Dino Pedriali

Il Ponte Contemporanea / ACTA International

Twenty years of activity by Dina Pedriali—one of the most elusive and important Italian photographers—were celebrated by three key and complementary events. The first of these was the publication of the first complete monograph on his work; this volume, put together by Peter Weiermair, director of the Kunstverein in Frankfurt, brings together his harshest and most realistic images, which nonetheless are the most personal and incisive of his career. In extremely strong chiaroscuro that brings Caravaggio to mind, these images silently present dramatic close-ups of faces, bodies, skin, and genitals—seasoned, marked, sculpted by the intense, aleatory experience of the urban periphery, of drug addiction, and of prostitution. Pedriali’s photos are neither documentary nor denunciatory, but are, rather, a profound and tragic dialogue with the ineffability of the human body. These are glances forced to bitterly confront the past and the vertigo of life, legs, and arms martyrized by syringes like hagiographic arrows, legends, and metamorphoses of the street (violent light and shadow on the naked bodies of a transsexual alongside a woman, or on a contemporary, arrogant David with the head of Goliath). The flesh reveals every detail, every peculiarity, as in a disjointed, sinuous landscape that is simultaneously familiar and hermetic. Pedriali’s work seems to comprise the search for an unattainable truth: the exposure of man’s body and soul, of his essence. The artist presents man drawn, by the centripetal force of his own exposed body, to the voracious glances of reality, menaced and violated by his own frailty, by his own history.

In his recent exhibition in Rome, three gigantic nudes peremptorily brought to mind the themes explored in Pedriali’s book. Classical, solid poses and ample, grandiloquent gestures, like the strongly shaded light in the photos, contrasted with the physicality and sensual immediacy of the staging. The exhibition continued with a kind of photo diary of a trip to Hammamet, Tunisia, characterized by a violent, bright white light. Images of personally significant places and personalities, enveloped in an intoxicating, luminous radiance, followed. A found object anomalously concluded the show: a towel rack made out of empty cigarette packs, an ingenious expedient of the prison world—a fragment of a universe as real and immediate as those sought and represented in the photographs.

The third event consisted of a small show at the “Acta International” gallery that brought together Pedriali’s portrait works. Through his lens, faces of personalities—from Giorgio de Chirico to Man Ray, from Andy Warhol (Pedriali worked at the Factory) to Rudolf Nureyev—revealed a throbbing humanity charged with both fragility and grandeur. Among all of these, the portrait of Pier Paolo Pasolini stood out; this is perhaps the most well-known and frequently reproduced image of the Italian poet—chin resting firmly on clenched hand, he looks deeply, and searchingly at the viewer. As Pedriali said by way of summarizing his work in one of his rare pieces of writing: “It is difficult to make portraits because within himself man carries two faces: the power of thought and the portrait that won’t be made.”

Mario Codognato

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.