Photo Corners

A   S C R A P B O O K   O F   S O L U T I O N S   F O R   T H E   P H O T O G R A P H E R

Enhancing the enjoyment of taking pictures with news that matters, features that entertain and images that delight. Published frequently.

Matinee: 'Argento Ritrovato' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

22 July 2017

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 197th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Argento Ritrovato.

Photography, like music, is a universal language. And while Pasquale Passarelli's 22-minute documentary Argento Ritrovato can be translated as Rescued Silver, it needs no translation.

It's a tribute to Franco di Stazio, who Passarelli knew from the local cafe where people go to find a rope "that might rescue them from reality." An escape.

One day Franco talked about his photography. But it was only when they went to his house that Franco talked about his passion. For over 50 years he has been photographing the village of Venafro in Molise, where they live.

The documentary is an interview in Franco's home, where he sits in front of a shelf of his equipment above a printer and stereo system. It's interspersed with slide shows of his work over the years as he talks about it.

Yes, it's conducted in Italian but it's accurately subtitled so you won't miss a thing. And then, too, you have the added delight of listening to one of the world's most beautiful languages being sung in the vernacular. Documentary? It's more like a little opera.

His grandfather gave him a Bencini camera when he was a child. The only camera Italy every produced, he notes, and it didn't work very well. Which can teach you a lot about the craft, after all.

His interest was in people in their environment. There had to be something alive in the scene for him to click the shutter. Why? He doesn't know. "I saw something beautiful in people in those days," he tried to explain. All people.

Even the recluses who never came out of their houses. To capture them, he would go to the one event that never failed to drag them out of their homes: a funeral.

You see faces from 50 years ago, a sack race from the past century, a horse long dead being shoed, and woman climbing the steps to the church.

In black and white of course. Life is in color, Franco quotes, but photography is in black and white.

He'll pass a place fifty times, he says, and suddenly one day, stop to take a photo.

He undertook this mission to photograph the life in his town at great expense. He didn't make much money and buying film and chemicals and paper (he has his own darkroom) was not cheap.

Did you ever have enough money to pursue photography? "No," Franco says in a word we can all repeat in chorus.

But he couldn't resist. The click of the shutter (even if it meant he was cursed by some peasant) is as satisfying, he says, as a cigarette. The smell of the darkroom chemicals is always exciting.

His most professional camera is an Olympus OM1. But he also always carried a smaller Praktica Auto Focus 35mm camera "and I clicked it when nobody saw me."

His Vespa is also part of his gear. It replaced his legs so he could get around the hilly town. Without it, he wouldn't have been able to take those pictures.

And he took photos of everything that happened in that village. Then. Now it's different. We're always in a hurry, he says, as if "we are constantly on the verge of a quarrel."

People are different but so is the work. The agricultural economy has disappeared. The party after a pig was butchered is no more.

And yet he still goes out, in a car now, to take photos in any weather. He'll pass a place fifty times, he says, and suddenly one day, stop to take a photo.

So where are all these photos? He took them for himself, he says, and only when he posted a few on his Facebook page did he realize he had accomplished something. And he became jealous of those images people liked, he jokes.

He's glad he's shared them, he says at the end, because they bring back to life a friendlier time that has been lost. Nostalgia? Perhaps.

But, like the custom of putting a photograph on a gravestone (many of which in Venafro were taken by Franco), it brings back to life what has passed away forever. Like the nine-year-old Giannina in the foreword to Giorgio Bassani's The Garden of the Finzi-Contini who has a change of heart after visiting the tombs of the ancient Etruscans.

She wonders why the Etruscan tombs are less gloomy than modern gravesites and her father explains that the Etruscans have been dead so long it's as if they have always been dead.

She thinks about that a while and then says, "But now that you've said that, you've made me think the Etruscans did actually live, you know, and I love them as much as everyone else."

Through the magic of his photography, preserved all these years, Franco makes us love the Venafro of fifty years ago as much as anything else. Perhaps even a little bit more.

BackBack to Photo Corners