Category: Photography

Black Identity: A Hidden Beauty

“Beauty is personal and political; it can be read both aesthetically and within the context of cultural studies.” – Deborah Willis

Susan Taylor by Ken Ramsay, c. 1970s

Proud recipient of MacArthur Genius Award and Guggenheim Fellowship, curator and author of multiple books including Posing Beauty (2009) and Reflections In Black (2000), Deborah Willis is a contemporary African-American artist, photographer, and educator. She is currently Professor of Photography and Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts of New York University. She has also taught a seminar entitled “Beauty Matters” at Harvard University. Willis has pursued a dual professional career as an art photographer and as one of the nation’s leading historians of African American photography. She has also curated multiple exhibitions promoting African-American culture and heritage. Read more

Phil Toledano: Jester of the Mundane


Below is a back and forth between NY Florence students Batel Mann (who conducted the interview) and Kira Boden-Gologorsky (who filmed and edited the interview) regarding their impressions and opinions of Phil Toledano both in person and as an artist. Batel is in bold and Kira is in standard.

I was sitting on the couch with my legs crossed, nervously waiting. Considering I’d had no previous experience in interviewing, I was a bit nervous and wondered why I’d volunteered to do this in the first place.  I hastily took a breath and reminded myself that this was too great of an opportunity to pass up. As an aspiring filmmaker, both the conceptual and aesthetic qualities of Phil Toledano’s art fascinated me, and I couldn’t wait to pick his brain and find out where all of this creation comes from.

He approached 15 minutes late, shoulders slightly stooped as he walked up the pebble path to Villa Sassetti on the NYU Florence campus. I stood between the two cameras I had set up facing the couch, Batel seated on the right nervously fiddling with her fingers and adjusting her shirt.

“Sorry I’m an ass. I thought the interview was at 5:30!”

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Issa Touma wins the British Film Institute Award for Best Short Film

Congratulations to Syrian photographer Issa Touma for winning the British Film Institute’s 2016 Award for Best Short Film for his ‘9 Days – From My Window in Aleppo’. The film chronicles the start of the Syrian uprising in the city of Aleppo. Entirely shot from his bedroom window over the course of nine days, he presents an unparalleled, unprecedented angle of this war.

Jury president Mat Kirkby said: “Not only does his documentary show what one person, one camera and a restricted view of an alleyway can do to reveal something as complex, confusing, and terrifying as a civil war, but also it demonstrates the power of film to reach the wider world, and make those of us more fortunate re-assess the freedom we take for granted.”

The film has just recently received a nomination for a European Film Award. 

Check out the film’s trailer here:

Touma joined us for the Dialogue ‘Art in a War Zone: Everyday Life in Syria‘ in Fall 2015. Read this post about the Le Pont Organization, which Touma founded, by Yasmyn Camp (LPD ’15) ‘Art in a War Zone’ and this essay by Ismail Ibrahim (LPD ’15) ‘The Power of a Photo‘.  And you can see the video of Touma’s dialogue with us on the Dialogue page.

Congratulations Issa!

Alessandro Penso

The upcoming dialogue on April 18th, The Lost Generation, will discuss the numerous phases of the European welcome of refugees as documented by photographer Alessandro Penso. Penso studied clinical psychology at Rome’s La Sapienza University and photojournalism at the Scuola Romana di Fotografia. His deep dedication to social issues is reflected in his decision to focus on the issue of immigration in the Mediterranean in recent years. Penso’s experience witnessing an attack on a group of migrants in Corinth, Greece when young man, Mostafa, was hit by a car has continued to motivate him to redouble his efforts in raising awareness and combating the issue of injustice at Europe’s margins.

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R2X Guest Spotlight #3: Elliott Brown Jr.

Elliott Brown Jr. is currently a senior at NYU Tisch and a visual artist living and working in Brooklyn, New York.

Here’s how he introduces his work:

“My name is Elliott Brown Jr. and I’m a visual artist. My photography attests to the breadth and complexity of Blackness by explicating the internal and external forces that create it. My work specifically considers the intersection between Blackness and homosexuality. With an understanding of how identities are socialized and performed, my work grapples with notions of privacy as they are informed by public and political discourses. Using self-portraiture as my foremost medium, I create a point of entry for the queer identity into historical and contemporary productions of Blackness. My current series visualizes a racial discourse within interracial intimacies. Focusing on my relationships with white men, I’m looking at the space where desire becomes political; what social parameters inform desire? In what ways have I sought to be fulfilled and validated by these relationships? Likewise, how have I been desired by these men?  By subverting traditional understandings of power dynamics, this work communicates the disturbances that can appear in these relationships. ” – Black Punk, see article here Read more

Rocco Rorandelli Interview with NYU Florence student Michelle Deme

NYU Florence’s Michelle Deme interviews Rocco Rorandelli, documentary photographer and founder of the TerraProject Collective.  Rorandelli’s “drone’s eye view” of the refugee trail in Europe has brought an interesting perspective and contribution to the crisis’ coverage.  His work is one of many in La Pietra Dialogues’ The Migration Crisis in Europe Through Images series, curated by NYU Florence professor and professional photographer Alessandra Capodacqua.

