years. But the sulfurous impact that draws the viewer’s eye to these photographs so that it hovers at the edge of the violent contradictory between an Italian frame and the close-up of a souvenir tour, restores depth to the imaginary in flight, something that for some time and for the eye has been a faded mass in the background world (Augé 1997), reassembling the ghosts of the debris that surrounds us.

The first work she completed was dedicated to the Italsider factory in Bagnoli, immersed in the night-time lights. Italsider is a theatrical factory in itself, a mix between reality and an inferno under the open sky. It was here that the photographer’s great regard for light, or rather, darkness, matured completely, for the sort of light that is grafted onto and redesigned in shadow, for that series of crepuscular and artificial lights that relate to one another and with the environment at certain times of the day, so that it changes as you look at it. This attention on the part of the photographer would evolve starting from the real scene, but Mariniello’s photography articulated it and allowed it to settle and explode as would later occur in other ways in her staged photography. From one place to many places. There is a profound relationship in Mariniello’s being a photographer between the spaces of everyday life in the historical quarter of the city—her studio is located at the Rampe Brancaccio, her home where the Spanish Quarter begins—and the farthest outskirts of the city.

An energetic and continuous flow that is fuelled by the never-ending journey that relates body, eye, camera and city. Locomotion, much before the gaze itself, becomes an instrument of reappropriation and productive understanding (De Certeau, 1980). Raffaela Mariniello was constantly crossing Naples, reliving it on foot, on public transportation, in streetcars, from Piazza Vittorio to Poggioreale. Foot and eye, for twenty-five years she would cross that no man’s land that makes up the Neapolitan borderlands and she would do so during the most unlikely hours of the day, and even at night, with her cumbersome, static equipment, the tripod, a 4 x 5 Linhof plate camera: from Bagnoli to Scampia to the Campi Flegrei, across San Giovanni and as far as the first towns on the slopes of the Vesuvius, with a daily return to the port, as far as Vigliena.

She did this so that she could capture the landscape that is constantly changing and that becomes an everyday and devolping training ground for the eye. Before actually taking the picture, a slow and meticulous procedure takes place: the gestation of an image thrives on fear and concern, on courage spent on the land of conflict that has no visible contenders, during hours that indicate the danger of borderlands. The adrenaline that comes with reportage is compensated by a sort of slow and constant tension that constitutes a challenge for the reappropriation of spaces, the probing of the camera obscura that frequents the bowels of man. Between the eighties and nineties, this journey to the frontier elaborated a sort of installation that was almost entirely devoted to the city, and translated into the book Napoli vedute immaginarie (2001). Each image is a deep furrow, a visual engraving, a work on waiting, time, duration, it creates a metaphysical realism that thrives on black and white contaminated by the light’s vibrations.

What is put back together, then, is an ideal picture gallery hanging on the wall where each photograph is a tile in the mosaic—warehouses, chains, pipes or grilles, stones and pylons, viaducts, cranes, boats and industrial waste, the skeleton of a chair in the middle of the sea, both natural and artificial lighting—for an assembly and a suspension that tries to rewrite the city. Man’s conspicuous absence dominates the images, the sad structures of the boundaries are transfigured into spectacular portions of buildings, Naples’ peripheral body becomes dramatic and stunning, metaphysical and infernal at the same time. Mariniello’s work rewrites Naples by crossing it with an eye on the borders, soundless, uninhabited and in black and white—Baudrillard believed that it was the only way to regain the city (1995)—making it possible to cross the deserted city and thus relive it.

Journey across Italy. Lighting up the imaginary The journey across Italy once again starts from the south. It moves, and it could be no other way, from Naples. The project began in 2006: Mariniello travelled from the very edges of the outskirts to the historical quarters of Italian cities, from the southern border of the self to the heart of the capitals for a souvenir tour of Italy that has lasted five years, and has included famous ski resorts and the summer capitals of the Second Republic. The eye-machine—the same one as before—is dilated and strong; the same device, a slow and awkward view camera, this time hyperrealistically lit up by the colour of globalized exoticisms, starts out from Naples: Piazza Plebiscito, Piazza Municipio. The polychrome patch of helium-filled balloons in the middle of the foreground, the church of San Francesco di Paola and the arcade that move in a backwards direction. A monochrome cardboard castle in the background, the Maschio Angioino, and in the foreground a van that sells “la porchetta romana” (Roman-style roast pork). The amusement park colours of the neon lights, and above a sign that reads Pub Barry White. The contrast is violent, unreal, the way only a photographic shot that limits and captures what’s before it can be, unlike the flow of reality. In the background the icon that identifies the scene of the crime is nothing more than stage scenery.

