Shades of Sicily: John Riddy’s photographs of Palermo
please note this post is not by Jay Clapp Photography but from the photography news at the guardian for your viewing pleasure please feel free to use the share buttons at the bottom.
Riddy’s work is nuanced and enigmatic: his images of underpopulated Sicily are magical, wretched and unforgettable
John Riddy opens up the world and he hems you in. His black and white photographs of Palermo in Sicily, now at London’s Frith Street Gallery, are filled with endless detail. No painting could record so much and with such clarity; no eye could take it all in. You’d go mad thinking about it all.
Each photograph is a lexicon of light and dark, rubbish and dirt, patched-up stucco and rotting stone. And every day, every moment, is different. The streets are swept and more rubbish gets strewn about. New graffiti is sprayed over old. Lights go on and off, shutters are raised and lowered, chairs appear outside doorways and are brought back in again. The cars parked on the street are different from the ones that were here yesterday. Why photograph this day and not the next? The light wasn’t the same. On New Year’s Day in 2012 the streets are empty. Only the Afghan grocers have their shutters up on a street called Carmine. It rained last night, while Palermo was celebrating. In the distance, one street lamp is still on, its light as white as the sky reflected in the puddles.
For three years, Riddy has been visiting Palermo in autumn and winter, mostly walking and looking and snapping things with his iPhone, only deciding what to return to much later, with his big digital camera and his high-vis jacket. People mistake him for a surveyor, which in a way I suppose he is. He keeps going back to the same spots again and again. Ducking in and out of the fascist-era post office, the Palazzo Delle Poste, he wants to take a photograph but doesn’t find an image. Who knows what goes on in the photographer’s mind. One day he encounters a dog in the post office, sleeping against a marble wall on a cool stone floor. And that’s what he photographs – the striations in the marble and the texture of the sleeping dog’s fur.
There’s a place next to a church by the sea where workers set up a makeshift barbecue and locals hang out and eat fish. Instead of photographing them, Riddy visits when there is no one there, nothing to record except the emptiness of the place itself. There’s a silver car parked across the street. If it had been black, Riddy told me, the photograph wouldn’t have worked.
Riddy takes perhaps one photograph, whose exposure might be half a second or half an hour. If his photographs have anything to do with Cartier-Bresson‘s “decisive moment”, it is a moment that has taken months and several visits to present itself. It is the moment when everything seems alive but precisely nothing is happening.
We stand and look at the Panificio Morello, with its sheet for an awning, sheltering a box of dried fish, and the little table beside it with piles of olives. More can be seen through the window behind. We have arrived just as the bead curtain at the entrance flails, because someone has just passed into the shop. The curtain is still in motion and will always be like that in Riddy’s image. We will never see who has entered. The decrepit building stares back at us blankly, observing its own Omerta, the Sicilian code of silence.
The parted bead curtain is the most vivid sign of human presence and movement in this entire group of strangely unpopulated photographs. But at the far end of the harbour, just where a sunlit wall turns a corner and where huge higgledy-piggledy blocks of stone or concrete have been dumped in the sea to prevent erosion, there is a fisherman, his rod propped against one of these cubes, the most solid and three-dimensional thing in the image. You can just see the man, leaning over in the shadows. Maybe he’s cutting up bait or unhooking a fish. My eye seeks him out. In another photograph, taken from a corner on the Via Fiammetta, a woman stands on a distant balcony talking on a mobile phone. Maybe someone called her while she was bringing the laundry in, or perhaps it was a call she wanted no one else to hear.
My eye seeks out these tiny incidental human inscriptions. Somehow it matters that the woman is there, so small and distant, and unaware of the man with the camera down on the corner. Maybe Riddy didn’t see her either, till much later back in his studio, as he studied this marvellously textured image. Who knows how often we find ourselves in other people’s pictures and other people’s stories? This sort of intrigue happens everywhere, looking and being looked at, being noticed and being passed over. Mostly we disappear into a sort of oblivion.
You could just look at these photographs for their masses of darkness and their perspectives, their gradations of tone and sudden lights, their pale skies and the visual cacophony of Palermo. Or you could think about John Riddy, patrolling the city, returning to the same places day after day till the time is right. Or when nothing presents itself, opening up a space for us to enter the image as if it were an empty stage. He visits a building in the 19th-century Giardini Inglesi, where he has also photographed a giant Indian Ficus tree. He waits for the sunlight to make its way in and illuminate a marble sculpture of two men in a boat, who drift through the days and nights in the gloom. There’s graffiti scribbled over the sculpture and on the wall behind: felt-tip wounds on one man’s chest, the name LILI on the stem of their little barque. They look surprised and lost. Somehow the scene is magical and wretched.
Do I imagine myself in these streets, faced with an alley I might or might not take? Sitting with the catalogue beside me, I realise how lacking the images in the book are compared to the larger prints made by Riddy in his studio and framed on the gallery wall. It isn’t just a matter of scale. The extreme clarity, the depth of field, and something of the light is missing. They look like pictures of photographs, and too much nuance and detail is lost.
Sometimes when I am writing and looking at books of photographs on the table beside me, the voice in my head that dictates the words becomes insufferable and I have to leave my room and walk in the street. And the images I have been studying come with me and infect the things I see. I begin looking for an empty corner, festoons of electrical cabling traversing a crumbling wall, and seagulls waiting to launch themselves from a balcony railing, just like Palermo. My eye seeks out poor imitations of what the camera has recorded. The camera sees more than anyone.
via Art and design: Photography | guardian.co.uk http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2013/apr/24/john-riddy-photographs-palermo Adrian Searle Thanks for reading Jay
Posted on April 24, 2013, in Photography News and tagged Adrian Searle, Art and design: Photography | guardian.co.uk, arts, guardian, IFTTT, info, information, journal, news, newspaper, photo, photography. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.