Anna Orlowska


Wschód Gallery & The Polish National Film School, Łódź

In Beauty in Photography: Essays in Defence of Traditional Values (2005) Robert Adams writes: ‘Beauty, whether in nature or mirrored in art, can itself be painful.’ ‘Futerał’ is a beautiful word. A word which you can’t translate into another language. A word with an existence profoundly tied to its own narrative, a meaning so deeply rooted in its geographical context. And, as exemplified by Agnieszka Tarasiuk’s introduction to Polish artist Anna Orłowska’s eponymous book it is also a word that invites an extensive essay to explore it.

Futerał (translated as ‘the case’ in English by Tarasiuk), in an inevitable and necessary act of surrender, presents the previously untold story of the former splendour and magnificence – and dubious paths of rebirth – of traditional aristocratic Polish palaces. Symbols of a traumatic national history from the past century, these architectural structures are embedded in the artist’s childhood memory just as much as Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle is in the memories of western girls and women. Seized from their owners during the Communist nationalisation campaigns which occurred throughout the Eastern Bloc after World War II, today these fairylike wonders are repurposed as luxury hotels, private and public offices and amusement parks. They are then saved from – or deprived of – their quiet journey to oblivion. Here, as if hibernating, the dungeons where the servitude was confined are still hidden from the public, tasteful flower bouquets have been arranged for visitors to admire and, of course, photograph. The glories of the past are enveloped in new businesses and marketing needs. As Soundwalk Collective’s Stephan Crasneanscki once stated in conversation with Sasha Waltz vis his compositions based on field recordings collected at various similar sites: ‘Each of these buildings is made of multiple layers of history, sleeping layers, each one with their own narrative. Through the act of recording and re-composing we have re-awoken these narratives and memories that were left behind by their inhabitants, and held tightly inside the walls of these buildings.’

Futerał is a beautiful book. A visual poem, carefully and finely produced in all its parts – from the unquestionable quality of Orłowska’s photographs to the delicate design, from the enriching writing to the fine local printing. It leads us into a controversial, yet bewitching and amusing, journey through old and new relics of Polish history, providing us with a unique, and little-known perspective. One to be passed on and preserved. For these fairylike palaces are mute witnesses to both the brightest and darkest human vicissitudes of our time.

Ilaria Speri

All images courtesy of the artist, Wschód Gallery and the National Film School, Łódź. © Anna Orłowska

1000 Words

City Guides

#3 Milan

Fondazione Prada Osservatorio
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
20121, Milan
+39 02 5666 2611

In the middle of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, next to the Duomo, take a lift up to the fifth floor, and you will find yourself at Fondazione Prada Osservatorio, Prada’s stunning new exhibition space dedicated to contemporary photography. Extended across two floors, and providing an alternative view of Giuseppe Mengoni’s iconic glass and iron dome, Osservatorio is committed to investigating the evolution of the medium, whilst exploring the cultural and social implications of today’s photographic production. Since the space was inaugurated in December 2016 by Francesco Zanot’s curated group show Give Me Yesterday, Osservatorio has hosted a range of significant exhibitions, including Satoshi Fujiwara’s EU (2017), Stefano Graziani’s Questioning Pictures (2017–18) and, most recently, Torbjørn Rødland’s The Touch That Made You (2018).

Via Medardo Rosso 19
20159 Milan
+39 02 4548 1569

Born as a bookstore in 2003, MiCamera has since established itself as a leading cultural platform, continually evolving and widening its in audience in Italy and abroad under the guidance of Giulia Zorzi. Whilst the venue, situated in the lively neighbourhood of Isola, acts as a meeting point for both professionals and enthusiasts by offering a rich programme of talks, workshops and exhibitions, MiCamera is also active internationally, through its assiduous participation at fairs and festivals, as well as its collaborations with publishers such as Nazraeli Press and Trolley Books. More recently, the association has turned its eye towards the moving image and graphic design, with the launch of the platforms MiCamera in Movimento and Signs and Lines.