The image that has conquered its place in the collective imaginary makes room for life and the daily practise of consumption, even that of food. Photography’s third eye, a surrealist overlapping of opposites, lights up another imaginary, simultaneously duration and speed, background and foreground, monochrome and colour, which reveals the daily transformation of places that are controlled and inhabited by the flow of tourists. With respect to the irreverent chronicling of a reporter from this day and age like Martin Parr, with respect to the organized eye of the masses that moves so that it maintains the dragging of the media images—Augé’s “planetary city”—and the search for the shot, voracious, infinite, serial, Mariniello’s optical box shifts positions: by slowing down it stops. The philosophy that presides over the act is a silent wait to recompose and assemble the incandescent material of the present (von Drathen 2004). The transition into eternity of the photographic instant manifests all the incongruities of the journey, the unlikely and alternating contrasts of the present; it politically traces the borders of the Western imaginary, building up a new hypothesis of the frontier around the souvenir tour. It stages the consumerism, or at least one of the leading trends of the case, and makes us imagine a destiny that is not so far-removed from the one put together by the multinational Buy’N’-Large Corporation in the animated film parable—WALL-E—made by Pixar, rather than Disney: bodies reduced to just eyes glued to the display and mouths that are nurtured on screens and nothing else. In nineteenth-century Paris (Benjamin 1982), the anonymous shop windows photographed by Eugène Atget are gateways into time. They open, dilate the gaze, memory and the phantasmagoria of the nineteenth-century metropolis.

Raffaela Mariniello’s objects, even the ones in the fixed video photographs that run in a loop, the Chocolate Virgin Mary, the three-coloured pinwheels, the travelling lamp, the words of tourist consumption, are gateways to the ghosts of the present that become agitated, and empty the historic quarters of Italian cities, that of the topos, of the imaginary icon of the Grand Tour, they reveal their adjacency, their proximity to ruins. The Duomo in Milan, Piazza della Signoria in Florence, the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, Piazza Navona in Rome. The shop windows of Atget’s passages are replaced by balloons and merry-go-rounds that scrape together lights and colours, from the street vendor’s truck, to the plastic shapes of the souvenirs, from the artificial neon signs, to the advertising billboards, from the huge kitsch cow that invades the port of Capri, to Cortina’s tricolore and to the packaging effect of Rimini’s Italia in Miniatura. In Venice a huge shrine rises up in the middle of Saint Mark’s Square recalling Pistoletto’s Venus of the Rags, and in the same city the shapeless crowd slips from one bridge to another to take centre stage. The same moving crowd that wanders from piazza to piazza as far as the Trevi Fountain or Lecce Cathedral, it is a dilated and ungraspable flow of tourists that is once again transformed into colour and light. More than the distance and the diversity, the tourist seems to seek images and a reassuring place, but one that’s colourful, golden, piquant. With the tropicalization of the climate Raffaela Mariniello photographically records and imagines an anthropological and cultural tropicalization, a sort of alluring varnish that witnesses the insistence of natural lights and the quality of artificial ones—electric blue, acid green, indigo, shocking pink.

Not a miniature Italy, although this too is visible. It is the eye’s journey across Italy, where irony is involved only up to a point. Here Italy is imagined as a theme park that casts doubts and generates a bewildering effect in the viewer. This postcard, where the burning contrast between the reproducible and unique is played off by the artificial indistinct, does not at all calm us, rather, it is disturbing. The passage from the edges to the middle of the city leads to yet another periphery of existence, where non-sense is the true stabilizer. Presences that flatten upon the present the depth of nature and history, making it artifice and fiction, the pale background of a videogame. The ghost of the flanëur, the nomadic, vital and itinerant breath of the metropolitan traveller, is replaced by the faceless ghosts of the masses in transit.

