In his works, which have helped define the development of photographic research internationally, Mimmo Jodice (Naples, 1934) explores the world around us, dwelling on the threshold of an indefinite time, in which past, present and future are interwoven. In this way Jodice delineates a dimension placed beyond spatial coordinates or the passing of time, suspended in both a physical and a metaphysical dimension, the empirical and contemplative experience of waiting. A waiting that is also the matrix of a strictly analogue practice of photography: waiting in his patient research into light, often of the morning, capable of detecting the essence of the subject, or waiting in the equally patient balancing of blacks and whites in the darkroom. And if, since 1980, the human figure has disappeared from these works – where it had previously been a recurrent presence – what Jodice attains is the ineffable eternity and absolute clarity of images in black and white rendered by the revelatory gaze of a camera that becomes a “time machine” (or, rather, a machine recording the passing of time), in its enchanted patrolling of the world, from the gut of Naples to the shores of the Mediterranean, with their vestiges of ancient civilizations that have now disappeared, up to the uncertain confines of globalized megacities. Each of these photos becomes the supreme celebration of humanity, taken by observing reality in all its sense expressions and transformed into a photographic reality that, apart from different eras and contexts, coincides with the constant reinvention of photography itself, liberated from a purely documentary interpretation, free to express its representative and cognitive potential. This solo exhibition presents, in a retrospective path specially designed by the artist for the spaces of the Madre museum, more than a hundred works divided into various sections, closely linked and evoking a circular time, cyclically recurring on itself and its inspiring motifs.
The exhibition begins in the Re_PUBBLICA Madre gallery on the ground floor, where a selection of images from the series dedicated, in the 1960s and 1970s, to the city of Naples can be seen, screened in the format of a great cinematic projection (Teatralità quotidiana a Napoli, 2016). They range from recordings of forms of social gatherings, such as Communist party assemblies or popular processions (these last being the subject of the volume Chi è devoto?, 1974 with a preface by Carlo Levi and entries by Roberto De Simone), to the conditions in mental hospitals and prison life, the dynamics of work in factories, including the Bagnoli plant, and the denunciation of child labor and the mechanisms of social exclusion to street life in the bassi and the outer suburbs of Naples. Those were the years of extensive and accurate photographic interpretation (the subject of a special issue of “Progresso fotografico” in 1978, followed by the book Mezzogiorno. Questione aperta in 1975). Never reduced to mere documentation, Jodice expresses the essential meaning of his age and his city, depicted in irreconcilable contradictions, with an aesthetic interest which is translated into an ethical commitment and democratic anthropology of everyday objects, daily habits, collective behaviors, the residues of history, ideologies and faiths. A lucid analysis that becomes a baroque hymn, a lyric epistemology and a social and cultural chiaroscuro.
The exhibition then continues on the third floor. Here, the beginning and the end of the exhibition are devoted to the coeval experimental research: the incunabula of a photography embodied in a conceptual investigation of the potential of the photographic language: in Vera fotografia (1979), the image of the artist’s hand, intent on writing the words of the title in pen, copies them onto photographic paper as true writing in pen. Similarly, the same hand does not represent but makes a cut (Taglio, 1978) and a burn (Bruciatura, 1978). Subverting the interpretation of the medium of photography as a mere recording of reality, Jodice opposes or superimposes a three-dimensional element on its photographic reproduction (Ferrania, 1976, Carta d’identità, 1978, Corrispondenza, 1979), just as he rips/juxtaposes, saturates/desaturates various photographic images creating ghostly landscapes that are the result of original spatial and temporal juxtapositions (Frattura, Paesaggio interrotto, Orizzonte, Strappi, Momenti sovrapposti). The bodies as well, shedding their supposed consistency and singularity, mutate through reflections (Autoritratto, 1963, Autoritratti con Emilio Notte, 1972, Frammenti con figura, 1968) or playing with the parameters and the mechanisms themselves of production of the photographic image (Nudi stroboscopici, 1966, or Studio per un nudo, 1967, in which the final image is “completed” by specimens of its other possible versions). Until the artist comes to the self-analysis of either his own instrument (Macchina fotografica, 1965) or of the countless transformative events during the printing phase (Chimigramma, 1966). From this there emerges all the ideational and compositional freedom of a photographic practice that he began, for that matter, as an autodidact, in the late 1950s, not with the use of camera or film but with the use of an enlarger, and then with the extra-photographic concepts of time (exposure) and (degree of) brightness.
A freedom which is also that with which the artist’s identity is reshaped: enhancing the modernist value of the process rather than the product, and at the same time investigating, and with a remarkable advance, the logic of citationist and appropriationist Post-Modernism, in 1978, in the project Identificazione at the Studio Trisorio in Naples, Jodice re-photographed not only the images but also the aesthetic of other photographers such as Richard Avedon, Bill Brandt, Walker Evans, André Kertész, Ralph Gibson and Christian Vogt, exploring the possibilities of photographic “dilation or narrowing, development or reduction.”