Museo di Fotografia Contemporanea (MuFoCo)
Villa Ghirlanda
Via Frova 10
20092 Cinisello Balsamo, Milan
+39 02 660 5661

Located in the 17th century Villa Ghirlanda in the town of Cinisello Balsamo, northeast of the Milan city centre, the MuFoCo is the only public museum in Italy dedicated to contemporary photography. Active since 2004, it hosts a photographic library of 15,000 books, along with a vast patrimony of photographic collections, both of which form the core of the museum’s educational programme. With the recent partnership with La Triennale di Milano, and a new scientific committee directed by Giovanna Calvenzi, the institution has taken on a brand new direction. As outlined by curator Matteo Balduzzi, this institution seeks to promote its archival heritage through specific research projects, integrate the works of emerging artists within the museum’s collections, and develop new collaborative projects involving external curators and artists.

Nowhere Gallery
Via del Caravaggio 14
20144 Milan
+39 329 215 3299

Founded in 2001, Nowhere Gallery was born as a nomadic project dedicated to researching, scouting and promoting emerging artists who seek to challenge the boundaries of traditional photography. Currently located in the neighbourhood of Solari, the intimate gallery space serves as a curatorial chamber; showcasing projects specifically conceived for the venue, exhibitions are a result of a dialogue between gallerist Orio Vergani and the selected artists. Recent shows have presented the experimental works of Martina Corà, Fabrizio Vatieri, Beyond Beyond and Matteo Gatti, practitioners who are actively reshaping the Italian photographic scene with their radical perspectives.

Via Giacomo Leopardi 32
20123 Milan +39 02 3672 537

Named after an imaginary street invented by Italian writer Dino Buzzati, Viasaterna opened in 2015 in a magnificent Milanese building dating from the 19th century. For the first two years of its activity, founder Irene Crocco assigned the gallery’s programme to the curatorial group Fantom, organising both solo and group shows exploring new trajectories of photography, with a particular focus on the Italian scene. Besides promoting the work of its represented artists through shows, fairs and publications, the gallery is now carrying out ever more experimental methods of art production and display, with the organisation of site-specific residencies, among which those made for Manifesta 12 Palermo, and original exhibition formats, such as the one-year project Milan Unit (1994–2009) by Ramak Fazel.

Ilaria Speri

Image: Ryan McGinley, Jake (Floor), 2004; Tim Falling, 2003; Dakota (Hair), 2004. View of the exhibition Give Me Yesterday at Fondazione Prada Osservatorio Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan, 2016–17. Photo: Delfino Sisto Legnani and Marco Cappelletti. Courtesy: Fondazione Prada

Talia Chetrit



Released in January 2019, Showcaller is the first monograph of New York-based artist Talia Chetrit. Published by MACK, the book was conceived, edited and designed by the artist following her retrospective exhibition at the Kölnischer Kunstverein, Germany, in early 2018. The volume retraces the artist’s production over a 24-year period, starting from her beginnings in the early 90s.

Though individual series can be recognised within the flow of the pages – candid shots of herself and her friends as teens during the years sexual discovery, bizarre staged crime scenes, family portraits, remote cut-outs of busy New York streets, along with excerpts from fashion campaigns – Talia Chetrit has deprived them of any temporal connotations in the process of editing. Instead it is driven by the purpose of re-examining her own archive from a present-day vantage point. Relics of the past are introduced in the sequence, even assigned a new date of birth – a short circuit, which highlights how the context in which images are presented is fundamental for understanding their constantly mutating meaning. Some of them were not even intended to go public at the time of their creation.

The artist has gradually taken control over the medium – a gesture marked by the frequent presence of the camera’s remote control held firmly in her hand – first exploring, then stretching the power structures underlying our perception of sexuality and nude throughout art history. As the theatrical term Showcaller suggests, the staging of a scene and the presence of an actor are at the core of Chetrit’s method. Here photography is conceived as an act of performance, where the relationship between photographer, subject and viewer is continuously challenged. By placing herself in front of the camera, Chetrit offers us a complicit and welcoming perspective on her intimacies, one in which no room is left for embarrassment.

