Recomposed Through a Plastic Lens: Subtracting Density From the Eternal City
This photographic series shot on film is a study that seeks to recompose and reorder the Eternal City in an effort to create a sense of breath where none exists. While the piazze abound in Rome, there are few places to rest, reflect, and recharge. The density is such that there are few public parks in Rome: pocket or sprawling. By exposing film multiple times while shooting with custom made masking devices in the camera, I subtract urban density; finding splices and slices of negative space.
My two experiences of Rome have been characterized by the sheer volume of human density. My first visit in the summer of 1982, Italy played West Germany in the World Cup. Projection screens were erected in every piazza thick with spectators, throngs of fans covered every inch of pedestrian space. When Italy won, the city erupted in a celebration the likes of which this suburban, middle-school girl had never seen. Grandmothers cheering in windows, people hanging out of buses, buildings festooned with waving flags. We were in a crush of people; elbow to elbow with this exuberant population. It is a spectacular memory.
On my second visit in the fall of 2011, I lived at Piazza Sant' Andrea della Valle while teaching in the Rome Program at the Tulane School of Architecture. Despite the downturn in the global economy, tourists were flocking to Italy. Again, the city was active with a human density that I had not encountered in a decade of living in New York City. The sidewalks, and vicoli in particular, were difficult to navigate given the tour groups moving at a glacial speed, motorini, cars, small buses, and bicycles all vying for the same space. The walk back and forth from the apartment to Piazza del Collegio Romano several times a day was an exercise in patience as I attempted to dodge these variables while trying not to trip on cobblestones.
Where does the permanent resident find their breath in such an intense urban condition? Where does the city dweller rest their gaze to recharge? I found myself asking these questions and was startled to find the answer in the work I was making at the time. In the photographs I was composing, I found a striking sense of negative space, or what I call silence. Through the viewfinder, my eye was avoiding movement, noise, and crowds, and instead seeking solace and stillness.
Four series are presented here in color were all shot using masking devices: (1) Subtracting Density, (2) Built Form Meets Sky, (3) Notations of Shifting Light (Morning, Noon, Late Afternoon), (4) A Study of Umbrella Pines, Villa Borghese. The series in black and white, Celebrated Italians, Pincio Gardens, was shot using overlapping frames.