Strade 2005-2009
Il Segno gallery - Rome
Click on the imge to open the panorama

Often, as I walk along, I look at the ground. It’s not that I’m shy, it’s just that I look down when I walk.
A friend of mine does the same thing, and he always finds a coin on the ground. He takes it home and throws it into a jar by the door. Year after year, sidewalk after sidewalk, he’s almost filled that jar up.
His luck has become legend, fed by tales such as the one about the time he picked up a rupee in a Jaipur market.
An astonishing feat, as anyone who’s been to India will tell you: in such places, it is virtually impossible for a coin to ever touch the ground. On its way down, it will inevitably be snatched up by the most fortunate of the many quick hands that make a grab for it.
Over his long career, my friend has not limited himself to picking up coins: his bag of tricks even boasts a woman’s Rolex, which he wore for ages, and a painting from the 1700s, by a good hand. Unfortunately, given the painting’s subject matter – an eagle devouring Prometheus’ liver – he has yet to find a buyer.
Still, like the coins in the jar, it adds to his small treasure against old age.
I, on the other hand, in fifty years of walking with my eyes glued to the pavement, have never seen anything worth bending over to pick up. Half a porn rag, once. And a wallet once, in New York City, lying in the middle of a sidewalk on Union Square.
When I bent over to pick it up, though, it jumped away. It was attached to a string, with a group of guys in hard hats at the other end, entertaining themselves over their lunch break. Since then, I’ve never found anything, and I doubt I’d take a chance on picking up a wallet again, even if I did see one: those guys’ laughter still burns in my ears.
I have often asked myself how it is that my friend always finds things, while I never do, despite the fact that we both walk with our heads down. I think the answer lies in the fact that he wanders the world like a lion on the savannah, senses heightened, while my eyes, rather than being on the lookout for prey, wander free, roaming as they like.
They stop on cracks in the asphalt, on potholes, on crosswalks, on fallen leaves, on shadows, on spots of paint.
Things of no importance, which I nevertheless stop to look at more carefully, without even knowing why. And since I like to walk around with a camera in my pocket, ready to immortalize anything interesting that might cross my path, I have often found myself photographing such things.
I’ve been doing this for years, and I must say that these things have yet to reveal any inner truth. They are just things, even in a photograph.
A spot is a spot is a spot, as Gertrude Stein might say.
Still, I must have shot hundreds of spots – and crosswalks, crumbling mortar, shutters, stairs, and so on – and I’ve thrown most of the pictures away.
But one day, walking along with my new digital camera, I passed by the MAXXI construction site, in Via Guido Reni, and I was struck by the lovely tangled mass of yellow lines and blue, and started to shoot.
There was no stopping me. That day, after having photographed those beautiful lines over and over, I looked at them all together on the screen of the camera, and I was captivated by the shapes they formed – a sort of crooked polygon.
It looked like something a dyslexic Luca Paccioli might have drawn. Since then, I’ve taken loads of photos, in daylight hours and at night, freely, without worrying about setting up each shot.
When the camera is full, I download the pictures to my computer, which has just told me I have an archive of 5,484 photos.
Once on my hard disk, safe and sound, I forget about them. Days go by, months, even years, until the moment arrives when, looking them over, one jumps out at me. I pull it out, and then I choose another, taken at the same time. I put one next to the other, and then I choose a third, and so on –positioning, removing, shifting– until, of the many images that are assembled and dispersed, one makes me think of something, as a cloud might, up in the sky.
At that point, like a midwife, I help the image come to life. I bring it into the world and take care of it. In the end, when it’s ready, I look at it and see things I never could have imagined when I was shooting those photos.
The silent flight of an invisible bomber, the windswept wet of a thunderstorm, the annotations of a composer, a stormy sky. Each single photo in each composition is still there, picturing the edge of a sidewalk or a stair bordering the visible world, but together with the others, that photo opens up what to me is an infinite space.
Goofy once said to Mickey Mouse: it’s funny how, if you look at them from the bottom, all slopes look uphill.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,than are dreamt of in your philosophy, answers the Bard, with Hamlet’s voice

Peter Quell, June 2009

© Toni Garbasso