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Dritto negli Occhi. Interview with Alessandra Mauro
Portal of the Italian language

Dritto negli Occhi. Interview with Alessandra Mauro

Categories: Culture and creativity

Let’s talk about books… and photography with the editorial director of Contrasto Books.

Alessandra Mauro
Alessandra Mauro

by Laura Pugno


For the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the portal ‘italiana. language, culture and creativity in the world’ Alessandra Mauro, editorial director of Contrasto Books, created the video series ‘Dritto negli occhi. Conversazioni fotografiche’  (Straight in the eye. Photographic conversations). A project to promote Italian photography in the world, for the Giornata del Contemporaneo 2021 (Italian Contemporary Art Day), which tells us, through the voices, faces and bodies of the protagonists, the meaning of the artistic experience of the masters of Italian photography.

In this interview, Alessandra Mauro traces the genesis of the project and its implications, and recounts the many upheavals in the editorial world of Contrasto Books and the Contrasto agency.


How does a project like ‘Dritto negli occhi. Conversazioni fotografiche’ portray the articulated and complex picture of Italian photography today? What strong trends are emerging?

The picture of contemporary photography is, as you said, complex and varied, and it could not be otherwise. Photography is par excellence the language of contemporaneity, the one we all use, whether or not we are aware of it. It was therefore right to give a voice and a face to some of the artists who are moving in the field of photographic experience as a way of searching for themselves, a style and a way of interpreting reality with this visual language.
From the ‘historical’ photography of Piergiorgio Branzi, stemming from his experience of the post-war period and the 1950s, to the discovery of Italy in black and white, to the photojournalism revived by Massimo Siragusa‘s personal research, to exploring the self and a new way of being in the world by photographers such as Gea Casolaro, Simona Ghizzoni, Michele Palazzi and Anna Di Prospero, we have documented how photography can be incredibly vibrant in terms of styles, images and interpretations.


Contrasto is a very multi-faceted reality: alongside and beyond the Contrasto Books publishing house, which has recently been launching new projects and new series, we have the historic photographic agency founded by Roberto Koch in 1986, the activities of the Fondazione Forma per la FotografiaHow does this microcosm between word and image work?

I think that the feature that most distinguishes the ‘Contrasto microcosm’ is its flexibility and openness to possible experiences, collaborations and interactions in the name of photography, observation and direct testimony.
Contrasto was founded as a photographic agency in the 1980s, but over time it transformed and grew: it began to hold photographic exhibitions in places where this was not yet a widespread practice in Italy; alongside the exhibitions, it also published books and catalogues to provide a record of the history of photography, of the debate that has always underpinned it and of its hybridization with other languages. With the Fondazione Forma, this area of activity has become even larger and more precise. The new publications you mentioned (the Tracce (Traces) series dedicated to books on nature and environmental emergencies) are like new paths to follow, always in the name of direct testimony and participatory observation.


The relationship with the image is profoundly changing, as never before, the role of literature and publishing in our time. More and more writers are feeling challenged and questioned by the world of images, and photography in particular. Could we say that the opposite is also the case? What do these momentous changes look like from your particular vantage point?

We are living in a period of great change, and while photography is increasingly regarded for its undoubted narrative value, photographers too are keen to carry out projects that are not limited to the visual language alone but intertwine at various levels with other modes of representation. After all, excessively rigid boundaries have never been good for creativity, which thrives on a continuous exploration of forms and experiences. And photography, with its immediacy, is poised to record the changes we are experiencing in a formidable and synthetic way – almost as if it were a seismograph of reality.


Born in Rome, Alessandra Mauro has a degree in Literature and has been involved in photography for many years. She has been the artistic director of the Fondazione Forma per la Fotografia in Milan since its creation (2005) and editorial director of the Contrasto publishing house in Rome. As curator, she has conceived and organized several photographic exhibitions; as editorial director of Contrasto, she has edited and produced several books and catalogues. She taught Photography at the Suor Orsola Benincasa University of Naples and the Arts, Music and Performing Arts Department of the Roma 3 University. She led the Master’s in Photography at the Raffles School in Milan and is a teacher of Photography and photojournalism at the LUISS school of journalism. She also collaborates with the Vatican Museums, Contemporary Art Collection, for a project on photography. She is the author of the book Photoshow. Le principali mostre della storia della fotografia (Landmark Exhibitions that Defined the History of Photography), 2014 (Italian ed.: Contrasto; English ed.: Thames & Hudson)

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