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Matinee: 'Roma: Sacro e Profano' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

25 November 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 215th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Roma: Sacro e Profano.

If you joined us yesterday on our escape from the Thanksgiving holiday on a Vespa, what better destination could there be than Rome? So let's go.

This five-minute clip is a slide show of black-and-white images by Anna Zavileiskaia that were first exhibited at the 2013 show of the same name in Rome.

It's also a lovely audio experience thanks to the film soundtracks by Nino Rota from Fellini's Amarcord and La Dolce Vita. You could close your eyes, in fact, and enjoy this just for the music.

It begins with a quote from Goethe, who visited Italy himself between 17876 and 1788 and wrote about it in his Italian Journey: 'Only in Rome is it possible to understand Rome.'

Our copy of Goethe's journal was translated by W.H. Auden and Elizabeth Mayer. Here's the full quote from the Nov. 5 entry:

I have been here now for seven days and am gradually beginning to get a general idea of the city. We walk about a good deal, I study the layout of Ancient Rome and Modern Rome, look at ruins and buildings and visit this villa or that. The most important monuments I take very slowly: I do nothing except look, go away, and come back and look again. Only in Rome can one educate oneself for Rome.

It is that line -- "I do nothing except look, go away, and come back and look again" -- that must have inspired Zavileiskaia. Looking is how photography begins.

And it's indispensable all the way to the end of the process of creating an image, too. We see early in the slide show, for example, how she has manipulated the blue sky into the darkest tone, highlighting some ring of marble statutes or ancient ediface. She is not shy about recasting the tonal scale to show you what she sees.

We are almost halfway through before we start to see some people on the streets of Rome. But they are portraits not so much of Romans as of the soul of a city that has endured through millennia.

And that is when we're able extract the meaning of the subtitle: Sacred and Profane.

The sacred is the architecture, the buildings the villas that Goethe studied. The profane is the cigarette held elegantly between two fingers, the drawn eyebrows of two elderly women in furs having ice creams at a cafe, nimble cats prancing along a cobblestone alley.

Zavileiskaia captures the dual nature of Rome. The detail of the Parthenon's ceiling. Laundry hung across the street in the sun to dry. Sacred. Profane. How else can centuries be survived?

The clip ends with a note a thanks to those who appear in the pictures. To the profane, that is.

We never thank the sacred. It can't be bothered to say, "You're welcome."

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