Bibliographical references

M. Augé, 1997, L'Impossible voyage. Le tourism e ses images, Payot & Rivages, Paris; trad. it. Dysneyland e altri non luoghi, Bollati Boringhieri, Torino, 1999.

J. Baetens, I. Pezzini, H. van Gelder, 2007-2008, Photographie/photography, “RS/SI”, Association canadienne de sémiotique, Montréal.

J. Baudrillard, 1995, Le crime parfait, Galilée , Paris; trad. it. Il delitto perfetto, Raffaello Cortina, Milano, 1996.

W. Benjamin, 1982, Gesammelte Schriften, V, I, Das Passagenwerk, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main; trad. it. I «passages» di Parigi, Einaudi, Torino, 2000.

J. Boorstin, 1961, The Image. A Guide to Pseudoevents in America, Atheneum, New York.

A. Bryman, 2004, The Disneyzation of Society, Sage, London – Thousand Oaks – New Delhi.

O. Burgelin, 1967, Le tourisme jugé, in “Communication”, n.4.

M. De Certeau, 1980, L'invention du quotidien 1. Arts de faire, Gallimard, Paris; trad. it. 'invenzione del quotidiano, Lavoro, Roma, 2001.

G. Fiorentino, 2010, Napoli nel mirino. Per una polifonia dello sguardo, in E. Cicelyn, M. Codognato, G. Fiorentino, ‘O vero! Napoli nel mirino, MADRE, Napoli: pp.17-32.

S. Hall, 2006, Politiche del quotidiano, a cura di G. Leghissa, il Saggiatore, Milano.

O. W. Holmes, 1859-1863, Il mondo fatto immagine, a cura di G. Fiorentino, Costa & Nolan, Genova, 1995.

Y. Ishaghpour, 2003, Rauschenberg. Le monde comme images de reproduction, farrago, Tours.

R. Mariniello, 2001, Napoli vedute immaginarie, Federico Motta, Milano.

D. McCannell, 1999, The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class, University of California Press, Berkeley – Los Angeles – London.

M. Parr, 1999, Common Sense, Devi Lewis Publishing, Stockport.

G. Ritzer, 1993, The McDonaldization of Society, Pine Forge Press, Newbury Park; trad. it. Il mondo alla McDonald's, Il Mulino, Bologna, 1997.

E. W. Said, 1978, Orientalism, London, Penguin; trad. it. Orientalismo. L'immagine europea dell'Oriente, Bollati Boringhieri, Torino, 1991.

J. Urry, 1995, The Tourist Gaze, Sage, London; trad. it. Lo sguardo del turista. Il tempo libero e il viaggio nelle società contemporanee, Seam, Roma, 2002.

D. von Drathen, 2004, Vortex of silence. Proposition for an art criticism beyond aesthetic categories, Charta, Milano.

Gran tour alieno

Una passeggiata nell'opera di Raffaela Mariniello

Valeria Parrella

The journey through Italy is repeated at regular intervals, and using the weapons that artist’s varyingly unsheathe to go along with the times and the years. The journey through Italy is necessary if we want to understand its discipline and its decay, if we want to understand whether what we see corresponds to what we knew, what we had said to each other, whether or not it corresponds to the memories, the predictions. But it’s not just the eyes that gaze amorphously, indistinctly, on the journey; also looking at it is the mind’s eye, it is the gaze itself that transfigures and transposes. What I the spectator of the Work do is take a long stroll inside the new paths of Italy, that don’t want to and can’t be separated from the old ones, it is the slow walking of the ancient wayfarer who discovers himself to be diconcerted and disoriented by the triumph of the West as it looms up. I walk through the squares that I once knew and the shadows of the people there remind me that I am not alone, that there is a certain point in our story where we look at the Trevi Fountain, true, but that it looks at us as well, something we didn’t know...that there are those who pass and others who remain. Generally speaking, what remains here is a profound beauty that has succeeded in avoiding the ephemeral of the merry-go-round and the balloons. But have we been able to avoid them?

