ESSAYS WRITES ON 'UNA GIORNATA ORDINARIA' GALLERIA DEL CORTILE SHOW 2010

 


TESTO DI MARCO DELOGU PER ESPOSIZIONE DI ROMA

 

 

C'è una strana circolarità nel mondo, creazione di piccoli cortocircuiti, di micromondi e microstorie. Questa piccola storia vi appartiene.

Mi appassionai di fotografia sul finire degli anni'70, mi appassionai al reportage,Josef Koudelka e Don Mccullin, e alla fotografia americana: Lee Friedlander, William Eggleston, e Art Kane.

Nel 1984 aprii a Trastevere il mio studio, da dove scrivo adesso, e dopo poche settimane, complice la rivista Vogue Italia, vi ospitai Art Kane che realizzò fotografie di moda. Io conoscevo le sue foto a colori, ma la sua foto "Harlem 1958" che ritraeva Gerry Mulligan, Dizzie Gillespie, Thelonious Monk e moltissimi altri grandi jazzisti mi era sconosciuta; tramite un amico la conobbi anni dopo. Pochi giorni fa John Pepper mi mandò alcune sue fotografie, di cui molte fatte a Trastevere (primo cortocircuito). La sua fotografia "Una Giornata Ordinaria" mi riportò subito alla mente Art Kane e quei pochi giorni passati insieme e, molti anni dopo, la scoperta della sua foto dei jazzisti a Harlem. Non so perché, ma forse esiste un'aria comune tra quartieri di diverse grandi città, l'aria di una forte identità, del vivere fuori, l'aria del "borderline" con l'orribile pittoresco, ma esistono fotografi che non hanno paura e sanno affrontare la banalità e i luoghi comuni: Art ha fatto una foto che resterà nella storia del jazz e nella storia della fotografia, John racconta la sua Trastevere, in “Una Giornata Ordinaria” piccolo film di una sola inquadratura che ognuno può comporre a modo suo: il ragazzo con il casco è appena tornato o sta ripartendo, e cosa farà l’uomo sulla sedia a rotelle? E le donne come proseguiranno la giornata? John ci lascia liberi di pensare a mille svolgimenti, ma anche sicuri che quella “ordinarietà” la ritroveremo sempre, qualche attore cambierà, ma la scena, rassicurante, costituirà sempre un film di una sola inquadratura, e noi continueremo a ipotizzare svolgimenti. Per John Pepper, la struttura di quella scena è  fatta di incontri e incroci, di persone che compongono da anni la sua quotidianità e che lui sente il bisogno di fotografare: sente il bisogno di far vedere la normalità e di far entrare una piccola storia nella grande storia.

Marco Delogu, marzo 2011

 


 

ANTONINA MULAS ESSAYS FOR 'SAINS PAPIER' TODI, ITALY 2012

 

