After Gastel’s death, photography loses another protagonist: Giuliana Traverso. The Genoese photographer left at ninety. She is an elegant observer of anime, a child ready to be amazed again. In September she would have been in Verona with an unpublished project that will still be exhibited. Samuele Mancini, her trusted printer, had been sharing choices, projects and thoughts with her for many years. The memory of her today is a diagonal glance.
Simone Azzoni: When did it all start?
Samuele Mancini: She has been a teacher for me since the beginning of my career when I fell in love with that photo of the little girl that threw confetti in Genoa. I was at the Fabriano Foto Festival and there she was in the jury that rewarded me. She caressed me and she told me to continue. She became a friend of mine and in my most critical moments I told her about me and she advised me.
The relationship between printer and photographer is not just a relationship of trust but is a directorial dialogue in a creative process in which everyone plays a role. How was yours with Giuliana Traverso?
Giuliana was born as a printer and at first she was terrifying because her eye was that of the expert. But even if she was extremely accurate on the test pieces, we never talked about technique. Above all, the essence of her work was discussed. She saw that some shots would have to go through the transformation. She trusted me to bring out the meaning of the work in the last step: attention never went to the single photo. Let’s say that I was optimizing, I was the last step.
Was the choice of “good” shots from dozens of camera rolls also shared with you in recent years?
From the camera rolls taken in Ireland, for example, she extrapolated only a few photos, two out of thirty-six shots. The others were perfect but those that reached the soul of the project were very few for her. And on those she worked with the famous tonings.
As a printer, I ask you, what was her technical strength?
The use of the wide angle. The lines. Giuliana learned to read the photographs during the meetings in the first Italian circles: she was the only woman and they gave her a seat (but never made her intervene). From that position she looked at the photos from below so she saw the hard negative, made up of lines, shapes. That precision has remained forever. There are always lines in her photos that make what she wants them to do. Everything is line: a movement obtained with the very first wide-angle lenses.
Giuliana Traverso pushed her experimentation to the limits of technical possibilities …
Sure! Most of the shots taken in Ireland were made with a 14mm camera. A very difficult lens, nobody would use it for landscapes, she also used it for portraits. She managed to bend the technique to her vision, getting the most out of unconventional solutions. She wanted to experiment, she wanted to redeem her prints as they burned, for example. She was eclectic. When she had an idea it was as if she were absent from the world. With primordial and rudimentary tools she did extraordinary things that anticipated today celebrated photographers.
In fact, Giuliana Traverso has not always had the recognition she deserves …
She is known in some circles but on the general public she has not had the fallout that she deserves. She lived between the sea and the mountains, she escaped the labels, she did not want to be associated with Lanfranco Colombo of which she however was the silent advocate in the discovery of many talents. Giuliana comes chronologically before Letizia Battaglia and, due to the freshness of her gaze, she was experimental on everything.
The famous photo of Ornella Vanoni. She was an assistant, she wanted to try to take a picture. She had a pre-loaded film. But as soon as she developed it, she saw a very powerful erotic cut in that grainy image that came out of the black.
Then there is her “Woman Photographer” school which in 1968 changed the lives of many women …
A school run by a divorced woman. The school was a cultural revolution. Through photography she conveyed the importance of being a woman. Women of all ages and social and political backgrounds attended the classes. There is female photography because women have a different sensitivity, but she has taught emotional grammar in years when nobody talked about it and through photography she has taught women to emancipate. For the pupils, photography became a means of investigating the self, the unconscious, the other and the world.
What project were you on lately?
A video interview that I was supposed to take to Verona. Images and emotional comments, she was delighted. At the Grenze Festival, however, we will bring her unpublished projects because she wanted to reach young people, she still felt the desire to tell and tell.
What does his teaching leave you?
She taught me integrity, to be yourself in spite of everything. She taught me to believe what you do and to really believe it. To think before you shoot, and you shoot for yourself and for others. She taught me to look behind an image, its social and emotional potential.
She loved going to the edge of things. Pushing courageously into even dangerous situations like the time she photographed the boys of a rehabilitation group. She made them dress up as ghosts. A photo must not only be beautiful but there must be a story behind it. She saw the non-compartmentalized photograph and saw it in two directions, from our eyes on the outside and from our eyes on the inside. She was always looking for something contradictory because research reveals itself in contradiction. She taught us the need to always question ourselves.
Giuliana Traverso, Irlanda, 1982
Giuliana Traverso, Irlanda, 1982
Giuliana Traverso, Vetrine, 1990
Giuliana Traverso, Genova per me, s.d.
He is an art critic and professor of Contemporary Art History at IUSVE. He also teaches Critical Image Reading at the Palladio Institute of Design in Verona and Contemporary Art at the Master of Publishing at the University of Verona. He has curated several contemporary art exhibitions in unconventional places. He is the artistic director of the Grenze Photography Festival. He is a theater critic for national magazines and newspapers. He organizes research and experimentation theatrical events. Among the recent publications Frame – Videoarte e dintorni for the University Library, Lo Sguardo della Gallina for Lazy Dog Editions and for Mimemsis Smagliature in 2018, L’Altro volto del reale in 2019 and 2021 for the same publishing house, Theater and photography.