And on those occasions that we weren’t able to, didn’t they perhaps take on the role of beauty, like in the long sequence of the ski lift, or, even worse, in the beliefs of the owner of the Hotel Bellevue? Hence, what exactly is a beautiful view? The mountain, an object crafted by a human being, or the mental superstructure that is objectivized in neon? This and other reflections, so that while passing through these alley-ways we find ourselves once more in a world represented rather than a world to be represented, it takes us only a short time, Alice and I, to enter the small door and seek wonder, discover that we are already in the amusement park, that we had already been there. And this might seem like a way to see the world, which leaves the horror inside and stands away in the observer’s mute eye, mute and prejudicial, but for me, as someone who strolls through this alien Italy, an alien myself, this seems like one of the ways to reveal the deceit: once the cellophane drapery has been taken down we would be lucky if behind it lay the Byzantine mosaic of Saint Mark’s instead of a miniature Santa Maria Novella.

Seeing art in everything

Maria Letizia Pelosi

Large-scale landscapes are visions. They are always the fruit of the combination of the imagination and reality, of the invisible, at times slowly, at times suddenly, breaking through the surface and becoming visible. In a landscape I see something which incessantly takes me back to something else, as in a dream; it’s as if I’m not perceiving real space, but something symbolic that overrides it and gives me back the vision in another form. What happens feels almost as if I am physically transformed and I experience a fusion between my body and the space around me. The photograph that comes out is the result of this process: first a vision, then the transformation of this vision, which is followed by other images, other visions. When the symbol is clear, I leave the scene as it is, or I might intervene using light, which is also constantly changing. I go back to places I have visited during the day and photograph them as the night sets in, when they change completely: the visionary process works even better in the dark, and the light I add is done so as not to disturb the darkness.

Light is not a technical aspect, or rather it is not only a technical effect, but an element that intervenes to emphasise and highlight, just as the underlining of a sentence in a book does to the sense of the whole page. I could say the technique I use depends on the vision and not the contrary, to the extent that, although I often play with artificial light, I try and make it as spontaneous and life-like as possible. In each situation, for instance, two trees in a field bent over to one side by the wind, I know what is happening technically and how the wind will affect the photograph, but it is the vision itself which affects me. I am fascinated by the technical aspect, but it’s very hard, basically what I really like is when it is masked and the effect seems natural – perhaps that’s what happens in my most successful work. This doesn’t mean that I’m aiming for some alleged objectivity of the image. On the contrary, I feel that the theory behind the sort of photography that aims at being totally objective is untenable, as I think there is always a degree of manipulation and I don’t believe anything spontaneously appears as it really is.

Exalting nature as pure and intact is as misguided an ideal as the claim of objectivity. I’m not interested in the search for so-called uncontaminated nature; although in the past I have often photographed it, nature itself attracts me less, just as I’m not attracted by architecture in itself. What does attract me is when the two seep into each other, when you come across nature in architecture and vice versa. Photographing architecture excessively seems very limited to me as architecture is a blatant sign of human intervention - and there’s no getting away from it. For this reason I look for a landscape that is about to be transformed by a building, or which has engulfed it together with all the changes brought about by time. Essentially I look for signs of human intervention, of people’s active presence even where there appears to be emptiness or abandonment. The similitude that comes to mind is that of nature as the planet inhabited by human beings and architecture as the product of their inhabiting the planet. The relationship of landscape to architecture is constant and inescapable, and yet often interventions in cities are unintelligent, ignoring the historical and geographical contexts and risking making all cities the same, while architecture should make our thoughts, our soul quiver. But all this might easily become a series of speculations; what remains true is that the most interesting places for me are open spaces, roads where you find a tree and a factory in forms in which there is, in my vision, a certain resemblance.

At times this search of mine resembles the work of an archaeologist, I’d call it a sort of contemporary archaeology, finding traces not of what we’ve done but of what we’re doing and which is closely linked to consumption. Things are consumed ideally even before they become physically worn, many cities are transformed incredibly quickly and their development itself involves aspects of consumption. There are realities that are no longer found in the richer parts of Europe, but which you can only find in so-called underdeveloped countries; that’s why I think of Naples and the south in general as being geographically and psychologically apart from the rest of the world.

