In Sanremo, until 21 May, a project by photographer Paolo Riolzi, curated by Matteo Balduzzi, investigates the Ligurian city, its inhabitants, its beaches, its territory

If it is true that a picture is worth a thousand words, Paolo Riolzi's photographs testify to this in the shots devoid of human presence, in the vivid almost fluorescent colours, in the sharp contours without blurring. Despite the subtle background evanescence, every detail is identifiable and observable. His photographs tell, without the need for words, landscapes, horizons, moments that suggest stories and, behind each story, people. His images offer themselves to the beholder and capture his gaze. And by giving us all this, Riolzi ennobles the landscape as a democratic space, in which each person has a right of access, enjoyment and responsibility in its management and care. Daughter of her training as an architect, a form of urbanism from below emerges from her photos that recognises the diversity of the community as a primary value. On the occasion of his latest work, we met him to ask him about the significance of this new adventure.

What is Laboratorio Sanremo?

It is a public project investigating the city of Sanremo. The research project, which started thanks to a commission from Councillors Silvana Ormea (Culture) and Giuseppe Faraldi (Tourism), lasted over two years in search of a true ideal dialogue between the city, the photographic image and the public, in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture, the regional directorate of Museums Liguria and the director of Forte Santa Tecla, Dr. Alberto Parodi.

How did you approach the project? What did you put of yourself, of your way of doing photography? What did you receive in return?

I had the privilege of getting to know the city by doing the inspections with Monica Paracchini who lives and lives in Sanremo, also an architect by training; this allowed me to explore the whole area in depth, including its social landscape, meet people, visit museums, historical buildings, archives, and listen to the stories of some of its citizens. For two years, I alternated photography sessions with meetings and continuous explorations. This way of proceeding derives from the experiences I had with the previous public art projects, Vetrinetta and Casetta Bassa, which built a sort of methodological skeleton, and clearly the embryos of all this derive from my training, from the experience as an assistant I had after graduating with Gabriele Basilico: for two years I travelled with him in Europe. The city and some of its inhabitants gave me back an intense and project-related experience, having the opportunity to tell it through different artistic practices is an exercise that allows me to better understand the urban and social fabric.

How is the exhibition structured?

The exhibition is structured through different sections. Firstly, that of the photographic investigation, i.e. a series of images taken by me during inspections, meetings, research and dialogues with some of the territory's protagonists. The research is translated into photographs that represent the border between architecture, geography and urban anthropology.

A particular way of disseminating visual culture

When Nicholas Mirzoeff wrote and published Introduction to Visual Culture in 1999, upon reading the text, one of his statements seemed immediately clear to me: "The world as text has been replaced by the world as image, in this sense visual culture is a tactic of knowledge that serves to study the genealogy and functions of postmodern everyday life." Geography, urban anthropology and sociology have never been in such dialogue as they are today. I would like to add that it no longer makes sense to me to use photography as the sole device precisely because of the fact that visual culture encompasses vast fields and disciplines that cannot be ignored for those concerned with deciphering and restoring the city.

And then?

Then there is the involvement of citizens through a public project entitled "Di che spiaggia sei?" (What beach are you from?), carried out together with students from the Liceo Musicale Cassini and coordinated by a number of teachers: a collection of photographs taken on the beaches of Sanremo, telling the story of the lidos and the people who inhabited them.

Explain further...

Just as we select houses to live in, so we select the beaches where we wish to spend our leisure time, particularly if we are not tourists. The beach becomes an extension of the home, a public place that becomes familiar. These are places that our loved ones have often chosen for us. We grow up with people who are initially strangers and gradually become part of our family: Mauro the lifeguard, Carla the beach umbrella neighbour, Luigi the big cousin of our summer friend. Analysing these 'historical' photographs allows us to dig into our collective memory, reminding us that we too are protagonists of a fan base that we often defend with pride. The workshop is the instrument for managing the entire process: the working group is composed of myself, professors Lia Motta and Patrizia Magnoni, who have the task of coordination, and the students of the Liceo Cassini who met the people, collected the photographs, and conducted interviews.

What was the experience of working with such young boys and girls? What was your approach to them and their approach to photography?

I have been involved in teaching for as long as I can remember, I started working with the Politecnico di Milano when I was still a second-year architecture student, then, once I graduated, I continued teaching as an adjunct professor of Photography and Visual Culture in various Universities and Academies. Education is an important component of my career path. Working with students is an integral part of the process of almost all my projects. Training young people means activating pathways to make territories more permeable to cultural processes.

Finally, a short on Alfredo Moreschi
The activity of the Moreschi studio has been narrating the city of Sanremo for five generations, since 1927. In exhibition a short film is presented, which through the words of Moreschi himself and a series of archive documents, retraces a significant part of the city's history. Photographs, film clips, Cineclub and Fotoclub productions, make it possible to relive the Sanremo of the 1950s and 1960s.

What objectives have you set yourself with Laboratorio Sanremo?

To encourage dialogue between people and generations, favouring the meeting and sharing of time; to identify the elements of collective identity in order to relate social memory and a sense of belonging; to design a process of participation in the cultural life of the territory; to increase the number of contemporary art users; to consolidate the relationship between citizens, culture and public institutions.

Were you able to reach them? All or some of them?

I was not able to work as I would have liked on the Pigna, the historic core of the city, its heart. I met several times with some members of local associations, we hypothesised a workshop. The project consists of the construction of a methodological model with the aim of systemising bottom-up initiatives by creating the structure of a programme of actions, flexible and articulated over time. The 'Pigna' project aims to create social cohesion through cultural/social projects involving participative processes of citizenship involvement.

Why a location like Forte Santa Tecla?

The Forte Santa Tecla exhibition space is the place where this dialogue takes shape and is presented to the public through the use of several languages and different ways of producing and using photography: the artistic gaze, the vernacular photography of family photos and the professional activity of the Moreschi studio.

An experience you think you will do again?

Of course, every time you learn something and hope to have left some positive trace on the territory where you worked. In Sanremo, for example, unlike other times where my work was mediated by an institution, a museum, this time relations with institutions and politics were managed directly by me and this made the work more complex but also richer in experiences. Ideally, as was the case with the Vetrinetta project, realised with two museums, Museion Bolzano 2012, Mufoco Milan 2015, this project too can be replicated in other cities.

All photos © Paolo Riolzi