Memories of Paolo Monti

Written by  Andrea Emiliani
A great photographer's view of Ferrara (with a note by Paolo Ravenna).
While the encounter with Paolo Monti in the corridors of the Garzanti publishing house was almost by chance, we nevertheless ought to confess that he was already well known for his often extraordinary knowledge of the secret relationship governing the bonds between places and their history.

Professionally speaking, Monti's time in Venice had left him with a profound notion of the sense and sensibility, if we may put it like that, of history: his work reveals an awareness of form allied to the understanding and poetic sensitivity of someone who well knew that the Italian landscape cannot ever be separated from the ages old formal universe of which it is the expression.

Like Leopardi in the enormous library at Recanati, Paolo Monti used to spend endless hours studying the Alinari photo archives, where he realized that - as they could not be bettered - what he could do was emphasize the cognitive tension of the photographic image. And not delude himself overmuch.
It was architecture that gave him the opportunity to focus his sensitivity and expertise. Monti possessed a fine understanding of the beauty of "ready made" form - so Italian - and the need to be "new" without losing touch with a seductive and marvellous antiquity and thus his vision was always underpinned by a certain cultural density and intensity.

For him, wandering around Ferrara was like witnessing the re-emergence of admirable volumes, bewitching colours, extraordinary skies.

Being a Venetian by adoption his Ferrara skies betray a hint of the lagoon and the Adriatic and beneath this poetic mobility it is even more exciting to discover the miraculous plastic beauty of Renaissance architecture.
And so Paolo Ravenna found a partner, the ideal interpreter for his far sighted and programmatic research into the city.

Paolo Monti in Ferrara

Paolo Monti worked in Ferrara from the Sixties until 1982, the year of his death. Only a few months before he had documented as only he could the restoration of the prothyrum of the Cathedral.

In that space of time, Monti, who was deeply attached to Ferrara, had carried out a profound study of the city with the scientific and formal wisdom and rigour that had made him an indisputable master of the image, as is perceptively pointed out by Andrea Emiliani elsewhere in the pages of this magazine.
The result of Monti's Ferrara oeuvre is about seven thousand five hundred photos including images of the city, its monumental and minor aspects, from the streets and gardens, to the most intimate interiors, ranging a little farther afield to Cento, Copparo, Belriguardo, Pomposa, La Stellata, and the Mesola as well as invaluable thematic campaigns such as that made in 1972 - and now dispersed, unfortunately - on the University's architectural heritage, and the one of the valleys of Comacchio.

But standing tall above his other work is his monumental census of the historic city centre, carried out for the Town Council in 1975 (a good three thousand six hundred shots). I remember Monti wandering our streets, silent and pensive before every photo.
For the occasion the city was freed of cars and all other visual obstacles so that he might photograph it, piece by piece, and thus fix in the purity of the image the fundamental elements underpinning its extraordinary layout and architecture.

The result was a work of exceptional quality, penetrating intelligence and sensitivity.
To this day Monti's work is of inestimable usefulness for any well thought out modifications regarding the aspect, urban functions and history of Ferrara.

Paradoxically, only a very few images from this unique work are generally known, the ones published here represent our way of urging the city to enrich its inheritance by purchasing the entire corpus of Monti's work.

Paolo Ravenna