In my photographs I refer to a reflection on the society in which we live and, even if at times I am carried away by the spectacular or scenographic quality of a landscape, I still believe the landscape reflects that thought. I often ask myself how we can look after where we live: the places, but also relationships, emotions. Artists should be particularly involved in doing this, but I often find that art is distant, relegated to a showcase, at times it becomes the image of power, of a political faction that revels in its glory, but art can only live if it is independent, not only of power but also of the circumstances, personal and otherwise, of whoever produces it. An artistic creation should exist in its own right and provoke a series of questions and emotions that are renewed over time. In this sense I deem a work of art as being contemporary, while if it only reflects the historical moment without going beyond it – I’m thinking of those styles and tastes linked exclusively to a fashion – then a work of art is not contemporary, at least not as I think of it. I’m afraid of running the risk of not being in the here and now and it might happen that my photographs lose their meaning over time, perhaps because of the influence of ideas and tendencies which, in turn, are limited. Modernity expresses a concept that never loses its sense, an existence that is not interrupted, so that when I describe a place I do so without eliminating its most unpleasant aspects or those most linked to the context, there where its spirit seems to be outside time. The statues that I saw in the archaeology museum in Athens seemed much more modern to me than the paintings in Pompei, even if I was perhaps struck so much by the Greek statues because sculpture and the material interest me more.

Often when I work I imagine having some clay in my hands to mould; a sculpture is an object and I am always interested in objects. In a landscape I look for the work of human beings and so I don’t think there is an actual human presence in my images. Landscape is a portrait which, instead of portraying people through their body image, shows human beings for what they are through everything that surrounds them and that they themselves have changed, essentially it represents their thoughts. On the other hand, if I look at the history of painting, the portrait strikes me as merely showing human beings in different time periods. In particular, I find the work of some Flemish painters extraordinary in that they almost don’t paint humans, but scenes, where what is important is the symbol, the meaning of the entire scene, the light. In every form of art I look for a vision, all those sensations capable of making the forms and contents of a work of art contemporary. After all, even my choice of photography as my way of expressing myself was by chance, it was what I started doing when I was very young, it was the easiest way for me, but in the end I think each form of expression is the same as any other, if I had sculpted I would have had the same approach. Lately I have been trying to use other forms of expression, such as video. I have composed in a single narrative frame a multiplicity of moving images; it is a new experiment in which, however, my old inclination to tell a story comes back: places always tell some sort of story.

I generally find what interests me quite easily, because it’s usually in those areas of a city where there is no rational urban planning. Often they are areas where there isn’t much temporal stratification, abandoned places, in the outskirts, where we are normally afraid of going and which encapsulate something strong, near the depths of the soul. Sometimes there are signposts indicating these dark places: “Wasteland”, no man’s land, desolate. Considerable research, both photographic and architectural has been done on these places which, however much abandoned, have been crossed by the human path. At times I too am afraid, physically afraid of going there, and despite this I go there at night, because it sparks off an edginess that makes me “feel” these places. It often happens that I’m afraid and when it doesn’t the scene is transformed and appears ridiculous, absurd. So I try and push the irony even more to the extreme. I’d like people to laugh in front of one of my photographs and I know this happens now and again. In Palermo and Bari I’ve happened upon unbelievable situations in which things seemed to have been put there on purpose, as if they were installations in the landscape, while they have often been abandoned or are just there by chance. I don’t believe these things are invisible and that only I see them. On the contrary, I don’t see how you can’t see them. Maybe I emphasise them, but they are already very evident, they are like animals, at times viscera, they always have some form that evokes a reaction such as laughter, fear, stupor.

