Review by Gerhard Clausing •
What we find missing in our childhood can sometimes be filled in a bit later in our lives in various ways. So it was with Sonia Lenzi, whose father had not been as accessible in her earlier years as she had wished; in recent years she gained personal access to seven older parental figures who were influential in a number of ways as beacons of Italian social, political, and artistic realms, and served as her guides as well. In this photobook she shares with us detailed visual and verbal characterizations that were part of the process of gaining a more complete understanding of the past through personal access as granted by these elders.
Sonia Lenzi studied art and art history, philosophy, as well as law. Thus, it follows that she is a meticulous observer of people as well as of the objects that supply the meaningful contexts with which people surround themselves. As we see in this photobook, she also does an excellent job of doing a visual and textual documentation of what she sees and feels.
The book carries the subtitle, A Social Family Album. Indeed, she presents us with well-designed glimpses of four gentlemen and three ladies who served as paragons of Italian society, and lets us see their surroundings, in a close-up and very personal way. Each of the individuals is presented in a double-page ‘triptych,’ the only place where we see an actual black-and-white portrait of each person, also a historical document or news clipping relevant to their particular life history and accomplishments.
Most of the rest of the pages are used to portray each of the seven individuals through very colorful and personal images of the domestic environment that provides a contextual characterization. The photographs are accompanied by commentary and personal-style notes and sentiments that give us great insights into their lives as well as the relationships she had with them. I am sure they found her insights amazing as well as amusing at times. External objects and events are internalized and shared, first by the author and the visited individuals, and then by extension with the viewers/readers though the presentations in this book.
Italian history over the past ninety years or so is a very complex subject. Some of the problems were fascism, populism, militarism, economic hardships, crime, and more. So the individuals with whom Sonia Lenzi sought close proximity were excellent interpreters of all that transpired, since they were decision-makers and the leaders or ‘influencers’ of their times. Some were part of the legal or political decision-making, others were partisans, progressive thinkers, historians, and writers. It is not possible to delve into greater detail here; you need to study the visual and textual particulars yourself.
A touching tribute to her own father concludes the section of visuals. The last quarter of the book provides much historical and biographical textual detail, explanations of the circumstances, as well as an astute postscript essay by Roberta Valtorta. A study of these ‘ideal parental figures’ seems to have given Lenzi some feeling of closure.
All in all, the reader/viewer can use this fine personalized reportage and attractive design as a model for working toward greater understanding between generations and as evidence that achieving closeness and collaboration can be a better path to understanding the past and the present, and to applying these values to the future. This project is also an excellent manual on how to learn valuable lessons about our cultural and intellectual legacy from those who came before us.
Gerhard (Gerry) Clausing, Associate Editor of the PhotoBook Journal, is an author and photographer from Southern California.
Sonia Lenzi – Take Me to Live with You
Photographer: Sonia Lenzi (from Bologna, Italy; also lives and works in London)
Publisher: Kehrer Verlag, Heidelberg, Germany; © 2021
Essays and Texts: Sonia Lenzi, Roberta Valtorta
Language: English and Italian
Hardcover, sewn; 208 pages, unpaginated, with 146 images; 7.875 x 9.25 inches (17.5 x 23.5 cm); printed and bound in Germany; ISBN 978-3-96900-049-6
Design: Ramon Pez, Sonia Lenzi, Kehrer Design (Laura Pecoroni)
Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s). All images, texts, and designs are copyright of the authors and publishers.