Donata Pizzi in conversation with Patrizia Sambuco

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PS: You are a photographer and a collector. Your “Donata Pizzi Collection” combines many works by over 90 Italian photographers. The collection is acquiring notoriety thanks to national and international collaborations. Can you tell us how your interest in collecting women’s photographic works started? Did it start as a grand project or as personal research?

For many years before deciding to take up a career as a photographer I had been working as an editor for an important weekly magazine and later as a sales person for an international stock library. Honestly the gender of the photographers I was dealing with never struck me back then in the ’80, as fundamental. Certainly women practitioners were less numerous but it didn’t seem to me, or my colleagues in both cases all females of different generations to be an issue. At the magazine, l’Espresso, the most provoking covers were in fact often commissioned by the head of photography department, a woman, Franca De Bartolomeis to Donatella Rimoldi. Also Paola Agosti, Antonia Cesareo, Agnese De Donato, Gabriella Mercadini, Elisabetta Catalano and others were often published. Certainly De Bartolomeis was putting an effort in that (buying from female photographers) and she also raised younger female editors like me and Renata Ferri (now at Sette, Corriere della Sera) to go and work in important posts. De facto Italian photography has seen many women in the business starting from the legendary Grazia Neri who founded her agency in Milan in the ’70 representing Sygma, Gamma, Magnum all the greatest groups an also many freelance individuals. 

We are certainly talking about a very privileged small world, and in any case we were fighting against some unacceptable discriminations, i.e. to get our contract as journalists. I ask myself today, is it possible, having myself worked in this environment that the origin of my Collection can be traced back to this lucky small world and the formidable women that inhabited it? For sure growing professionally within that group I was eased at recognising the value of women photographers. 

Going back to the Collection, the main idea was to do something to have Italian Photography nationally and internationally recognised for what it was worth. It came then quite natural when thinking which images had been important for me as an editor and a photographer to start from the works of Lisetta Carmi, Carla Cerati, Letizia Battaglia and all the others already mentioned. So many more I discovered later like Lori Sammartino, Marcella Campagnano from earlier and newer generations, through research, study, word of mouth, auctions, galleries.

PS: The timeframe of your collection is specific. It starts with works published in 1965 and covers photographs up to the most recent years. It creates a history of Italian women photographers, of themes and methodologies. Many different narratives emerge from the works in your collection: labour, gender identity, social protests. Can you tell us more about the themes that you have decided to represent?

All the pictures in the Collection have been very carefully chosen, even though it’s been also a matter of passion and instinct. However, from a certain moment the new entries have arrived quite automatically as logical additions to the whole structure, the core of this structure having militancy as a main characteristic. I noticed that women photographers tend to transfer all of themselves in whatever project they face: since the beginning and more evidently from the moment feminism exploded in the mid ‘60 “the personal becomes political”. As Zanele Muholi puts it today we can refer to the phenomenon as visual activism. The camera has historically been and continues to be a particularly useful and sympathetic tool for women to convey not only their lives and worries but also more and more themes of general and public interest (discrimination, immigration, the environment). In fact this is what especially interests me and always strikes me as specific of the narration of women: the capacity, strength, depth and irony/humour to react with the camera indicating facts and if not solutions at least positive attitudes.

PS: Can we say that the representation of women’s bodies is central to your collection?


PS: You give relevance to abstract photography by women. In your collection, you have also decided to show a contemporary interest in intermediality (the interaction of photography with other mediums). Can you tell us something about the relevance of these new trends and methodologies in women’s photography that we have appreciated in some of the works of your collection?

The Collection is structured for my own easiness in a chronological order and it is immediately obvious when you look at the entire masterplan the evolution of the narrative from the small B&W images of the ’60 to the 3D prints of today (Claudia Petraroli). I’m fascinated by the capacity of artists to extend the limits of the camera to include new and various other languages, contradicting the idea of photography as a rigid and limited medium.

It’s always been my concern also as a photographer at the time, to find ways to expand/concentrate/present/go about/illustrate complex concepts in an abstract way, either through a single image, or a series of pictures (Irene Fenara), a video, and more recently very diverse artists’ books. In fact I’m interested in showing whenever possible the mixed media works (photos and videos but also computer generated imagery, artists’ books) by artists from different generations, like Marina Ballo Charmet, Moira Ricci, Sara Rossi, Rä di Martino, Alba Zari, Rachele Maistrello.

Finally on a purely aesthetic base, I find abstract images in contemporary photography also very appealing, with a peculiar specific beauty, as in the eeriely pictures of Beatrice Pediconi, and Silvia Bigi.

PS: How do you see the future of Italian women’s photography? And what about trends and methodologies? Will documentary photography still be of interest?

I’ve seen in the later years a growing interest in public institutions and some unexpected unprecedented investments from our Ministry of Culture and some private Foundations. Also a number of Festivals and Prizes and artists residencies have helped artists to emerge. New younger dealers and galleries seem interested in developing photography-related art, and auctions are more frequent and attended: important private collections are developing.  Italian photography, however, still lags behind other European countries in considering photography at the same level as other disciplines. At the same time younger Italian artists, including women photographers, have achieved a relevant role on the international scene breaking barriers of nationality, gender, generation.

As for the survival of documentary photography, I personally am optimistic: we will always need it and more and more, as the media are invaded by non professional contributions or AI generated fakes.