Roberto Maggiori

The present is cold and heedless, but we keep ouselves in heart by brooding over our store of memories and traditions. We are haunted houses in every creaking timber and aching stone.

Henry James


Being the support of external representation, appearance is more cherished than any complete interpretation of the world: in fact, appearance is the only tool we have to orient ourselves in space.

Gianni Celati


Santa Maria della Scala is one of the most ancient buildings in Siena: it was erected in the heart of the city more than one thousand years ago. Originally, it was a hospital; today, it is on the verge of a total renovation (partially accomplished) that will increase the area of the present museum center, which celebrates and preserves the city’s historical memory. Federico Pacini portrayed the building’s interiors during this period of transition – while they are not yet renovated – revealing both the traces of a medieval past and the purposes that the rooms served in the last decades. Pacini searches for  the fleeting identity of a space in profound transformation: an unstable, protean identity that emblematically represents the contemporary era with its sudden changes and its stratification of meanings.  Present-day society stockpiles and replaces new concepts in such a compulsive way that it is impossible for these ideas to settle in the collective memory and in human conscience. The interiors captured in these pictures seem to offer temporal coordinates rather than spatial ones: here, millenary culture adjoins the recent past and a possible future.  

Because he grew up in a place with a high density monumentality as Siena and its province, Pacini sets his eyes on what is often neglected and resistant to the pervasive beauty  (so conventional and boasted), which became an empty rhetoric. The author searches for angles in opposition to the obvious touristic iconography and its trite postcard images that disabled the eye’s capacity to elaborate an authentic understanding of space, to offer new “visions,” and to contemplate it beyond stereotypical clichés.

Following the steps of an inexhaustible photographic tradition represented by antiheroic precursors such as Eugène Atget, Pacini’s pictures preserve antiquity (especially in its eye-catching, monumental, and banal presence), but, at the same time, they keep it as a background that does not affect human perception and the unconscious. The viewer can grasp the glorious past, however, the present and the immediate future capture his/her attention because of their subtle aestheticizing essence and their ability to reconcile the spectator with his/her actual surrounding space. This viewpoint challenges reassuring, digested icons that are responsible for weakening human perception and inspiration.

Pacini’s framings create an architecure within an architecure: a figurative structure that synthesizes a mental image, which is able to stimulate the viewer’s interiority rather than to satisfy/obfuscate his/her sensorial perception. Similarly to other contemporary artists, Pacini wanders in a post-ideological field with "a gaze liberated from the intention of convincing, of affirming”;1 this is a procedure that characterizes the most excellent Italian photography (and beyond) in the last decades. Referring to literature, Italo Calvino defined this attitude as “lightness” intended not as superficiality, but as an inclination to act outside the box; in other words, it is an anti-dogmatic and anti-ideological disposition to freedom consecrated to investigate what is unstable and elementary. Again, in Six Memos for the Next Millennium, the author encouraged his readers to give attention to the slightest situations, which could be compared to Lucrezio’s image (in De Rerum Natura) of “grains of dust that whirl in a sunbeam inside a dark room.”2

During the 1980s, Paolo Costantini3 will often associate Calvino’s theories (frequently centered on the act of seeing)4 with Italian new wave photographers, such as Guido Guidi, Luigi Ghirri, having in mind a light, “tender,” regional, anti-positivist gaze pertaining to international leaders such as Walker Evans, Robert Frank, William Eggleston, Lee Friedlander, Joel Meyerowitz, Robert Adams, and so on. In 2010, Luca Cerizza5 will also refer to Calvino in order to associate “lightness” with Italian artists of the first half of the 1990s. In his interesting work, Cerizza strangely omits photography, which is widely a precursor of a certain dialectic that was later developed in visual art. In the book, only a couple of names appear: among them, the peculiar photographer Franco Vaccari, who was little known by the Italian critics of art until a few years ago.

Leaving aside “lightness,” Pacini’s work (as those of ot other contemporary artists, such as Allegra Martin, Marcello Galvani, Luca Gambi, Jacopo Benassi, Cuoghi Corsello, Emiliano Biondelli, and Valentina Venturi) belongs to this tradition that investigates local realities6 by endorsing a “lateral vision” on things, opposed to the centrality of dominant thought and distanced from mere spectacularity.  

As we said, in this work, Pacini offers a particularly unstable, mutable, fluid7 reality that is able to suggest different interpretations to the viewer. Pacini is not interested in promoting prearranged categories; in fact, in a recent interview, he affirms: “I don’t care if there is squalor or splendor; often I struggle to discern the one from the other.”

In the portraits of Santa Maria della Scala, the post-Renaissance perspective does not converge in an ideal and reassuring vanishing point, rather it unveils the visual apparatus by denudating the geometric framework that serves spatial depth. Guided by colorful pipes and crumbling layouts, the visual field meets doors and glass windows that indistinctely convert into blind surfaces; yet, they still emanate light, like the cinema screens or common computer and smartphones’ screens that simulate the experience of “reality.”

The points of view photographed by Pacini wander in the eternal dialectic between history and everyday present: this is a contrast capable of giving meaning to the passing of time and to the transformation of our identity.


1 According to Paolo Costantini (in Orlandi, P., Visioni di Città. Bologna: Bononia University Press, 2014), this is one of the specificities of the Italian contribution to photographic culture (my translation). Moreover, Costantini states that another particularity of Italian photography is the tendency to search for “outskirts, marginal spaces, […] and areas where life seems suspended.” In Costantini P, Zannier I., L’Insistenza dello Sguardo, Alinari, 1987 (my translation).

2 My translation.

3 See: Costantini, P., in “Percepire le differenze”, in Fotologia n. 5 Summer-Fall 1986; Costantini, P., “Dall’interno sull’esterno”, in Fotologia n.6 December 1986; Costantini, P., Zannier, I., L’insistenza dello sguardo; Costantini, P., Luigi Ghirri –Aldo Rossi, Cose che sono solo se stesse. Milano: Electa- CCA, 1996.

This can be seen in works such as Palomar, Lo sguardo dell’archeologo, Avventura di un fotografo, Collezione di sabbia, and so on. However, Calvino’s descriptive, meticulous gaze does not offer answers, rather, it raises issues. It is in this questioning that a possibility exists to approach  true comprehension.

In Cerizza, L. et al, L’uccello e la piuma. Milano:Electa, 2010.

6  Pacini’s work is particularly devoted to the territory where the author lives. See Federico Pacini, Purtroppo ti amo, Bologna: Editrice Quinlan, 2013. Pacini completely dedicates this work to Siena; the book also contains critical essays by Elio Grazioli and Burk Uzzle.

7  It is not by chance that  Pacini’s previous publication, Purtroppo ti amo, received an honorable mention for the Hemingway Award in the same year that the theorist of liquid modernity, Zygmunt Bauman, triumphed at the competition.