Picturing Sicily

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Film directors and photographers have often been inspired by Sicily and many have used it as a backdrop to their films or placed it center stage in their photographs.

It is one of those places where great pictures are easy to come by: Mediterranean sunlight, evocative landscapes, interesting architecture, sharp social contrasts, intense religious rituals, and faces, looks, postures and gestures that are steeped in history and tell a full story in just a frame.

This spring if you happen to be in Sicily and can make it to Enna, right in the heart of Sicily, there are two fantastic photo exhibitions to enjoy. One is by world famous photographer Carlos Freire and the other is by local photographers. In this post we focus on Carlos Freire and will talk about the other one in a subsequent post.

Carlos Freire and Vincenzo Consolo

The Brazilian-born photographer Carlos Freire, who lives in Paris, is holding an exhibition at the health-spa resort Villa Gussio Nicoletti. This historic villa, in the countryside between Enna and Leonforte, has recently been restored and turned into a luxury hotel and spa with aspirations of combining culture and relaxation in one location.

We had the chance to attend the opening press conference announcing both the exhibition and a forthcoming book by Carlos Freire and critically acclaimed writer Vincenzo Consolo.

The exhibition offers a selection of 100 pictures of Freire representing some of his best work. Among the portraits of celebrities such as Francis Bacon, Nureyev, Orson Wells and shots of French peasants and Indian landscapes there are also six unpublished frames of Sicily: an old man sitting in the middle of the road in the town of Leonforte, a joyful young family in a poor neighbourhood in Palermo, the procession of I Misteri in Trapani, the archaeological area of Morgantina, the amazing temple of Segesta and the salt marshes near Marsala.

This six photos are just a first taste of a year's worth of travelling by the photographer around Sicily. The final result will be in a forthcoming book prepared in collaboration with Vincenzo Consolo that should be on the shelves by the end of 2008. The idea behind the book is to marry the literally interpretation of Sicily by Consolo to the photographic interpretation of Sicily by Freire.

Both of them charmed the audience at the press conference sharing their thoughts on Sicily and how it has changed over time but still offers settings that are truly authentic. Carlos, whose grandmother is of Sicilian origin, described to the audience how impressed he was by the Easter procession of Trapani. He immediately called a friend of his in New York who is a choreographer urging him to visit Trapani, because there he could see something that was still authenic and not just a re-enactment of traditional rituals.

Consolo talked of his memories of Sicily as a young teacher who was torn between staying on the island or leaving it so as to be closer to the literary centres of Italy. He eventually left Sicily and now lives in Milano, but feels that Milano has lost some of its identity and he finds it hard to recognise it nowadays. Sicily, on the other hand, still offers areas where rampant urbanization and consumerism have not erased local identity.

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