BEIRUT: The notion of neorealism was first introduced in the wake of World War II by a number of filmmakers and screenwriters, including Cesare Zavattini, Guiseppe De Santis and Gianni Puccini. The aim of the movement was to set films in the streets, using a cast of non-professional actors, depicting the ordinary day-to-day lives of citizens and dealing with themes of poverty and injustice.
Later in the century, neorealism developed in the plastic arts and photography, forming a movement out of which emerged pioneering artists such as photographer Nino Migliori. Now 88 years old, Migliori took up photography in 1948. A hundred of his photographs taken during the mid-20th century are currently on show at the Byblos Bank Headquarters in Ashrafieh.
Entitled “La Matiere des Songes” (The Material of Dreams), this exhibition – which is running until mid-February – was the opening event of Photomed, a French festival focusing on photography from the Mediterranean region that is currently visiting Beirut.
Migliori was present at the opening Thursday evening and appeared honored and proud to be exhibiting his photographs for the first time in Lebanon. His work is suffused with a documentary aesthetic, as it shows Italian residents as they are, following them while they go about their everyday business. Through Migliori’s photographic lens, viewers are greeted with an insightful portrayal of Italy.
“Walls,” “Le Temps Ralenti” (Idle Time), “Antimemoire” (Anti-Memory), “Herbarium” and “Hyrdrogrammes” are among the series of Migliori’s photographs on show. From torn posters, to cities, residents and the rich colors of pickled vegetables in jars, onlookers will be swept away by the photographer’s unique vision of his homeland.
“I did ‘Walls’ because I was interested in Man,” Migliori says in the festival’s press release. “These are the only documents of Man’s past, from the caves of Altamira to today’s graffiti or the wall paintings of Pompeii.”
For “Le Temps Ralenti,” Migliori had the idea of photographing vegetables preserved in jars in order to show the passage of time. Close-ups of tomatoes, lemons and leeks yield colorful renderings of ordinary objects. Mediterranean culture is encapsulated in these photographs, which make day-to-day items objects of art.
“It is an intervention on the degradation of image,” said Migliori about his series “Antimemoire.” Here, the artist has photographed old posters from 1973, some railing against fascism, on which the hammer and sickle (communist symbols) have been tagged by graffiti artists. These images were taken from lost and forgotten objects.
Migliori’s talent does not lie only in rendering photography interesting to the viewer’s eye, but also in his experimental approach to the photographer’s tools. In his series “Cellogrammes,” abstract shapes have been formed by trapping pieces of nylon – colored or not – between two pieces of glass. This creates an intriguing impression that the photograph has been shattered.
Experimentation has played an important role in Migliori’s photographic development since the day a liquid poured inexpertly onto the photograph yielded unexpected results. “[It] opened a whole new world to me,” Migliori said, “not only with a realistic representation, but with the possibility of considering an image with movement.”
Migliori consistently pairs experimental techniques with an original vision. His celebrated experiments with Polaroid photographs enabled him to make his mark and present viewers with a new perceptive on the medium. Polaroid is mainly characterized as an instant way of creating images that does not withstand the effects of time. Migliori –– through his manipulations and experimentations with the process – has added life and depth to it.
The exhibition also serves as a panorama of a vanished pace of life in Italy. Photographs of Bologna (Migliori’s hometown), children playing in the streets and swimmers convey a simple yet joyful representation of Migliori’s country. The artworks’ titles are in keeping with this simplicity: “People from the South,” “The Barber’s Apprentice,” “My City” – they adorn the photographs with a truthful clarity.
Nino Migliori’s “La Matiere des Songes” is on show at Byblos Bank Headquarters until Feb. 15. For more information, please visit www.festivalphotomed.com.