Migration From a Bird’s Eye View: A Reflection

I own a camera and can barely make it function. I have often daydreamed about becoming a famous photographer (emphasis on “dream” because of my complete lack of artistic ability). I love the idea of telling a story through photographs, which is why Rocco Rorandelli’s talk, The Refugee Trail, at New York University Florence was so inspiring.

Rorandelli’s presentation was the first of a three-dialogue documentary photography series, The Migration Crisis in Europe Through Images (Alessandro Penso will speak on April 18 and Henk Wildschut on April 27). Rorandelli’s work has been featured in publications such as Le Monde Magazine, the Wall Street Journal and Vanity Fair. The most interesting thing about him is that he found success as a photographer and never had any formal training as one – he got his doctorate in biology.

This particular collection documents the refugee crisis through aerial photographs, taken with a camera placed on a drone. Rorandelli traveled the path from Greece to Germany that so many of these migrants have walked before, crossing borders at Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia. He had to obtain permission to use his drone from these countries’ governments, and it was not always granted to him (in these cases he snuck away from the military personnel and used it anyway).

Something Rorandelli said about human communication really stuck with me: “The first thing we look for (are) eyes.” In these pictures, “we aren’t seeing eyes.” The people he photographed are very real, but his camera’s point of view dehumanizes them. Rorandelli chose to photograph from above because he wanted to take a unique approach to a subject that has been already been documented. The people in his photographs become part of a collective story, rather than having their own. To the viewer, they are groups traipsing through mud or walking on a litter-strewn road, not faces or personalities. In a few rare cases people stare up at the sky, intrigued by the drone snapping pictures above them. Only then do we see their eyes, and we are left questioning who they are.

Documentary Photography as a Powerful Form of Social Activism

In 2015 alone more than one million refugees and migrants fleeing conflicts and poverty across the Middle East and Africa entered into Europe. This has provoked an immigration crisis as European countries attempt to cope with the influx of people. For many of us, this may be just an abstract concept discussed by news outlets, but the aim of the upcoming dialogue series, entitled The Migration Crisis in Europe Through Images, hosted by La Pietra Dialogues, is to present the crisis through the lens of documentary photography and to put human faces on the issue. Three visiting photographers have traced the long, and often dangerous, journey of the people who brave many miles and obstacles to actualize their GOAL OF of reaching safe sanctuary. They will talk about their work and share their experiences with students and other guests.

The first speaker, Rocco Rorandelli, began with documentary photography after his doctoral studies in biology, which helped to influence his interest in global, social, and environmental issues. His work has been presented in awareness campaigns run by both intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations, as well as certain international magazines such as Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal. Rorandelli wanted to try a new approach to documenting the migrants’ journey, so he turned to aerial photography in an attempt to portray the crisis as a phenomenon rather than to tell the stories of individuals. This dialogue, The Refugee Trail, is taking place in Villa Sassetti on February 11th at 6:00 pm.

The next speaker in the series is Alessandro Penso who has spent his photography career deeply committed to social issues. His portfolio includes work on the conditions of detention centers in Malta, migrant workers in the agricultural sector of the Italian South, and, most recently, the immigration issue in the Mediterranean. Penso is acutely aware that complicated economic and social conditions in the Mediterranean region provide an environment where for cultural closure, xenophobia and violence can exist. He has won several awards for his photos, including TIME Magazine’s Pick for Photo Story of the Year. Penso’s dialogue, Lost Generation, will be on April 18th at 6:00 pm in Villa Sassetti.

The last speaker of the series is Henk Wildschut, a Dutch photographer whose work is often distant and contemplative in nature. This is meant to create an image of monumentality and balance and to provoke further contemplation upon the part of the viewer. His work has been displayed all over the world, as well as in Dutch and international magazines. In 2005, Wildschut began a project focused on European immigration. This resulted in both a film and an award-winning book. After taking on various other projects, Wildschut has returned to the subject of immigration by focusing on a refugee camp in Calais. This work will result in an exhibit at the museum Foam in Amsterdam in 2016. His dialogue, entitled Shelter, will take place on April 27th at 6:00 pm in Villa Sassetti.

A Guide to the Creative Process As Seen Through “Alone Together”

Does creativity strike like lightning, a blaze of inspiration? Or is it a process that draws from one’s experiences: a reaction to a collection of memories and situations?

As Martino Marangoni explained his approach to the creative process in an interview about his photography book Alone Together, I gathered that although inspiration is spontaneous -similar to a strike of lightning- creativity is a process that requires time, patience, and an innate curiosity for something.

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