In the wings on the third floor there follow each other – in close contiguity and continuity between the three different times of the past (the first section), the future (second section) and the present (third section) – works from all Jodice’s major series since the 1980s.
In the first section we proceed from the cultural roots of the Mediterranean (research begun in 1985) to the everyday epiphanies (Eden, a 1995 series presented on display in a new version). Likewise in the third section, from the comparison between the faces and bodies of contemporary Naples and the masterpieces of the collections in the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte (Transiti, 2008), we turn to the relationship between the enchantment of the natural landscape and the metropolitan phantasmagoria of the contemporary city.
The second section, placed at the very center of the exhibition, embodies the visionary and meditative matrix of all Jodice’s research, the creation of a real beyond reality, which by tracing an emotional and intellectual correspondence in twentieth-century Surrealism (recalled in the exhibition by René Magritte’s work L’amour, 1949), is composedly revealed in the new cycle Attesa, placed by Jodice as the ideal outcome of the exhibition, but also, at the same time, as its generating fulcrum and its eternal return: in the space-time of waiting for a future that never arrives, Jodice no longer recognizes real space or time, but recreates them, while the world and history, transfigured into the black and white of a sublime darkroom morning, seem to be now only the memory of what they were, are or will be: the photographic phantom of an eternal instant from the world, of its endless day, in which the fleeting majesty of the ruin of Palmyra could be transfused into the fragile grandeur of the Twin Towers of New York.
For the first time in an exhibition Jodice also finally allows the sources of inspiration of his research to emerge, represented by works selected with the artist himself: two masterpieces of Mediterranean archeology (the white marble sculpture of the Companion of Odysseus and the bronze bust of Artemis, coming from that hypothetical museum of mare nostrum that Jodice evokes in his works on archaeological subjects) seem to portend their future photographic synthesis, through the catalogue of antiquarian fragments of the copperplate etchings by Giovanni Battista Piranesi. The abstract ferocity of Eden oscillates between Jusepe de Ribera’s Still-Life with a Goat’s Head (1645-1650) and the quiet of the still-lifes by Giorgio Morandi, while Jodice’s landscapes seem to find a welcoming assonance in the metaphysical Piazzas of Italy by Giorgio De Chirico (The Big Tower, 1932-38) or in the silent, abridged, minimal city scenes by Mario Sironi (Urban Landscape, 1920).
After training at the Academy of Fine Arts in Naples (where, thanks to its director, the painter Emilio Notte, Mimmo Jodice inaugurated the first experimental courses in 1970 and, from 1975 to 1994, was the teacher of the first photography course in an Italian Academy), the artist held his first solo exhibition in 1967, at the Mandragola bookshop, followed in 1970 by the exhibition Nudi dentro cartelle ermetiche at the Galleria Il Diaframma in Milan (with an introduction by Cesare Zavattini), followed by a second exhibition in 1974. In 1968 he exhibited at the Teatro Spento in Urbino and, through collaboration with the gallerists Lucio Amelio and Lia Rumma, began the relationship with the Neapolitan artistic milieu that would eventually become the subject of the book Mimmo Jodice. Avanguardie a Napoli dalla contestazione al riflusso (1996). In 1971 he met Cesare De Seta, with whom he shared a studio in Naples until 1988. Jodice was the author of several volumes, related in many cases to monographic exhibitions, including Vedute di Napoli (1980), which concluded his “social period” and started an investigation of spatiality characterized by the excavation of collective archetypal memories and metaphysical voids. He has received many awards such as the 2003 Antonio Feltrinelli Prize of the Academy of the Lincei, in 2006 an honorary degree from the Università Federico II in Naples, in 2011 the accolade of Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, and in 2013 and 2016, an honorary degree from the Accademia di Architettura in Mendrisio and the Accademia di Belle Arti in Macerata. The artist has had solo exhibitions at some of the most important museums in the world, and his works are in the collections of museums such as the University Art Museum, Albuquerque; Museum Photographic Archive, Barcelona; Institute of Modern Art, Detroit; Musée Cantini, Marseille; Museo della Fotografia Italiana, Cinisello Balsamo-Milan; Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna, Modena; Canadian Center of Architecture and McCord Museum, Montréal; Museum of Photography, Moscow; Aperture Foundation, New York; Metropolitana di Napoli, museo Madre and Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples; Bibliothèque Nationale-Cabinet des Estampes, MEP-Maison Européenne de la Photographie and FNAC- Fond National d’Art Contemporain, Paris; Museum of Art, Philadelphia; Centro Studio e Archivio della Comunicazione, Parma; Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica, Rome; Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, GAM-Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea and Castello di Rivoli-Museo d’arte contemporanea, Turin; MART-Museo Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Trento e Rovereto; Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco; Museum of Art, Tel Aviv; Library of Congress, Washington.