While appreciating the genuine sexiness of Chetrit’s photographs, we are forced to reflect upon the urge for privacy we experience in our daily lives, a deeply arguable and contradictory one as it is usually determined by the “community guidelines” of social media. Malice is in the eye of the beholder, and the same applies to beauty. With this book, Chetrit generously allows us to admire our absurd, sensual and beautifully grotesque human body in plain sight, celebrating explicitness in its most elegant and poetic form.

Ilaria Speri

All images courtesy of the artist and MACK. © Talia Chetrit

Alba Zari

The Y

Essay by Ilaria Speri

The most disconcerting photographic moment in my life dates back to five years ago. My 87-year old grandmother was experiencing – we did not yet know – an early stage of senile dementia. One day I stepped in her apartment and I noticed that the armchair in her living room was surprisingly occupied, albeit with a black and white portrait of my grandfather, the one, which had been sitting on the television since his passing, was nicely accommodated onto it. A blanket covered him up to his nose, so that he could breathe, and a pillow softly held his head. She had literally put him to bed. From then on, any printed or moving image would become so ‘real’ to her, that in a few months she could no longer see the difference between a person and its reproduction – images had taken over.
Photographs are known to be an ideal means for building and preserving memories. Their power over our perception of the world is immeasurable. They provide strangers with an identity, and they help us remember those who have left. They comfort us in the blank spaces of someone’s absence – when we remember, or when we wait. They are proof of our existence. Among many other reasons, this is what makes humanity’s bond with photographs umbilical. We can’t do without them. And if this wasn’t enough, they are always available.

The Internet and new digital technologies have shifted immensely the ways in which we represent ourselves, multiplied by our existence on the web. Allowing us – by ‘simple’ means of images and coding – to bring back the dead with strikingly reliable results. A significant example, among others, is Cécile B. Evans’s video piece Hyperlinks Or It Didn’t Happen (2014), a poetic monologue on consciousness and personal data narrated by a digital copy of deceased actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, populated by spam bots, holograms, and rendered ghosts. Proof that the distance between the real and the virtual is wearing thinner and thinner.

Picture this. What if you were to track down the image of a person you know exists, but never met? This is what Alba Zari, born in Bangok in 1987, started thinking after January 4th, 2014, when she found out that the man appointed in her memories as her father was not, as a matter of fact, her biological parent. An unexpected revelation made by her brother, with whom she was sure to share Thai biological origins. A DNA test confirmed the fact with an unquestionable 0% match. Zari was confronted with the sudden disruption of her identity and sense of belonging. She decided to assume the role of a detective, and started the private investigation that she conveyed in her project The Y, a title referring to the male chromosome of human DNA. What emerges is a medical-cum-conceptual visual report, which brings to the surface some of the most interesting features that make photography such a uniquely fascinating language.

Despite the autobiographical premise, the project is marked by an infrequent – as much as remarkable – capability of the artist not to take control over her own story. She leaves room for the puzzle to come together through attempts, failures and discoveries, rather than imposing an unnecessary – as much as painful, as the artist specified in a previous conversation – dressing of emotional involvement and storytelling. As a result, the series pays homage to a long history of medical and forensic photography, and of its transformation into artistic processes – from Duchenne de Boulogne and Adrien Tournachon’s famous electrophysiology experiments, up to Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel’s pioneering photo-book Evidence (1977). Travelling the world both physically and virtually, from Thailand to the United States to YouTube, Alba Zari’s work merges scientific reports, archival images, film negatives, personal relics, mugshot portraiture and 3D facial construction.

