Déjà View : Bologna, Italy

Photography for me has always been an excuse to explore the world in which we live. In 1997 I began working on the idea of creating an extensive cultural photographic survey of Bologna, Italy. I had always wanted to spend an extended period of time outside of the United States, so this project became the perfect opportunity for me to fulfill that dream.

Why Italy, and why Bologna? I had always wanted to live in a different culture, and doing so could offer my photographs more than just a tourist’s view. I had previously taught workshops in Italy for five years, had experience traveling there, and had grown to love the culture. My idea was to locate an archive with a variety of strong images of a city and rephotograph those locations.

I began working with images from a public archive, the Cineteca Photography and Film Museum, in Bologna. There I was allowed access to a collection of more than 482,000 images spanning the years 1870 to 1990.

As the project evolved, I began to see many different possibilities and directions that it could go in, and I expanded my research into other collections, both public and private. One man gave me access to his collection of political photographs, while others offered me their family albums. With the help of a patient translator I asked many local shop owners if they had any old photographs of themselves and/or their shops. After much time, I began to find images that were more personal in nature yet still had the potential to reveal how both the subjects and their environments had changed.

I spent many days just walking around the city and for some locations it took many months to precisely duplicate the lighting of the original photograph. I estimate that when my stay was done I had walked more than 600 miles (in one wonderfully comfortable pair of New Balance shoes). Towards the end I was correcting the locals about where certain things were located. I was quite impressed with my newly gained knowledge of the city. That had been one of my goals, to know Bologna like the back of my hand.

I consider myself a visual archaeologist, searching today’s city to make comparisons with that which once was. In many regards, photography can show only a small instance of what ‘was’ at one particular time. If a comparison is made, we conclude by the evidence presented that the changes that have been made are due to obvious causes: increased population, advancing technology, and industrialization. But the real truth of those cultural changes must be discovered by making many comparisons, not just a few. And truth must be determined by each individual viewer.