LIFE AFTER ZOG and other stories is a portrait of Albania 20 years after the collapse of the Communist regime. The project brings to light an evolving web of stories, both personal and political, set against the wider cultural and geographical landscape of contemporary Albania. As a child, Tocci witnessed streams of disillusioned Albanians docking on the coasts of her hometown in the South of Italy, instilling in her a fascination for this enigmatic land and its people. Some years later she visited these places starting a photographic journey that depicts this country as an enchanted place, a place with no time, inhabited by people who share the land with their ancestors’ ghosts.
Started in 2009, LIFE AFTER ZOG and other stories will be published by Schilt Publishing in Spring 2013.
The ambivalence of the image recalled by Denis Curti, Director of Contrasto
There are childhood memories that idealize reality and help modify our perception of it. These memories are old and deeply engrained, and turn into feelings in adult life, fantasy images to which we feel a strong, inexplicable sense of attraction, something like a nudge towards the process of recognition, the need to see them again and remove the veil that enshrouds them. These are images of the heart.
Back in the early nineties, when Chiara Tocci was still a little girl, she would watch Albanian refugees landing on the coast of her native Puglia. Gazing out to sea she could picture in her mind the country they were coming from, but there before her eyes the only scene that unfolded was one of desperation.
Twenty years after those events had been confined to memory, Chiara returned to the same scenario, deciding this time, however, to cross the sea, go beyond the horizon, and take a look at the country she had only been able hitherto to visualize in her imagination. Curiosity, as well as the need to know and to tell, led her to undertake a journey that would lead her to the Albania of today, where her eye finally encountered the characters and locations of a real story.
Her memories come back to life in the form of a story told in images, in which the photographer’s lyrical vision and the more direct, photojournalistic eye alternate roles.
The portrait that introduces the narrative reveals from the start that this is a photographer whose style combines intimacy and silence, who is almost fearful of being invasive. The movement that animates the entire sequence of images, however, lies in telling the story of a Land through an unfolding series of individual, highly personal stories.
A young woman’s face is drawn out in delicate light, while her shy smile seems so oppressed by an atmosphere so dark, so austere that it is barely perceptible in the murk of the room. Her uncertain expression is intriguingly ambiguous, as if the pose of her figure and her composure bring a painterly touch to her portrait, one reminiscent of classical refinement. Chiara’s aesthetic taste recalls the new life brought to the relationship between artist and beauty towards the end of the 19th century, with the invention of photography and the ensuing conflict between photography and painting, which would lead to a game that went beyond the imitation of reality to give expression to an entirely subjective interpretation, one poised between alienation and objectivity. In particular, the image of the Albanian girl seems to draw its inspiration from the expressive ambivalence of early literary portraits, where novelists developed the wonderful ability to capture the internal essence of the portraits’ subjects. In the same way, in a light so profound that it seems almost to issue from the world of the fairytale, Chiara expresses the totality of a deeply personal vision, one that pursues the flowing rhythm of her memories while simultaneously revealing its clear, realistic face, at the point where the two facets emerge and start to take shape.
One might say that Julia Margaret Cameron’s “Portrait of Julia Stephen” (Virginia Woolf’s mother), a portrait in pre-Raphaelite costume, finds a modern parallel in the way this narrative sequence opens, broadening its gaze out from the sphere of the intimate to explore the life and context of a country during a particular period of its history.
Here, a portrait, a suitcase under a bed, a foreshortened shot of a decaying interior precede the secure, strong figure of a girl who breaks into the narrative sequence like an unexpected twist in the plot, shaking the drowsy, mysterious atmosphere in which the first three images soak, like an awakening eye that responds to the voice of a society in turmoil, demanding to be seen and recorded, and not only in the space created by the click of a shutter.
From this point, the narrative takes us along the roads and paths that wander across Albania’s enchanted landscape, into private spaces and townscapes, where the contrast between a past of renunciation and abandonment and the desire for rebirth and modernity is visible in every person we meet.
Similarly, the theme of departure constantly recurs in the sequence of images like a figurative Leitmotiv hanging over the life of the country like a menacing cloud.
There are other things that recur as well: the purplish tones of the red rose that a girl wears in her hair can also be seen in the explosion of intense, lively colours in a vase of flowers and then in the contents of an old suitcase that has been left open. The passage from one to the other is seamless and leads us from the gentle gaze of the girl, bold and full of hope, to the symbol of a drama that has not yet been forgotten. Through constant references in the imagery and the use of symbols and colours to establish correspondences, the vision of the photographer seems never to have lost touch with the scenes when the Albanian caravan once landed on the coast of Puglia and which here take the form of constant flashbacks into the lives of her subjects.
The creative process that has brought “Life after Zog” into being is thus guided by an indelible tie whose roots reach deep into Chiara Tocci’s memories. In these images, visual memory combines with images of a very real present whose continuous unfolding expresses itself through the beauty of truth and the fidelity of the document.
Denis Curti © 2011
Chiara Tocci was born near Bari, Italy, 1982 and gained a Degree in Journalism from the Università di Firenze in 2006 and a BA (Hons) in Documentary Photography from the University of Wales, Newport in 2010. She is a UK based photographer and her work is exhibited and collected nationally and internationally. She combines her art practice with occasional commercial work, commissions and teaching.
She is included in the 2012 Magenta Foundation Emerging Photographers from the U.S., UK and Canada and in the FreshFacedandWildeyed2011, curated by The Photographers' Gallery, London.
After graduating she won the Portrait Commission at the National Museum Wales and National Portrait Gallery, London in 2010.
The series Life after Zog and other stories won the Honorable mention at the Project Competition at Center, Santa Fe in 2011 and in 2010 it was the recipient of the Marco Pesaresi award. In April 2013 it will be published in a book by Shilt Publishing. Her first solo show Life after Zog and other stories took place in September 2011 at Sifest (Savignano sul Rubicone, Italy) and is currently touring the Fnac galleries in Italy.
In the past her work has been exhibited at the Galleria Monopoli, Milano (2012), Hereford Photography Festival (2011), Ffotogallery, Cardiff (2011), Pinacoteca Provinciale, Bari (2011), TRACE gallery, Cornwall (2010), Pingyao International Photography Festival, China (2010), National Portrait Gallery, London (2010), National Museum Wales (2010).
Her work has been featured in the following publications: Context and Narrative in Photography (AVA publishing, 2011), British Journal Of Photography, Ag magazine, the Guardian guide and in online publications: Burn, Unless You Will, Conscientious, Square Magazine, Foto8, Lenscratch, La Lettre de la Photographie, Fototazo, Contact Editions, Gup magazine, Bite!magazine, Blown.
The featured photographer for August 2012 was Chiara Tocci