Once Zari obtained her birth certificate, she reached out to the man who had signed it, who, following colossal searches on the Internet, turned out to be homeless person living in Santa Barbara, California. In the series, the man appears next to her putative father and brother in sequences of 360° portraits – the kind used to determine facial traits in digital imaging. At the end of the journey, all she knew – and currently knows – is that her father’s name was Massad, and that he used to work for the Emirates Airlines. She analysed her family album, painting over a no-longer reliable fatherly figure, before turning to the process of exclusion deployed in physiognomic studies, a test based on her mother and grandmother’s traits as well on her own. Highlighted in a large-format self-mugshot, it quite clearly revealed that her nose, mouth and eyes bear a striking resemblance to those belonging to Massad. However, she hadn’t yet been able to find anything close to an image of the man himself.

Zari’s ultimate attempt sees the use of Make A Human, a software usually employed to design avatars in digital animation. Here, she created a digital identikit by applying her facial traits – those belonging to her father’s side – to a neutral digital model. In visual terms, what is most interesting about the renderings that today’s software can provide – as pointed out by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin in their unsettling series Spirit is a Bone (2015) – is that despite their plausibility they are designed to look straightforward. From every angle we look at them, their gaze bypasses us, pointing towards another dimension – one we have no access to. The complete absence of interaction, of human interconnections, marks the occurrence of a major transition in the notion of portrait itself, one which will no doubt require further explorations in the future.

Eventually, the project reaches an end with the nearest visualisation of the man the artist could achieve – an avatar of his presumed face. Only the web may still represent a lifeline for soon the 3D portrait will be released online and spread worldwide in a global open call to help with the ongoing process of identification. The results are unpredictable. In the artist’s words, the rest is about life.

All images courtesy of the artist. © Alba Zari

The Y is curated by Francesca Seravalle as part of a fellowship at Fabrica – The Communication Research Centre of the Benetton Group.

Ilaria Speri carries out research, curation and production for exhibitions and publications. Since 2013 she has been part of Fantom, a curatorial group dedicated to photography, visual and sound arts. A correspondent at Il Giornale dell’Arte, she writes for magazines and artists books, and has collaborated with publishers such as MACKHumboldt BooksSkinnerboox and Skira. She taught History of Photography at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna from 2014-17 before taking up the role of Curatorial Coordinator at Fotopub festival (Novo Mesto, Slovenia), for which she curated the first solo show of the collective Live Wild in 2016.

Mar Sáez

Vera y Victoria

André Frère Éditions

Please meet Vera and Victoria – two young women in their twenties; wearing jeans, sneakers, piercings, peeling nail polish of different colours from finger to finger. Two young women in love, the lucky ones.

From the very first glance at Mar Sáez’s book with André Frère Éditions, it is hard not to notice how fearless, how proud they were to open the door of their cosy home and welcome the photographer, allowing her silent presence to unveil their life, their naked bodies, their love. Year after year, page after page, depicting the most intimate and tender of their daily gestures. It is only on the midway of the book that we are faced with the nature of their intimate parts. Just one photograph, a bee in the viewer’s bonnet. How does it affect our reading of their story? Here, absorbed by the proudness of Vera and Victoria’s forward-looking gaze, we can barely grasp the difficulties which underlie any relationship experience involving issues of gender.

Back in the 1950s, in Paris, Swedish photographer Christer Strömholm decided to join the transgender community, universally maltreated and marginalised. He photographed those who were struggling for the recognition of their individuality, and he did it from the very inside, by first earning their trust and friendship. Never intrusive or voyeuristic, his photographs – gathered in the ground-breaking 1983 publication Les Amies de Place Blanche – paved the way for a deeper, empathic way of depicting human differences.

Such is the intent of the Spanish photographer Mar Sáez, whose photographic research pursues the goal of portraying the act of becoming one’s true self by describing real life in its sublime complexity. Spanning four years of work, the book is divided into episodes, representative of the photographer’s encounters with the couple, each one completed with a poetic text by Spanish writer Laura Moreno.

The tenderness and empathy suggested by the photographs invites us to embrace the beautiful normality of the two women’s relationship, one which they achieved bravely, and share proudly with their witnesses, be it the photographer or anyone who may encounter this book – a diary which is no longer secret, and which shall not have a reason to be.

Ilaria Speri

Images courtesy of The Institute. © Mar Sáez