If somebody asks me, ‘Give me two words that would make me a better photographer,’ I’d say, ‘Be open. Be open to what is in front of you.’ Jay Maisel
In a world jam-packed with photography lessons and manuals, this remark’s simplicity is refreshing. To be a good photographer, one needs a few technical skills, but mostly the right mindset. Street photography, above all, epitomizes the idea of being open to a situation and making sense of it.
This is precisely why the photography of Mario DiGirolamo is compelling. Visione, the series of black and white images at Lumière through June 26, exposes moments in time, seemingly ordinary, that find their significance in the viewfinder of an amateur photographer.
The exhibit coincides with the release of DiGirolamo’s second book of photography, Visione: A Midcentury Photographic Memoir, (published and beautifully designed by Laurie Shock of Shock Design Books), from which most of 26 silver gelatin prints presented at the gallery were selected.
You might call his work photographic memoir. It reflects a lifelong practice of capturing moments of anonymity and making us feel that they are ours because they reflect the human experience.
The fact that DiGirolamo, 81, was a scientist and a researcher in his professional life may not have informed his artistic approach. But both practices — medicine and photography — manifest a humanistic sensibility and demonstrate a keen interest for the soul.
Now retired, DiGirolamo spent a lifetime in the medical field as an endocrinologist. After a residency at Columbia University in New York and a short stay back in his natal Italy, he accepted a position at the School of Medicine at Emory University in 1968. He has called Atlanta home ever since. His extensive travels for scientific meetings in the U.S and Europe afforded him opportunities to make good use of his Rolleiflex camera.
DiGirolamo credits his photographic proficiency to frequenting museums and membership in camera clubs, first in Rome, then in Atlanta. He never attended a photography class and does not consider himself a professional.
His strong sense of composition and his desire to capture the “geometry of human situations” speak to the influence of Henri Cartier-Bresson. DiGirolamo shows a great sense of timing in capturing “decisive moments.” He also makes good use of pre-visualization, another key concept of the French master, waiting until the right moment to place his subject in the frame in order to achieve his vision. In The Shadow, Vienna, Austria, for instance, he recalls waiting for the passage of a hunched elderly woman to fill the frame between a rabbit drawing and the window reflection.
But DiGirolamo’s forte is elevating ordinary moments into meaningful tableaux. Take, for example, Anglesea Free House, London England 1955. A man is lost in his thoughts, surrounded by numerous empty glasses and fellow drinkers who look away. We are drawn to decipher the expression on his face: Is it reverie or mild melancholy?
Or Dreaming of a Game, Rome, Italy, 1958, in which a young boy holds a soccer ball as he leans on a wooden pole, surrounded by waves of drying laundry. The image has a dreamy feel, and yet, it resonates in our collective repository of images as a classic Italian scene.
To DiGirolamo, this is more life photography than street photography. “Street photography is about curiosity, whereas life photography is when you see a moment that is really important for the people and has a meaning,” he says.
Whatever their genre, his photos are a testament to the power of the medium to find a poetic truth in the chaos of life. And they are here to be enjoyed and appreciated like a cup of good espresso, strong and invigorating.