In Cardiff, for example, I saw a row of identical houses, one after the other, surrounded by only fields and trees. The building of the houses seemed to have been inspired by architecture on a human scale while the opposite effect actually obtained, with the human scale lost to the pretext of unattainable functionality. The whole situation seemed to be out of a comic strip; I was completely immersed in this surreal atmosphere and tried and tried to find the best angle, the best point from which I could shoot this, to say the least, unusual scene. All those houses nicely spaced out, smart cars in the drive, seemed to belong to an inexistent, unreal situation. Reality wasn’t there, but elsewhere, where you don’t find total order and life is always in a flux. Order isn’t part of everyday reality, it’s a façade or showcase, it’s somebody dressed up for a party or the theatre. In places that are planned to be totally functional, the concert hall, the sports centre, the harbour for sailing boats, I feel decidedly restless, but I don’t mean to be superficial or nostalgic. A friend came with me to Cardiff to have a look around and faced with the flattening out of the landscape, similar if not the same as thousands of other places that have been ‘developed’, we discussed the standardisation, among other things, of the concept of free time. I asked myself which reality was the most depressing, that of the new wine bar, the sea scooter and all those parodies of an exclusive life style, or that of the mud and the factories. I think it all depends on your position, your choice, but I don’t believe that people’s lives get better or easier when the mud left by the low tide gives way to a shopping centre. And on the other hand, the search for other realities doesn’t frighten me. You could say that there is a central theme to my work that runs through all my images, wherever they were photographed: what will there be after industrialised society?

Places always tell some sort of story…

Aldo Rinaldi


‘Jess unfocused his eyes on the swaying around of a tree outside the shack’s dusty window. Its limbs were entrancingly lighted. But he couldn’t connect how he felt with its beauty. So he turned his head slightly and studied a framed photograph of his only friend Pete, in particular two amber eyes.’(1)

It is difficult to put one’s finger on the precise experience that Raffaela Mariniello’s work elicits. The immediate gut reaction is simply to label her expansive black and white photographs as beautiful – but there is far more to her photographs than surface. Black and white photography is highly seductive; more so than colour stock, it possesses an inherent sense of timelessness and invites us to trust it as an objective witness to some truth. However, the appeal of the documentary photograph often – and troublingly – transcends the content of the image; lovers of photography, at times despite an image’s harrowing subject matter, are attracted to an image for its formal qualities, for its status as a beautiful representation. Beauty, then, is a slippery description, and as such is perhaps appropriate for Mariniello’s work – her suites of seductive images that often belie an unsettling subtext.

Mariniello is drawn to the everyday – in particular, urban spaces and sites of industrial activity, such as blocks of flats, roads, factories and scrubland. Equipped with a large-format camera, she works almost exclusively at dusk when her favoured mixture of natural and synthetic light comes into play, bathing her subjects in a peculiar incandescent glow.

The artist’s nocturnal investigations began in her home city of Naples, which she has been documenting for over a decade. This practice has resulted in numerous exhibitions of her work in Italy and across Europe, and in the production of various publications, including ‘Napoli: veduta immaginaria’ (‘Naples: Through the Imagination’, 2001) and ‘Bagnoli: Una Fabbrica’ (‘Bagnoli: A Factory’, 1991). The latter gathered a series of photographs made at the decommissioned Italisider steel mill in Naples. The closure of the mill during a period of recession was representative of the shift in the region’s economy from industry to tourism – like many former factories, Italsider traded an industrial function for a recreational one. For Mariniello, too, the Bagnoli series signals a moment of change, marking the end of her career as a commercial press photographer and the start of her fine-art practice. More importantly, viewed in retrospect the series solidifies many of Mariniello’s key themes, in particular the conflation of urban development and socioeconomic issues, both of which reverberate through her work, and which ultimately find their apex in her later depictions of the post-industrial landscape.

Mariniello is centrally concerned with space: in-between spaces, or those whose use is not entirely clear. In the course of her career, she has produced series in Greece, Spain, Lebanon, France and North Africa, amongst others. Wherever the artist chooses to work, however, she imports a sensibility and approach to her subject that was bred in Naples. Various idiosyncrasies remain constant in her photographs, independent of their geographical location, and the reason for this is perhaps simple: the claim that Naples continues to exert on her. Naples is not so much one city but a collection of varying terrains and histories; a palimpsest, which has become for the artist (like many before her) a muse or touchstone.

In his essay ‘Ponticelli, From a Hamlet to City Outskirts’ Giancarlo Alision discusses the genesis of the city’s particular urban topography, commenting that: ‘Naples has been transformed into an endless and disordered series of outskirts which reach Bagnoli and Castellammare along the coast, and touch on Aversa and Nola inland. The absence of organic urban development planning has led to buildings for habitation, areas of government subsidised housing and industrial plants springing up in a completely haphazard fashion, totally devastating and transforming settings which had been established and consolidated over the centuries.’ (2) For an artist drawn to in-between spaces, Naples offers the perfect model: a city comprised of outskirts, both at its periphery and lying intermittently throughout the entire city.

