Sunday, October 14, 2012

Work in Progress, October, 2012: Two Italian Festivals Revisited

It has been 11 years since I wrapped up working on my Italian Festivals project. After spawning numerous exhibitions, a feature in Ambassador magazine and a book, La Festa: Italian Festivals in America, I decided enough time had passed for me to take a fresh look at this subject. So in September of this year, I ventured, camera in hand, to two events that I had previously photographed: Ferragosto in the Bronx and the Feast of San Gennaro in Manhattan. What I found there bore out the fear I initially had for what was becoming of these celebrations, and which acted in part as the motivation for embarking on this assignment in the first place: that the Italian Festival as we knew it was further disappearing into the homogenization and logo-fication of American commercialism, deteriorating the unique and authentic voices and traditions which has helped make this country strong in its diversity.
            At San Gennaro, I was disappointed to find the “religious” procession reduced to a few meager, perfunctory floats which seemed to be a mere facade of the original (much like Manhattan’s Little Italy generally). San Gennaro himself is no longer carried down the street with solemnity and devotion, but rides motorized along with the B-list celebrities meant to attract consumers to the fair. Ferragosto, meant to mark the Feast of the Assumption and the start of summer exodus to the seashore in Italy, has been moved to September (perhaps they should change the name to Ferrsettembre?). This festa is basically a food festival, although a very good one, meant to highlight the eateries in the area. But the statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel seemed an afterthought, relegated to a mere sideshow.
            As the following group of pictures will evince, this time around I found myself more engaged with photographing the spectators rather than the spectacle. I was drawn to the wayward expression or telling gesture of an individual rather than to the pomp of the ritual. Perhaps I have come full circle, as it was the egalitarianism of these festivals that first inspired me to photograph them.

Pig Roasting, Ferragosto, Bronx, NY, 2012 © Robert Forlini 

Commedia dell'Arte Spectators, Ferragosto,Bronx, NY, 2012 © Robert Forlini

Family Eating Ice Cream, Feast of San Gennaro, NYC, 2012 © Robert Forlini

Man Carrying Boy, Feast of San Gennaro, NYC, 2012 © Robert Forlini

Father and Daughters, Feast of San Gennaro, NYC, 2012 © Robert Forlini

Marching Band, Feast of San Gennaro, NYC, 2012 © Robert Forlini

Connie Francis and Entourage, Feast of San Gennaro, NYC, 2012 © Robert Forlini

Procession Spectators, Feast of San Gennaro, NYC, 2012 © Robert Forlini

Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Ferragosto, Bronx, NY, 2012 © Robert Forlini