Si parla, nella fotografia, di tempo. L'immagine fissata nel tempo. Si parla di bianco e nero e di colore, di digitale e di pellicola, di realtà e di "punctum", di documento e di arte. Se un fotografo è artista o non lo è. Chi si sente qualcuno, modestamente, si autodefinisce artigiano, chi non si sente niente prova a scattare alla rinfusa sperando nel caso e chi almanacca sequenze concettuali sparate su situazioni stravaganti, molte volte prive di interesse.
Sulla fotografia si è detto di tutto, ormai. Ci sono i Maestri consacrati, scuole di pensiero, speranze. Ma chi si apre a ricevere la visione, dentro di sé, se ha amato e ingoiato i Maestri, qualcosa di nuovo lo dirà. La passione vince se è sostenuta dalla cultura.
Guardando una fotografia di John Pepper, il gruppo di famiglia e amici davanti alla porta di casa, rivedo l'immagine di Paul Strand nel libro realizzato con Zavattini Un paese del 1955. La stessa situazione: i personaggi davanti alla porta di casa, in esterno. Qui il tempo non è solo nello scatto dell'obbiettivo, otto e un sessantesimo, ma nella trasformazione delle persone, nel rito del farsi vedere. Sono cambiate la foggia delle scarpe e dei pantaloni, il casco, la sedia tecnologica a rotelle del ragazzo infortunato, la collana della ragazzina. Sono allegri, dialogano con il fotografo. Hanno oggetti costosi,che potrebbero appartenere a classi sociali elevate, mentre si intuisce che la loro condizione invece è modesta. Nella fotografia di Strand non c'era dubbio sulla loro cultura di contadini. Scrutavano l'obbiettivo con serietà, non si era ancora nel mondo dell'immagine. Immobili guardavano il fotografo. Oggi l'immagine è consumo, non provoca timidezza. Tutti possono avere una macchina fotografica, un casco da motocicletta e le scarpe Nike. La gente è nutrita, è cresciuta in altezza. Nella foto di John la scena è in movimento, i personaggi interagiscono fra di loro con naturalezza e  il fotografo fa parte del gioco.
John Pepper usa la pellicola in bianco e nero e la sapienza della stampa. Queste immagini provengono della scuola classica della fotografia.
John era un ragazzino quando è stato ospite a Milano nella mia casa, in piazza Castello, sopra lo studio che era di Ugo. Mi piacerebbe credere che il fascino della camera oscura di allora lo abbia influenzato, chissà, ma credo che il lavoro di Ugo abbia avuto parte nella sua scelta da adulto.
Il rèportage di John in Italia è filtrato dalla memoria di tanti grandi della fotografia: Diana Arbus, Cartier Bresson, Robert Frank, il primo Richard Avedon, William Klein, per citarne alcuni.
Ha percorso un'Italia nella strada, nei sotterranei dove i giovani si ritrovano, nei volti drammatici e allegri, nel teatro della vita. (E'molto bella l'immagine della festa religiosa dove la composizione perfetta, compatta, fra gli angeli stralunati i portatori del carro che si ammassano davanti alle luminarie che fanno da sfondo).
Vive e lavora a Palermo, apparente antitesi di New York. È americano nel guardare il popolo italiano ma italiano nel raccogliere lo spirito vitale e l'umanità della gente. La scelta di vivere in un paese come la Sicilia, pieno di contraddizioni e di valori arcaici, lo porterà sicuramente a scrivere la storia del cambiamento di un'epoca. Poi, al di là del fare arte, ciò che avrà raccolto sarà suo, farà parte della sua vita e si ritornerà a ridefinire il tempo, lo spazio e la condizione umana in evoluzione.
 

Antonia Mulas, Todi, May 5, 2012

 

TEXT IN ENGLISH

 


 

MY FAVORITE QUOTES ON PHOTOGRAPHY (SELECTION)

 

FAVORITE QUOTES

 

“The conception must be seen and felt on the camera ground-glass complete in every detail; all values, textures, exact dimensions must be considered once for all, for with the shutter’s release the isolated image becomes unalterably fixed. Developing the negative and making the final print, completes the original conception. This is the procedure in straight, real, photography.” 

Edward Weston, 1934

 

 “The photographer creates, evolves a better, more selective, more acute seeing eye by looking ever more sharply at what is going on in the world. Like every other means of expression, photography, if it is to be utterly honest and direct, should be related to the life of the times - -the pulse of today. The photograph may be presented as finely and artistically as you will; but to merit serious consideration, must be directly connected with the world we live in. 

Berenice Abbott 1951

 

“…innocence of eye has a quality of its own. It means to see as a child sees, with frankness and acknowledgement of the wonder; it also means to see as an adult sees who has gone full circle and once again sees as a child - -with freshness and an even deeper sense of wonder.”

Minor White, 1952

 

Thinking should be done beforehand and afterwards - -never while actually taking the photograph. Success depends on the extent of one’s general culture, on one’s sets of values, on one’s clarity of mind and vivacity. The thing to be feared most is the artificial contrived, the contrary to life.”

