Arianna Rinaldo, artistic director of Cortona On T...

Arianna Rinaldo, artistic director of Cortona On The Move and PhEST, explains how to find your way around the many photography festivals

There are so many festivals in Europe and the archipelago is destined to grow. You need a map to orient yourself in the photography system. Arianna Rinaldo curator, scholar and artistic director of many European and national festivals traces the coordinates to understand the need for curating and its role in the paradigm of photography that is increasingly evolving.

Arianna Rinaldo, Cortona on the move, artworks by Tanya Habjouqa, installation view, 2018, courtesy Arianna Rinaldo

Simone Azzoni: How is the health state of photography? Is the one on printed paper at risk of disappearing?
Arianna Rinaldo: Photography is in excellent health. And the card too. Obviously everything changes but you just need to understand, open your mind and see the new possibilities. We are living in a very interesting moment: for decades, thanks to the so-called digital revolution and artificial intelligence, we have had the opportunity to reformulate the role of photography. We are more aware of the “hidden” dynamics of the image and therefore we are increasingly able to understand its nuances. It is true that the latest “tricks” offered by technology confuse us and create doubts about its veracity, but thanks to these evolutions we are forced to be increasingly attentive and increasingly competent in visually describing the world. As far as paper is concerned, there are undoubtedly fewer newspapers, fewer pages that host major reports to tell about our planet. But there are many more dissemination platforms, reaching a wider audience. At the same time, if commercial magazines are in decline, the photobook phenomenon, which has characterized the photographic world in the last ten years, gives new strenght to printed photography, which becomes an object, a cult, a vehicle for stories that go beyond the ‘image.

Arianna Rinaldo, Cortona on the move, artwork by Andrea Botto, installation view, 2019, courtesy Arianna Rinaldo

Lebart and Fontcuberta invite us to look back (through the creation of archives and the manipulation of existing images). From what perspective can we look at the “new”?
The new is always around the corner. Art thrives on novelty. Even a reappropriated archive or a revisited work becomes new: the visual story must continually adapt to a changing audience, which is more attentive and more distracted at the same time. Nowadays, technology is continuously surpassed and the changes are so sudden that the new becomes ordinary in a short time. You have to keep an open mind and look at the horizon, without forgetting where you put your feet.

Daniele Ferrero, PhEST, artworks by Angelica Dass, installation view, 2021, courtesy Daniele Ferrero

There are many photography festivals, perhaps too many: with what criteria would you suggest choosing what to visit or where to exhibit?
I am a big fan of festivals. I don’t think there are ever too many, I believe instead that there is often little money invested in this type of event, sometimes considered as easy and amateurish. Photography is a powerful and pervasive communication medium. Photography should be taught in elementary school to create new human beings capable of perceiving its profound meaning, such as memory, documentation, imagination, denunciation, emotion, provocation. The festival is a meeting place that can offer ideas and inspirations to a wide audience. I’m interested in festivals attended not necessarily only by photographers, because that’s where photography fulfills its noblest function: that of telling the world without explaining it, but asking questions. And also arousing them in us visitors. Each festival has a style, a personality and a theme. Surely these are the main elements in the decision to visit it or present one’s work. I prefer festivals in villages and towns, rather than in big cities, as this encourages informal encounters. I always recommend portfolio readings to photographers (within recognized festivals) because they are productive encounters that can turn their activity around. Obviously not always, but if you accept the criticisms and suggestions constructively, they are excellent opportunities for exchange with professionals in the sector.

Daniele Ferrero, PhEST, artworks by Angelica Dass, installation view, 2021, courtesy Daniele Ferrero

What should a festival leave behind in the area where it takes place? How to evaluate, with which tools can we understand its long-term effectiveness?
The exchange and interaction with the territory are fundamental. The Festival doesn’t have to be a spaceship that arrives, does its thing and leaves. It must involve local people through laboratories, workshops, meetings (even better if it can also be extended to the whole year). In my experience I believe that creating photographic works on the territory is a useful and beautiful way to leave something. With PhEST, the photography and contemporary art festival that I curate together with Giovanni Troilo in Monopoli, in Puglia, every year since the first edition we have commissioned an author to carry out a photographic work in residence involving local realities: from fishermen, to ports, to the olive trees, to the sea. The projects produced are a contemporary and enriching documentation for the territory itself.

Daniele Ferrero, PhEST, artworks by Angelica Dass, installation view, 2021, courtesy Daniele Ferrero

When you look at a portfolio what strikes you? What are you looking for?
When I look at a portfolio, I look and listen. I never look for the beautiful photo, but I want to be involved by the story, by the intentions of the author or the author, by the background. Obviously the originality of the project and its execution must be of a level, but there is no fixed or single standard. I’m interested in new languages and the possibilities of transmedia, which allows for a more immersive use of the narrative. I am mainly interested in documentary photography, in all its more contemporary meanings.

Luca Marianaccio, PhEST, artworks by Arko Datto, installation view, 2022, courtesy Luca Marianaccio

Regarding the artistic direction of a festival: how do you build the program, what weight do you give to training, to the new, to the masters? How do you dose the ingredients and what are the essential characteristics that a festival must have?
Each festival, each edition, as well as each magazine, each photo book is a world in itself. There is no rule for everyone. My experience as artistic director and curator, between Cortona On The Move and PhEST, is in some ways similar, but with peculiar characteristics. Surely the two fundamental elements in the research and planning phase are the place, the locations and the public. For me it is important that the works on display dialogue with the spaces in which they are inserted, and in this sense I was very lucky both in Cortona and in Monopoli, which are spectacular stages (inevitable feature #1). Secondly, it is very important to keep in mind that the varied audience of a festival includes international colleagues and professional photographers, amateurs and casual tourists. I want to be able to offer exhibitions that can converse, on different levels, with everyone. In this sense, I usually look for a mix between works by masters and projects by young or emerging artists (inevitable feature #2). Finally, the theme, summarized by a key word, which holds the various exhibition projects together: for me it must be current, universal, curious, original, but not abstract talk about the world we live in. Tell true stories. Make people think, laugh, cry. Provoke, amaze and excite. In this sense, it is useful to organize activities that involve artists and the public, to close the gap between creation and fruition and bring languages of the producer and the beholder (inevitable feature #3). And if all this is combined with a welcoming place, good food and good wine (inescapable feature #4) you can’t go wrong!

Pippo Lacitignola, PhEST, artworks by Kaya&Blank, 2022, courtesy Pippo Lacitignola

What is the role of the curator today?
For me, the curator has the role of interpreter, as he/she translates a photographic project for an audience and for a space, to prevent a photographic exhibition from being reduced to images hanging on a wall. Curating offers an experience that goes beyond aesthetic taste. Curator creates a path, joins the dots, offers new visions. All thanks, of course, to the work of photographers, without whom a curator doesn’t have the raw material on which to work a little magic.


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