Luzzara. Another Look

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Luzzara. Another Look

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“Luzzara. Another Look” by photographer David Maialetti is a collection of more than 100 black and white images that re-examine the Italian village documented by American photographer Paul Strand in 1953.

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My first introduction to Luzzara actually came by way of Philadelphia.

I initially learned of this rural Italian village as a college student studying photojournalism at Temple University in the late 1980s.

It was then that I was first exposed to the work of Paul Strand and his collection of photographs from Luzzara in a book called Un Paese published in 1955 with renowned Italian screenwriter Cesare Zavatinni.

At that time, I was particularly drawn to Strand’s photograph of the Lusetti family, admiring and studying the image for its perfectly balanced composition and structure, which continues to influence how I capture the world around me today.

When I was young, my grandmother told me how her mother immigrated to America from the Southern Italian town of Benevento. She said her family were farmers and they left Italy in hopes of finding a better life in the United States.  Aside from that though, rarely talked about our Italian heritage.

However, as an adult, I developed a strong pull toward Italy and its people thanks to an  opportunity to teach photography in Cagli, another Italian village 300 kilometers south of Luzzara.

As fate would have it, in early 2013 I was fortunate to meet Amanda Bock, who was curating a retrospective of Strand’s work for the Philadelphia Museum of Art that included photographs from Luzzara.

Bock mentioned that several people from Luzzara had planned to visit Philadelphia for the opening of the exhibition. This piqued my interest.

My plans were set to return to Cagli that summer so I added a visit to Luzzara and pitched a story to The Philadelphia Inquirer, where I am a staff photographer, to coincide with the upcoming Strand show at the museum the next year.

Driving into Luzzara a few months later, one of the first things that caught my eye was a man riding a bicycle. It wasn’t the bicycle that was unique. It was the man.

He was wearing a bright orange turban. 

As I walked through the streets that day, young Pakistani children kicked a soccer ball next to an old theater under renovation while an Italian man wearing a T-shirt exclaiming “I Love New York” tipped back in his white plastic café chair.

The portrait of the Italian farming village that Strand captured long before I came along had changed.

And it had changed in the time since other serious photographers came along too.

Photographers like the legendary Gianni Berengo Gardin, who artfully captured the people and place 20 years after Strand, and Stephen Shore, another master of the craft, who photographed Luzzara 20 years after Gardin.

Luzzara, like the whole of Italy, has experienced an influx of immigrants in recent years who are changing the face of the town as they are also integrating into its ways.

After my first visit, I returned to Luzzara periodically over the next four years, setting out to document the people and the village as it is today. People like:

Angela Secchi, who was just a girl when Strand photographed her in a straw hat and gingham frock and today is one of only a few of Strand’s subjects still remaining in Luzzara.

Kira Compagnoni, first photographed by Strand under the protective arm of her mother Renza Grisanti, whose husband had been executed by the fascist regime in 1945. In my photograph, the roles are reversed and Kira stands protectively over her mother, who has since passed.

And young Priya Thind with her brother, Emaan, and her mother and father, who in 1996 emigrated to Luzzara from the Punjab region of India for work. Both Priya and Emaan were born in Luzzara. They are forming the new portrait of this Italian village.

The doorway from the Lusetti family photo featured on the cover of Strand’s Un Paese is no longer visible. The farm was sold and the family has left Luzzara.

Yet the spirit of the Luzzaresi remains.

It is that spirit more than anything that keeps me coming back to Luzzara. I have not yet been to Benevento where my family is from. One day I will visit, but whether because of the friends I have made or the connection to photography it holds, Luzzara feels like home.