A Bit of Success Offset by a Bit of Frustration

A few weeks ago I went to Florence to meet with Andrea Depolo. He is (perhaps) the future president of the Fratelli Alinari Archive (his father is currently president)(and owner). The largest photographic archive in Italy. They have the best social images of Bologna that I have seen. I have been interested in working with the images, but they are quite expensive to use. I was quoted 300.000 Lire ($200) per image use per exhibition! Not to mention the print making charge of 30,000 Lire. I went to meet with Andrea and present my case. I proposed to use images from the Alinari Archive and in exchange I will present a rephotograph for each image that I make.

Andrea said he would speak with his father about it. He thought it a good idea, especially because his father is interested in adding to the archive. So a few weeks passed and last night I received an email saying that his father has, in principle, accepted my offer. He said, however, that the archive would want full free use of my images put into the Alinari Archive. The images would carry my copyright forever. I guess that is fair enough. It is cheaper than buying them, or in reality, not using them at all, which is what would have happened.

So, on another matter, today I want to see Sr. Walter Breviere. (pronounced Valter)(no W in Italian) One of the oldest and most respected cultural photographers in Bologna. We met and had a cordial exchange. Alberto made the appointment, he is an old friend of the family. We were also joined by Rosella, another old friend of the family.

Sr. Breviere is a very gentle man, who has worked for some forty years as a news photographer in Bologna. He showed me stacks of his images that covered everything from the liberation of Italy after the war to Sofia Loren (wow!) to thirty years of sports, and everything in between. His archive contains some 40,000 negatives.

As we looked, for abut an hour and one half, I asked him to set aside a number of prints. After looking at them all I decided that there were ten that I was very interested in. Then we started to talk money. He likes the idea of my project. In fact he looked with great interest through my book.

While he was sympathetic to my ideas, he said that the vanity that he would get by my using his photos in America and in Italy would not help to pay the rent. As the discussion continued he asked me how much photos sold for in the states. A tough question to answer, actually there is no single answer. "It all depends..." I said. My not knowing what the uses are going to be, at this point make it difficult to even put the images on the ASMP scale. And I am asking to have unlimited use of the images. At that point he said he wants 500,000 Lire per image. Well, I thought, case closed! He said to Alberto that he felt for me and my project, but his years of work are worth something. I guess I sort of don't blame him, I feel sad, but I guess that I can say that I really don't blame him.

After returning to mi casa I had the feeling that if I just quit now no one would really care. Well, Angela at the Cineteca would be upset because of all of the time she has invested in this project. And Francesco, Alberto, Carlo and a few others would care because, I feel, we have become friends (for me they are my family!). But other than that, no one would really care. Now I don't want to start a 'Pity Party' for poor old Willie, but it taught me something. And that is that as a creative person, you must be willing to keep on working despite all of the obstacles. This project has become, at times, the greatest obstacle of my life. I have isolated myself from all that I know in order to do this project. I have given up my once every seven year sabbatical in order to be here getting, at times, tremendously frustrated. I have left my wife alone several thousand miles away in order to be here trying to put together a cultural project to measure the influences of societies impact on the wonderful old city. And right now I feel alone. Working in solitude. It again reinforces my idea that photography is a performance in solitude. Working alone with ideas. With hopes. With dreams. After it is over and done and if it is successful and gets some notoriety, then all will proclaim the success of the idea. But now it's me. Alone.

These events remind me of Joyce Tennesyn who traveled from Washington DC to NYC every week for six years to try to get some interest for her fine art work in the commercial world. Finally, after six long fucking years, leaving her husband and daughter at home, she met with success. And if we look at her career now, it sure paid off! And good for her, she deserves it. And I think that some of her work is very good!

When Walter and I started to talk money I knew we were done. He would set the images aside and give me time to think. But I immediately felt that my thinking was done. What else could I think about? Try to get some more patrons? Try to play the lottery?

The images that I was particularly interested in were two images of a young boy who survived the assault of the Germans coming to Bologna and taking away people and killing them. They put their captives in a room and tossed in grenades. Later they went back and shot any survivals. This boy's mother put her body between her son and the assassins and accepted the bullets. He lived, she did not. Walter photographed the boy shortly after the incident and years later when he was a young man he photographed him voting . I thought that this would make a great rephotograph as well as tell a great story.

He also had photos of two young girls putting up stockings for Christmas (Natale). I thought that a contemporary of that would also make a nice set. Others included a sign at Porta San Stefono showing a big sign that indicated where the solders should go when they entered the city. Of note on that was an arrow pointing to the west with the words New York printed on it. There was also a photograph of the mayor with the 400,000th born baby in Bologna. I understand he is still around. And there were others that were interesting and would have made good images, but who knows? Maybe something will come about in the future with them.

After that we talked computers. I showed Walter my digital camera with a picture that I had just taken of him. He looked and grunted. Showing interest, but not fascination (not that he should have).

He has been spending years computerizing his archive. He gave us a tour. His archive of negatives is huge! It is well organized. His library and darkroom are wonderful. Great spaces with, as I seem to like it, lots of stuff.

While we were in his library, I got that feeling again. That feeling I get when I am in a photographers work space that has served him for many years. As he gets older, the space echoes of time, dreams, fanatics, joys, and sorrows of a life's commitment to photography. In fact he even said, as I say, that photography is his lover. It is an active love that he still feels passion for after many years. I could feel this love. Not only from him but from the space. In fact when we arrived he was in the darkroom doing something. When we got in and sat down I was wondering what he had been doing. I could not tell by looking at the counter where he was working. But I think that he was just, as I call it, 'putzing around'. You know, doing stuff, as I love to do. Most photographers love to do that. Just be involved. In there doing something. That is involvement. Even if it is just cleaning up or arranging stuff. Every day one should do that. It keeps you involved. That kind of interaction keeps you young. And that relationship of IT being your lover, like all relationships, takes time. Every day it takes an investment of time to keep it going and young and fresh.

...There's that feeling again. Here he is still alive with his life of photographic 'scores' behind him. I think of the book by David Douglas Duncan called The Silent Studio. A documentary of Picasso's studio after he died. All was silent. The force of creation still vibrating in the rooms. All that remains is the work. For the deceased, only the excuse of making it all. After all, when we are lying on our death beds, all that remains are the memories. The pieces created do not matter at that point, because you can not take them with you. All you have at that point are the memories, the ritual of doing and being, the excuses of living your life, your life of love with the camera. The best excuse I have.

But I also think of the corpse or the 'body' of work that is left for someone to do something with. There it is, just sitting there. Quiet and alone. Not caring if it mildews or gets tossed in the garbage. At this point the creator does not care. It does not matter. Why should it? The person is free from all of this planet's material matter. What happens next is left up to the one that inherits it. But I continue to wonder about myself and my work. When I am gone will it be boxed up and moved out. Or will it just...?

P.S. A few months after my meeting with Sr. Breviere I was shown a few photographs in the newspaper where Sr. Breviere himself went back and began a rephotographic survey from his archives. Of particular note was the fact that he choose to use the images from the pile that I had hope to use. It was relayed to me from a copy editor that he was approached by the newspaper to do this project. The interesting part of that was that I presented a proposal to that newspaper (La Republica) to try to get some publicity for my project in order to find more old social photographs of Bologna. The editor I presented the proposal to thought it was an excellent idea and would make a good story. Nothing was ever run. (?)