Cesare Fabbri, The Flying Carpet: the lightness of a photography done ‘on foot’

by Marina Spunta

Cesare Fabbri (Ravenna, 1971) studied urban planning and photography at the IUAV in Venice and has taught alongside Guido Guidi at various institutions. Since 2000 he has engaged with photographic research, working mostly in the area around Ravenna and in Sardinia. In 2009 he founded with Silvia Loddo the ‘Osservatorio fotografico’, an experimental platform dedicated to promoting contemporary photography. He has exhibited his work most recently at the Foundation A. Stichting in Brussels (2017) and he is currently exhibiting at Large Glass for Photo London 2017 and at the Italian Cultural Institute, May 18-21. The Flying Carpet’ (MACK, 2017) is his first main publication.

The Flying Carpet is a collection of 60 colour and black & white photographs taken from 2005 to 2015 in Romagna and in Sardinia. The photographs portray bizarre, suspended images and invite the viewer to turn their attention to a world of discarded objects and non-descript places, in Fabbri’s words ‘to see for the first time something that was right before our eyes’. In the book’s postface Cesare acknowledges his debt to Cristina Campo’s ‘Il tappeto volante’ (Gli Imperdonabili, 1987) for the title metaphor and for suggesting that only by starting from the everyday our imagination can take off, ‘svolazzare’, namely flying here and there, in a ‘flight of fancy’ which these photographs encourage. This playful game of imagination echoes Luigi Ghirri’s lesson of lesson of photography as a means of learning afresh how to see with child-like wonder; indeed, as Cesare reveals in conversation, it was Ghirri’s collection of essays Niente di antico sotto il sole (1997), which also included a wide selection of his photographs, that ‘offered me a valuable starting point, both theoretically and practically, presenting me with a type of photographic practice that I could both observe and try out myself’.

Cesare Fabbri 4 copia

Cesare Fabbri 9 copiaFollowing the example of Ghirri and other of his contemporaries, Cesare’s photography builds on a fruitful exchange both with the photographic tradition within Italy and beyond and with other arts and disciplines, from literature to urban planning. In particular urban planning, which Cesare studied in Venice with Bernardo Secchi, provides him with a method for his own photographic practice. As Cesare told me in conversation, ‘Secchi used to say that urban planning is done on foot. […] It is thanks to his courses that I have developed a greater curiosity about the places where I live – an approach that I have continued in my own photographic practice. At first I thought that this slow approach would be a waste of time but then I realised that it was a precious lesson: getting to know in depth a place that you photograph, its history and geography, by talking to the people who live there and by discovering how things react to light in different seasons, is like increasing the tonal range you have at your disposal’. A similar lesson Cesare also learnt from his decade-long collaboration with Guido Guidi, who has taught him a practice of ‘slow gaze’ and a patient return to the same places. Despite being a digital ‘native’, by choosing to work with a large-format camera, Cesare inscribes himself within the photographic tradition established by Guidi, and, before him, by early American photographers.

Cesare Fabbri 9 copiaAnother interartistic dialogue that underpins Cesare’s photography and locates it generationally is that with the graphic novels and political satire magazines which stemmed from the Bologna counterculture movements of the late 1970s and 1980s. As Cesare acknowledged, the graphic novel taught him to see things more attentively thanks to its emphasis on detail and its amplification, with the aim of boosting comical or satirical aspects. Similarly, photography can blow up an object or a detail, sometimes with comical or even grotesque effects, in order to make the viewer smile or appreciate what is in front of their eyes in a different light. For Cesare ‘this lightness, this capacity to see things with a child-like wonder is an intrinsic aspect of photography, in its turning a three-dimensional reality onto a bi-dimensional plane’.

This text is based on email conversations with Cesare Fabbri and on a live dialogue between Cesare Fabbri, Marina Spunta and Michael Mack at the Italian Cultural Institute in London on 20 March 2017. ‘The Flying Carpet’ by Cesare Fabbri is published by MACK.


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