Cortona on the move 2020. The Covid-19 visual project – Photography as memory of history

Dalla serie Silenzio © Edoardo Delille
by Azzurra Immediato

The 2020 edition will focus on the future and how the human being,
science and technology interact in its creation.

This is how the statement of Cortona On The Move read a few months ago, waiting for summer to bring the tenth edition of the Tuscan festival dedicated to travel photography. Then, suddenly, everything changed: the world was no longer moving, but oxymoronically immobile in a race against time and against an invisible enemy, the Covid-19. An event that in a few weeks has swept the entire globe, wiping out those few certainties which had become protagonists of the 2000s. “We are living history” says photographer Francesco Faraci.

And how will we tell this story to those who come after us? We have learned everything we know from the past: from history books, from art and literature books – since the History of Art coincides with the History of humanity – and from the gaze of those who lived in the past and, through words and images, were able to give us back a ‘memory archive’, either familiar or collective: a letter, an object, a photograph.

At the cemetery a priest blessing coffins just arrived from Bergamo. The Italian Army has been brought in to ferry coffins out of Bergamo, amongst Italy’s most plagued towns, as its morgue and its crematorium struggle to cope with the surging coronavirus death toll. Along with other Northern cities mayors, Alessandro Canelli offered support to the city of Bergamo. Novara, Italy, 2020, from the series Covid on scene © Alex Majoli/Magnum Photos

Many have compared the outburst of the Coronavirus to a world war; of course, reason tells us that this is not the case at all, that only a few of us have seen hell; those who lived in territories of war or other terrible calamities have seen their suffering worsened, many of us, instead, during the pandemic learnt how to use platforms for web meetings. In the middle, in that deep abyss wide open between those who have continued to live in the nightmare of existence and those who have experienced everything as a pause, millions of others have felt the earth crumble under their feet, have seen their lives going down the drain, their daily lives, the foothold of their own being, of their “normalcy”. They found that what they thought was obvious, known, suddenly took on an extreme and uncontrollable fragility.

The fear of an invisible enemy blocked a vital flow already sadly marked by a high number of deaths. Yet, while as under a bad spell, much of the planet lay in quarantine, while the economic crisis undermined the entire system on which, for two centuries, we have founded our modus vivendi, Art has responded as always does who, in moments of loud celebrations is put in a corner and, when the rest is chaos, finds its voice. Art has found its own parallel way, of which it is experimenting with the limits but also the novelties and is found face to face with the eternal frenemy: photography.

The Royal Exchange is the heart of the financial district of London called simply The City. Founded in 1571, it was the main marketplace for traders in every commodity although for a century or so the new “stockbrokers” were excluded for their juvenile and uncouth behaviour. During the Great Plague of 1665, where the disease was thought to transmit through “miasmas”, huge bonfires were lit at The Exchange’s doors to draw out the diseased air and dump it, presumably, onto the street and its pedestrians. From the series Lost Capital © Simon Norfolk

In the future, we will tell the present through a past crystallized in a photo. In a two-dimensional space, with a precise size, we will condense everything that each of us has tried in these long months into one shot, a visual metaphor of what, perhaps, we would not have been able to say or read better. The words will come later, since, every day of the quarantine there were too many or too few, like they were gone crazy. Not Photographs. One shot, One life.

And it will be like showing family photo albums, like doing a research through an archive or looking at reality from one’s own reality, experiencing the perception of the space photographed within one’s own space, physical or interior. Because, yes, the time will come when Covid-19 will be “just” a bad memory, something to tell about and we will feel the need to show it, not because it will have made us better, united – I would ban sterile rhetoric – but because it will have marked the end of something we weren’t ready for, that we weren’t able to react to and that, just looking at one shot, maybe it will teach us about the big mistakes we made.

When can we say we are out of it? When will we be safe? Science tells us that the human body needs a vaccine against a virus epidemic; science is looking into it, with the known difficulties that we hear in the press. And it is now that we feel the need to look at what is happening, perhaps to understand it better, maybe because, in the images, we are looking for an answer that the so-called “system” has not provided us and then we trust our senses, alerted in the endless days of lockdown; and because, perhaps, in addition to a vaccine that can save us, we believe that beauty can do it too.

Politecnico, Milan, April 2020. Inside the lab where different types of filters and materials are being tested to study the filtering capabilities, particularly of face masks. From the series Contingency Plans © Mattia Balsamini

Whether it is possible to save ourselves through a photograph is difficult to say but there is no doubt that Cortona On The Move has decided to save the photographs until a vaccine against Coronavirus is found. This is how The Covid-19 Visual Project was born. A time of distance, the project that arose in the aftermath of the health emergency which, together with Intesa San Paolo and other partners, aims to tell our time in images. The desire is to create an online archive, a memorial to restore the deeper meaning, the socio-anthropological values ​​of what is happening, as stated by Antonio Carloni, director of Cortona On The Move, and by Arianna Rinaldo, artistic director of the Festival.

Here, then, is a new big bang, the birth of an online platform that emerges as a construction of memory for posterity and a place for contemporary reflection. A new world that is profiled according to primary guidelines. A story in images defined by “chapters”, as if it were a book of this dramatic story.

0 – A visual overview

1 – The health challenge

2 – The urban void

3 – Shelter in place

4 – The economic effects

5 – A wounded society

6 – Nature’s rebound

7 – A new normal

Each of these “chapters”, contains “paragraphs”, or assigned work,  for a total of 20 Italian and international author projects, so as to be able to observe and show the change from all latitudes and, above all, to show how in many areas of the world the Covid-19 has redefined living conditions in a completely new way.

In addition to this structure, officially presented on the website on Monday 11 May and which is proposed as a concept in progress – a perpetual archive in which to deposit testimonies, from the beginning of the health emergency up to the long-term consequences – very soon, in collaboration with Lens Culture, a Call will be launched which, starting from 18 May, aims to reach as many places in the world as possible, thanks to the immense online community. For this partnership, The COVID-19 Visual Project will select and host rotating visual narrative projects to further widen the gaze opened up by this method of storage and sharing.

Stefano and Laura, couple, Bologna, Italy, 2020. From the series COndiVIDendo © Mattia Crocetti

It is within this vision that the narrative impulse, the urgency to tell but also to build memory will generate the two sections of the platform: social networks, with the most iconic images taken from Instagram and the media section dedicated to the most important pieces of international newspapers; both will be continuously updated, in order to build an imperishable aesthetic and narrative itinerary.

In conclusion, on the side, special attention will be given to Emerging Photography – with a call born in collaboration between Cortona On The Move and the city of Reggio Emilia – which should have been one of the pivots of the tenth edition of the 2020 Cortona festival; an additional project was also born in collaboration with Regione Toscana, a project that focuses on the impact of the crisis on the world of culture, through documentation of the museums, which have remained surprisingly and surrealistically empty in recent months.

A truck carrying essential supplies on the Outer Ring Road, a busy expressway that encircles Hyderabad, India. April 30, 2020. From the series  Still Air © Harsha Vadlamani

From the deafening silence that the lockdown has generated, The Covid-19 Visual Project. At Time of Distance, is a certainly ambitious answer but capable of reconstructing the stages of a present that still appears hazy and that will need definition, in the future, in order to understand it clearly and to understand how we have felt. And this is how the desire expressed by the management of Cortona On The Move comes to the hope that all or many of the photographers busy working anywhere in the world, in recent months, will want to deposit their works in this archive, in order to originate a unique epitome, a compendium that can crystallize our time in the collective mnemonic process and act as a cultural, imaginative, tangible and visual “vaccine”.


May 15, 2020

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