This exhibition originated as part of an independent tutorial in Italian Studies at Wesleyan University. Its title, Spettatori e Spettacoli (Spectators and Spectacles), refers to the theme of watching and being watched. All of us here - photographer, photographic subjects and audience - coexist as spectators. The people in these pictures are presented both as spectators and also as spectacles printed on two dimensional paper or resized for a computer screen on a web browser.
While studying abroad at the University of Bologna in 2003, I spent a good deal of time walking around and observing Italian society and culture on the streets and in the piazzas. Although I was primarily a college student, I often strolled around cities gazing at people, old architecture and the bustle of the streets with my camera around my neck, which made me feel more like a foreign, photographing tourist. Yet, even though I frequently assumed the role of an outside observer of Italian life, I was never alone. Italians walk not only to get somewhere but also to look at others who are out and about and, of course, to be seen themselves.
Italy is considered to be the fashion capital of the world. A walk in the city may feel like a parade; folks at sidewalk cafes watch and comment on the clothes of the promenading passersby. Other spectators can be seen on balconies, stoops, and in shop windows. All are intent on watching the movement and activities of the narrow streets. While wandering around with my camera, observing the spectacles of the streets, I became a participant in this social ritual of Italian cities.
In these images, Italians are seen looking: at shop-window mannequins, a parade, a soccer match, a fireworks display, a wedding, and art exhibition, and at others in the street. In some photographs, the Italian spectators direct their gaze towards a representation of a figure, such as a statue of Jesus and Mother Mary in the cathedral, a sculpture on the wall and mannequins in clothing stores. The images of the parade in Oria serve as a metaphor for this show in which bystanders on the street, myself included, watch and marvel as spectacles pass by. Images of individuals transfixed on objects in shop windows also show Italians who pause in front of window displays to examine the prices and details of fashionably attired mannequins, which appear to have been designed and set up with as much care as art exhibitions. Fashion and its displays in windows are so revered that they reminded me of art in museums or sacred objects in churches. Photographed at night, the Italian spectators in front of shop windows are represented as homogenous silhouettes that admire and wish to imitate the plastic models. While making these photographs, I joined in the activity of observing others, sometimes watching them watch me watch them.