Since its origin, photography has identified itself with the portrait. It is a genre that nowadays can erase the distance between the two roles of the two actors in the event, since we have overcome technical limitations and thanks to the power of suggestion that it triggers between the photographer and his or her subject. But only if the operation fulfills a specific task.
Within the genre, different specialized paths were born and developed: the psychological portrait, the character portrait, the portrait shot in interior or exterior, and if I may say so, the portrait of the existential state. For the latter, which has not been mentioned in any source, I am referring to two particular pictures of Federico Fellini, one shot by Tazio Secchiaroli in 1972, and the other one by Elisabetta Catalano in 1993. In the first one, the film director, in the middle of his creative fervor, addresses to the observer with a gesture of provocative defiance; in the second one, he says goodbye to the observer and to the stage with an amicable and conciliatory gesture.
There is still a fundamental distinction in the majority of portraits, the pose portrait and the snapshot portrait. The first one obviously is static, the second one is dynamic. In other words, Nadar on one side, Cartier-Bresson on the other side.
To which of the two methods one addresses his or her operative paths is up to the photographer. As well as it is the photographer, needless to say, who individualizes or chooses the subject. A subject that is comparable somehow to the friend that one chooses for himself, as opposed to the relative that fate assigns to us.
In her fascinating trip through a culture, an ensemble of traditions and customs which are “different,” Patrizia chose as her “friends” the world of the Roma. Destined to live in camps for nomads, and more or less tolerated by the institutions, Roma have always been the documented subject of a storytelling that wanted to focus on a condition of “difference,” as many still define it.
I believe I am correct in remembering Patrizia as being the first photographer who thought of devoting her opera prima to her local Roma community, as soon as she obtained her own enlarger – the first hallowed step for any professional photographer. She asked their representatives for the permission to photograph them; offering to each subject the opportunity to consider him or herself the protagonist of an event that up until then was reserved only to privileged subjects: the application of the “utmost photographic system” in order to transmit their personalities from generation to generation.
The sensitive surface utilized, incorrectly called “plate” but nonetheless reminiscent of the “large format” of the shot, allows every visual and expressive detail of the subjects to emerge: the deep and noble traits, the docile and proud gaze, the essential clothing of an ethnic group that remains truly itself despite the changes imposed by a technological society. Even though, as we read some time ago, the chief of a Roma family in the capital asked to be buried with a modern version of the Fayum mask, his cellular phone and computer, to bring them along on his journey to the most inscrutable of destinations.