Review by Douglas Stockdale •
A cross country road trip, perhaps conceptually relating to Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’, is an opportunity to view, witness and document an ensuing social and environmental landscape. What if that road trip is through a country that appears to be almost devoid of vegetation, animals and man-kind, a region that is not really known for anything?
Gabriele Chiapparini & Camilla Marrese, two Italian photographers who are working as a team to create a documentary style narrative while they crisscross the North African country of Morocco. It is a country that borders the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea but away from the coast includes vast stretches of stark landscapes. As with any road trip that encompasses only one week, this project is not meant to be an inclusive study of the entirety of this large country, but a quick take of the country’s pulse in its southern region. Chiapparini & Marrese’s photographs reveal that this part of Morocco is very barren and desolate, from which their book title derives the rhetorical question; did they actually see ‘something’ on this road-trip?
Implied in their question is what constitutes something that needs to be ‘seen’, that which has to be found and warrants being photographed as a souvenir, a thing that is kept as a reminder of it being seen. The inclusion of the word ‘might’ also imply that that where they drove did not really attract their attention and that what was encountered was uneventful, boring and perhaps not of any particular interest.
Where do you stop to photograph when encountering mind-numbing sameness, a relentless landscape that appears to be so un-forgiving? Kilometers and kilometers of the same flat arid land?
Yet, they did take a series of photographs of some things they encountered; mountain terrain, roadways that extend into distant landscapes, flat featureless desert landscapes, roadway signage, telecommunications and electrical infrastructure. As with any extensive relatively featureless landscape, it does seem to become numbing to the senses of the continuous sameness that does not appear to change. When driving through this landscape, one can be jarred awake into full consciousness when something is suddenly ‘noticed’; be it a gas station, a fortress like structure being be constructed in the middle of ‘nothing’, an oasis of lush trees or the sudden on-set of greenery found near the coast. Even the presence of another vehicle on the road or someone walking through the desert can momentarily attract attention.
I am remined of the similar sparsely populated regions in the United States that I have encountered, and the recent bookwork of Ben P. Ward’s “I Dream of Dust” described by Wayne Swanson as “…a melancholy world of empty spaces…”.
The other aspect of this body of work is how a desolate landscape can also take on abstract and graphic qualities. The resulting patterns of this expansive landscape’s twists and turns and on occasion inclusion of lines and marks that could have been made by man or animal. The color of the desert is almost monochrome creating contemporary color-field artworks like those of the abstract painters Mark Rothko or horizontal versions of Barnett Newman’s zip paintings.
In one photograph, a family is documented in transition across a featureless desert; what appears to be a women walking with two smaller children. We do not know where they are coming from, while we can guess that their lonely journey is towards a distant village, or at least a group of buildings, in the far horizon with little to no opportunity for any shade during their trek. It speaks to the poverty, desolation and challenges endured in this region.
There are not any captions or an index indicating where in Morocco each photograph was made, or by whom, thus the ambiguity of each photograph adds to the mystery of this series of landscapes. Implied in the sequencing of the book is that we are following the two photographers on their road trip out of Marrakech to the outer edges of the countries desert border and then reverse course back to end at an ocean’s edge. And this is what they saw that might deserve merit for being ‘observed’ and remembered.
The book has a Swiss binding that is Smyth sewn that allows it to lay flat, which nicely complements the occasional full-bleed two-page layouts. Printed on semi-matte paper, the resulting flatness of the photographs echo’s their documented landscapes. The book’s cover with its slightly discernable title hints at what’s ahead; an almost ‘invisible’ landscape, a mysterious journey in a strange land; where there is so much, but not much is discernable at all. Similarly, the initials of the book’s titled stamped on the Swiss bound spine offer minimal information. Few clues are offered as to what is ahead.
So, what is there to see here? Hard scrabble arid landscapes, open skies and large expansive vistas? Perhaps in part there is also what we can’t see. Maybe there is still something else to be seen.
Douglas Stockdale is a visual artist and Senior Editor & founder PhotoBook Journal
I Might Have Seen Something, Gabriele Chiapparini, Camilla Marrese
Photographer: Gabriele Chiapparini and Camilla Marrese (IG @camillamarrese), both born and reside in Bologna, Italy
Publisher: Artphilein Editions, Lugano Switzerland, copyright 2019
Essay: Afterword, Gabriele Chiapparini and Camilla Marrese
Stiff covers, Smyth Sewn, Swiss Binding, four-color, printed by Litogi, Milano, IT, ISBN 9788894375916
Photobook Designer: Gabriele Chiapparini and Camilla Marrese
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