Morocco, cue the Almohad city of Fes at the beginning of the last milliennium, saw a proliferation of tanning to the extent that today a special word connects that distinctive craft with its geographical origin, maroquinerie.

I have never been there but I can say that, symbolically at least, the thirty-year exile from my home town, the never-ending voyage of my existence have been possible thanks to Morocco, on account of a leather suitcase that Leonardo, my brother-in-law, had bought whilst visiting Marrakech. When Patrizia Posillipo asked me to write about her stunning artwork, this essential travel accessory immediately came to mind, as if to help carry the profound poetry of her photography, of which I’d like to tell without breaking the spell lest I damage the message revealed by the image.

I do not know Morocco but travelled through many Tunisian cities, enough to realise that the passages and electric bazaars of Paris, in the famous arcades evoked by Walter Benjamin, are nothing but an attempt to recreate the maze of the souk, the Arab word for bazaar. Within lands stolen from the two deserts of sand and sea there cannot be “main roads”…and what, after all, is the desert? Edmond Jabès, the Jewish Franco-Egyptian philosopher, writes:

“An extraordinary thing about the desert is that one hears before seeing: you hear a noise and half-an-hour later there comes a jackal, a camel […]. The time of hearing and sight are not the same. Here, we hear and see everything in one go, though not in the desert, in the desert there is a long silence between one and the other”.

The works of Patrizia Posillipo, she confided, always rely on two shots, one to anticipate, as when hearing something coming, and one upon seeing the vision that comes into the frame, the only one able to capture the moment. As we enter this territory where flânerie isn’t a political or philosophical act but it is the only way to exist in the world, we can grasp how essential, as well as natural, it is to attune ourselves to Walter Benjamin‘s words: <<we only see what sees us. We only have power where we are powerless>>. And yet, suddenly, that something or someone, simply looking at us, reveals to us what we are, or will be and therefore it has power.

In a serial world none of this happens, something quite obvious to someone who strolled the grand boulevards of Paris, the parallel grids of Turin, the roads and cross-roads of Caserta. Patrizia Posillipo uses the digital, serial, in the analogue mode of the single shot, aided by the benefit of an opening salvo, the sort of run-up that is necessary for a clear jump. If we observe carefully each of the pictures in this polyptich of the instant, we can almost touch with our hands what comes to pass in this double act of shooting.

The game. In the town square, the gambler appears to bamboozle the spectator — we might have expected the boy’s hand covering the face in self-defence, a wish for something to stop — but it is in the dual gaze of the player and the played, the boy in the foreground, that we freeze, unable to move under the cross-fire of two expressions, so different yet so profound in their humanity. Eyes that render us manifest to ourselves.

In this picture and possibly even more in The last supper, such inversion of roles between spectator and actor reveals itself in the utter distraction of the crowd, be that of the Madonna/Christ at the centre of the scene with her little apostles, or of the people busy cooking food or staring at something in the background. Nobody is looking at the lens, but all seem to see things that the camera will help discover.

In the poetry of Patrizia Posillipo there is no seriality but uniqueness of gestures, of people, of relationships. Each of the secondary characters, even the most marginal ones from the the central “Christ” figure in the image just described, on closer inspection, represent their own unique world. For example, if we zero in on the people to the left, on the man with the child on his shoulders and a woman, presumably his wife, we discover how she holds a handkerchief on the palm of her hand and how the three of them tell a precise story, an event, no matter how small, and the same goes for the beautiful smile of the girl to their right. It brings to mind Cartier-Bresson’s concept of the “decisive moment”:


The idea of pietas, in its meaning of noble duty, has always influenced Patrizia’s craft, from her reportage in Albania to her photographic incursions in the gipsy camps of Santa Maria Capua Vetere. Whether it is landscapes and objects, portraits or people, her thirst for truth and beauty is quenched from a source that is easy to detect. It is the penultimates who hold the threads of fate and the tales of a world they still are the guardians of.  We can see it in the movement of fishermen about their boats, in the eyes of the child staring into the horizon, among the street-food merchants, through the streets or by the knees of the tanner on the rocks at the edge of the sea. Every one of them bears witness to a dream, to a duty, to a simple act which will find its fate only by means of a focused, attentive eye.

The choral nature of each of these works of art, even when they tell of a Jewish cemetery or the shutters of a marketplace, makes us think of a vision of the world stereoscopic in its essence, able to distribute relevance to every one of its subjects, be they in the foreground or the background. A process that we may define, in the language of narrative, profoundly Dickensian. Cesare Pavese, who translated David Copperfield, expressed this kind of vision using words so precise as to deserve the honour of the ending.

“A vast world is hereby evoked: commoners, sailors, housewives, scammers, simple girls, lawyers, craftsmen, cleaners, lunatics in a web of daily adventures that do not exclude heroism or death, and yet all of them stand in the real proportion of figurines glanced at through a stereoscope”.

Francesco Forlani


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Patrizia Posillipo, Africa del Nord: The artist flaneus
Gabriela Galati