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Giuseppe Persia: bodies hidden in the magic of black and white

Bellows camera and development on paper in black and white: the photography of Giuseppe Persia starts from these tools, solid and traditional, to give body to the suggestions of the human soul. The photographer, who was born in Lombardy but grew up in Abruzzo and lived in the Triveneto region, after years of reportage throughout Italy, arrived at the Nus Nous style (nude, in French, intellect, in ancient Greek) through a sudden intuition. Persia recounts: “I was looking at a bell pepper in the kitchen of my house and I saw a human body, the body of a woman. I photographed it, but in the picture I could not see the same thing; I tried and tried again until what I saw appeared”.

Giuseppe Persia began to approach photography as a child, when he played with his grandfather’s folding camera. At the age of twenty-one, he built his first darkroom in a large closet in his home. “When I took my rolls of film to be developed, I was never satisfied with the result; so I thought of printing the photos myself,” Giuseppe says. Between 1971 and 1972, with a group of his peers, he formed the group of young photographers from Spilimbergo, the town in the province of Pordenone, where Persia had meanwhile gone to live and work as a career soldier. His first works were noticed by the neo-realist photographer Gianni Borghesan, who taught him to be serious. Giuseppe Persia recounts: “He was a man of other times, very elegant. He suggested that I continue with black and white, an advice I have followed all my life. When he didn’t like a photo, he would even tear it up. Of the interesting ones, he would frame the main elements with the help of blank sheets of paper. He taught me that a good photograph must show only a few subjects”.

In 1977, Giuseppe Persia had the opportunity to go to Sardinia for work and photograph military personnel during exercises and in their free time, inside and outside the barracks. This work became a book, “Bersagliere a vent’anni, bersagliere tutta la vita”. But, thanks to a meeting with an entrepreneur, Giuseppe left the army and started working as a sales representative: “I was the right profile for that company, I sold cameras to Rai and to Universities”, he explains. In the meantime, he continued his activity as a photographer and photojournalist. In addition to his master Gianni Borghesan, Persia is inspired by other ideal masters: “As a military photographer, which I was, I love Robert Capa, the war reporter par excellence,” he comments. Among others, Persia admires Mario Giacomelli, with whom he shares a common Abruzzese origin, and Edward Weston, the American photographer who also portrayed peppers, “but in a different key,” explains Giuseppe Persia. “In my photos, the bell pepper contains a nude of a woman, but it can also enclose a series of clinging bodies or a flower,” the artist continues. “I once exhibited a photograph of mine on a pedestal that allowed it to be tilted and observed from various angles. One of the visitors told me that he could clearly see an elephant, which I still cannot see in that work to this day. My approach allows people to bring out something that is inside them, without them being aware of it.”

For the past few years, Giuseppe Persia has been retired and totally dedicated to photography. “I continue to use the bellows camera and print on cotton paper with silver gelatin,” says Giuseppe. “For me, digital photography does not exist as an artistic medium; it can serve practical purposes, but it has none of the characteristics of analog photography. Photographic archives should also remain material; there is no point in reconstructing them in digital form because they lose all the characteristics and colors of the original photographs.”

Three of Giuseppe Persia’s works are on display at the Kremlin Museum, while another was recently requested to be exhibited in a city in South Korea.