Paolo Pellegrin – Borders of humanity

People fleeing Lybia during clashes between rebel and pro-Qaddafi forces. Border crossing at Ras Jdir, near Ben Gardane. Tunisia, 2011. Persone in fuga dalla Libia durante gli scontri tra ribelli e forze armate pro Gheddafi. Valico di frontiera di Ras Jdir nei pressi di Ben Gardane. Tunisia, 2011.
by Beatrice Bruni

The festival of contemporary anthropology Pistoia – Dialogues on Man has just closed its tenth edition, finding, under the careful and capable guide of Giulia Cogoli creator and director of Dialogues, an ever increasing interest from the public.

Dialogues on Man was born with the specific intent to understand the reality that surrounds us. The main theme of this year was “The trade of living: weaving lives, stories and destinies”, both current and urgent. The Dialogues Director herself said: “Cultures are always open construction sites: constantly evolving processes and cultural exchange are the norm, not the exception. Dialogues believes that culture makes us better human beings.”

For three days, the city of Pistoia comes alive and welcomes a well-established event, loved and followed year after year, which has seen on the stages of the city about three hundred speakers over these first ten editions, ranging from sociologists, philosophers, psychiatrists, anthropologists, to scholars of human sciences, writers, actors, essayists.

Within this container of human culture certainly could not be missing a part dedicated to photography, an instrument for reading everyday life, for what happens in the world, for stories, information and suggestion.

After many illustrious guests, among others Ferdinando Scianna and Gianni Berengo Gardin, this year, on the theme of living together, the curators’ choice turned to the work of Paolo Pellegrin, in an exhibition entitled “Borders of Humanity”.

The author needs no introduction. Pellegrin is an award-winning documentary photographer, author of important reportages from all over the world. An active member of the Magnum Agency since 2005, he has gathered the most important photographic awards, such as the W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography and the Robert Capa Gold Medal Award, and was a ten-time World Press Photo winner.

Refugees come ashore near a village on the northern tip of the Greek island of Lesbos after traveling on an inflatable raft from Turkey. Lesbos, Greece, 2015. © Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum Photos

The exhibition, especially designed for Pistoia, consists of sixty images, some of which unpublished, displayed in the dedicated spaces in the prestigious Palazzo del Comune. The author claims to have focused on the difficulty of living together, on conflicts, on the inability of some parts of the world to find peace.

The absence of cohabitation, the obstacles, the migrations, the human suffering: visiting the exhibition is immersing oneself in a difficult reality, which we would like to deny, which we do not accept, but that it is necessary to know, and make known, because the reflection on the central themes of man is always alive, but is fed by the vision of knowledge.

The experience is immersive; selected images, prints of various sizes, in black and white, of high contrast, as per the author’s language, lead us to intense looks, to see the terror in the eyes of the last, of refugees, of migrants, to find destruction, rubble, defeat.

The geographical scenarios are those we can all imagine: the Middle East, Algeria, Greece, Egypt, Iraq, but also the civilized America with its increasingly poor suburbs and walls raised without repentance.

In a large panoramic print, appears a wall built in Gaza, under a gloomy and grainy sky, viewed from above. So white, oblique and curved, it made me think of a long serpent, a deceiving symbol of evil and pain. The author believes that his role as a photographer is to create documents for our collective memory. It is therefore necessary to see images like these, so that the debate and the reasoning on the present day doesn’t fall into an uncertain and even more painful and divisive tomorrow.


Curated by Annalisa D’Angelo.
Catalogue published by Contrasto.

Frescoed Halls of the Palazzo Comunale
Piazza del Duomo, Pistoia
24 May – 30 June 2019

Monday – Friday: 10 – 13 and 15 – 18
Saturdays, Sundays and holidays: 10 am – 6 pm


May 31, 2019

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