The Neapolitan landscape also informs the status of another ever-present element in Marinello’s work: nature. In most cities, nature – in the sense of wildness – is found at the fringe of the urban centre. If it remains internal to the city in pockets, these are ‘kept’ or ‘maintained’ places such as parks and recreational grounds. In Naples a different type of cohabitation exists between natural and urban spaces – one that is again the result of the city’s unplanned and chaotic urban development. Mariniello’s photographs reproduce this interpenetration of urban and wild spaces. Rather than acting as a metaphor for an unadulterated, pre-industrial innocence, her images capture places in which culture and civilisation co-exist. The artist explains:
‘Exalting nature as pure and intact is as misguided an ideal as the claim of objectivity. I’m not interested in the search for so-called uncontaminated nature; although in the past I have often photographed it, nature itself attracts me less, just as I’m not attracted by architecture in itself. What does attract me is when the two seep into each other, when you come across nature in architecture and vice versa.’ (3)

In a sense this interest manifests itself as a silent dialogue between nature and man. She has stated that for her ‘places always tell some sort of story’ (4). Like most stories, Mariniello’s are altered by the process through which they are recorded or transcribed. The words of a tale, as well as its grammar of its language and the intonations of its retellings, slowly transform over time through processes that exist in order to ensure the story’s very survival – translation, reproduction, dissemination. The substance of a story becomes marked by the individual and the contingent. This is precisely the case in Mariniello’s work where her method of recording transforms our perception of our familiar surroundings. The photographs’ long exposure time, ranging from 20 seconds to 15 minutes, blurs forms passing at speed through the picture plane. Individuals are nowhere to be found, but are habitually evoked in absentia by the deprived housing estates, poverty-marked streets and reflective surfaces that reoccur in her work, ultimately giving rise to a sense of displacement within the world. Indeed, something ominous lurks behind many of the artist’s photographs – an elusive presence that is only partially recognisable, as if repressed. In this sense, Mariniello’s work emerges as deeply uncanny. The photographs are haunted by an architecture of daily life that appears outmoded or redundant, and this characteristic is further heightened by the lack of colour in the images, the restrained lighting employed and the long exposure times. Everyday objects and surfaces of city streets become wild and alien.

Mariniello’s adherence to black and white photography borders on the ethical. By eliminating colour, she subjects her images to a levelling, uniform method of reproduction. The technique allows the image’s subject matter to come to the fore and avoids a purely formalist method of documentation that has become a dominant trait of the current photography market (and which is arguably a legacy of the Düsseldorf School). This is not to say that Mariniello’s practice is not analytical, however, but rather that she opts for a more Classical approach – both technically and thematically. References to ancient architecture abound, such as the crumbling cement frame of a derelict building in Lebanon – which at first glance appears to look like a Greek temple – or the stone city walls of Beirut, which loom overhead with almost biblical overtones. In preparation for her recent exhibition in Wales, she presented a new selection of images shot in Cardiff alongside works made around the Mediterranean, uniting the two through the heroic feats (and failures) of their respective past civilisations.


‘ … The trigger came on Thursday October 27th, 2005; a group of 10 high school kids were playing soccer in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois. When police arrived to do ID checks, the kids ran away and hid, because some of them had no ID. Three of the children hid in an electrical transformer building of EDF and were electrocuted. Two of them, Ziad Benn (17) and Banou Traore (15), died; the third, Metin (21), was severely injured.’ (5)

By alluding to the past in the present, Mariniello’s photographs are powerful markers for the passing of time, and subsequently, mortality. Lamenting the past naturally leads to a feeling of reminiscence, but the artist certainly does not present us with a superficial nostalgia for bygone days. On the contrary, we experience something closer to a coexistence of past and present. In the same way that universal and vernacular design styles coincide within her photographs (as do modern and period buildings), the past appears within the structures she captures, resonating with a strong metaphorical significance. The reflective puddles of water, the repetitive geometric forms of social housing, the street signs and the blank advertising hoardings function as metaphors for the passing of time, which the artist has described as: ‘not….traces of what we’ve done but of what we’re doing’.(6)

Although Mariniello’s works are made without any digital intervention, they evoke the feeling that something is unnatural, or not quite right. This is as much a by-product of the artist’s technique as it is a tension arrived at through the often-dangerous situations in which images are shot, and the dark and unfriendly places the artist finds herself in. The city is a space of potentiality, of encounters and experiences, and it is primarily a familiar space. Yet in Mariniello’s work, the city appears foreboding – an impression akin to what the writer Patrick McGrath has described as the Contemporary Gothic. In terms of Mariniello’s work, the Gothic is something that is: ‘no longer exclusively at home in medieval castles, neo-Gothic homes, or isolated New England villages’ but now also resides in ‘dark urban nightscapes, abandoned parking lots, factories, warehouses, and other remnants of post-industrial culture as well as in the suburban sprawl of apparent normality and peace.’(7) This unease is further heightened by the presence of nature, which disrupts Mariniello’s urban scenes through its ‘wildness’, and through its ivy-like infectious character, which suggests the reclamation of space and a consequent erosion of the modern – an effect that echoes Clement Greenberg’s observation that ‘….retroactive nostalgia, formal fragmentation, and biomorphic remnants dangerously obstructed the forward thrust of Modernism’. (8) What is particularly interesting about such unsettling effects is how they act as perfect ciphers for the wider socio-political issues that lie latent in her images.

The contemporary Gothic is very much at home in Mariniello’s black and white images of urban spaces; spaces characterised by surveillance cameras and the trappings of a hegemonic state. As I write, riots have broken out in Paris and hundreds of cars sit burning in the street, triggered by the heavy-handed treatment of the French police on an ethnic minority community ghettoised in the Parisian suburbs. In the face of low employment and racism, a backlash was unavoidable. Yet, although set off by one single dreadful event, the demonstrations that followed were chiefly about the marginalisation of segments of the population – economically, socially and spatially. It is unlikely that such an act would have occurred in the affluent suburbs of Paris; areas free of the economic forces that have converged to form spaces of social alienation in sites like Clichy-sous-Bois. So, perhaps, herein lies an element of the story that Mariniello so often listens for in the hinterlands and in-between spaces she favours: the wildness within the urban, the unfamiliar within the everyday and the Gothic that is ‘driven by transgression as well as decay’ (9). McGrath highlights the tendency of the Gothic to be both ironic and topical, noting that in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, ‘a tale of breakdown could carry within it a precise indictment of the system of economic and racial exploitation that stimulated the breakdown in the first place’. (10)

What is certainly true is that Mariniello’s photographs expose the gulf that separates the beautiful images she presents to us and our cognition of these spaces in their socio-political reality. As the artist says, ‘There is a central theme to my work that runs through all my images, wherever they were photographed: what will there be after industrialised society?’ (11). Who knows?....certainly photographs.

1. Dennis Cooper, ‘Curtains’, in Gothic: Transmutations of Horror in the Late Twentieth Century Art. The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, 1997. Pubblicato da Christoph Grunenberg.
2. Giancarlo Alisio, ‘Ponticelli da casale a periferia’, Arin Buren, Incontri Internazionali d’Arte, 2004.
3. 3. Maria Letizia Pelosi, ‘Seeing Art in Everything’, fragments of a dialogue with Raffaela Mariniello, (Capri, 2005).
4. Ibid, Maria Letizia Pelosi.
5. Leila Shenne, Paris is Burning, 2005-11-05 21:03, Indymedia Somewhere
6. Ibid, Maria Letizia Pelosi.
7. Patrick McGrath, ‘Gothic: Transgression and Decay’, in Gothic: Transmutations of Horror in the Late Twentieth Century Art. The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, 1997. Pubblicato da Christoph Grunenberg.
8. Ibid, Patrick McGrath.
9. Ibid, Patrick McGrath.
10. Ibid, Patrick McGrath.
11. 11. Maria Letizia Pelosi, ‘Seeing Art in Everything’, fragments of a dialogue with Raffaela Mariniello, (Capri, 2005).