Henri Cartier Bresson 1962

 

 

A great photograph is a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed in the deepest sense, and is, thereby a ture expression of what one feels about life in its entirety.

Ansel Adams, 1944

 

 

 

“The picture story involves a joint operation of the brain, the eye and the heart. Sometimes a single event can be so rich in itself…that it is necessary to move all around it in your solution for the problem it poses... Sometimes you light upon the picture in seconds; it might also require hours or days. But there is no standard plan, no pattern from which to work. You must be on alert with the brain, the eye, the heart; and have a suppleness of body...At the same time it’s essential to avoid shooting like a machine-ginner and burdening yourself with useless recordings which clutter your memory and spoil the exactness exactness of the reportage as a whole.”

_______________________________________________________________

The photographer creates, evolves a better, more selective, more acute seeing eye by looking ever more sharply at what is going on in the world. Like every other means of expression, photography, if it is to be utterly honest and direct, should be related to the life of the times - -the pulse of today. The photograph may be presented as finely and artistically as you will; but to merit serious consideration, must be directly connected with the world we live in. 

 


 

 ELIZABETH FERRER ESSAY FOR 'EVAPORATIONS', 2014:


To exist is simply to be there; those who exist let themselves be encountered.

–  Jean Paul Sartre


John Pepper’s photographs are about the possibilities of the encounter, about witnessing moments of life never meant for the camera or for memory. He is an observer, often from afar, who depicts human life in its essential form – detached from time and cultural specificities, and typically, alone. Pepper follows in the decades-old practice of the street photographer, carrying a 35-mm camera on travels in many parts of the world, wandering and waiting for situations to present themselves. He maintains the classic tradition – some would say, now archaic – of working exclusively with film cameras and black-and-white film, framing his images through the viewfinder, and presenting them as they are revealed on the negative, with no form of manipulation. In the digital era, his choice to remain steadfast with this approach is a declaration of willful determination. With these means, he conveys a mode of viewing the world that measures realism against a kind of uncanny storytelling, physical observation against psychic revelation.   

Pepper makes his work in the public sphere – along streets and alleyways, often along shorelines, and only occasionally in interior spaces. Nevertheless, a sense of persistent quiet permeates these compositions, scenes of essentially private acts and moments of self-absorption. He is at heart an existentialist who practices photography as a way of grappling with human existence on its own terms, neither romanticized nor dramatized. The human form is central to his project, if rarely depicted up close; it is more commonly framed in a way that seems incidental. At times, a figure seems to be simply present, as if it has moved into the picture field at a fortuitous moment. Faces are often only partially visible, obscured by shadow or harsh light. There is no story to be told or lesson to be learned, no moment of epiphany. But this happened – a certain confluence of human action, light, and landscape, that became crystallized once the photographer pressed the shutter of his camera. 

Many of Pepper’s photographs depict a single human figure, often silhouetted against the backdrop of a late-day light or caught in the blur of passage. The fact that faces are little discernible when captured in these ways does not lessen the emotional impact. Pepper, working alone and often in a foreign landscape, is preternaturally attracted to figures that inhabit loneliness. Even when he photographs couples or small groups of people, minimal interaction is visible; solitude qualifies as both an individual and group activity in this body of work. 

One of the perplexing aspects of these images is the manner in which they refuse time, a quality that might seem to contradict the very nature of the photographic medium. Indeed, Pepper evinces a relation to time that is quite different from most other street photographers who seek to capture a fleeting moment of time. The ability to stop time, or to record a fraction of a second, has always been one of this medium’s hallmarks. But Pepper’s photographs – even those of people in quick movement – appear to more closely record a lasting moment, time slowed down, and the figures in the compositions made inert when pictured through the camera lens. In one picture made on a beach in Barcelona, a man has turned his body to face the sun. His form is expressed as a mass of weight, lacking the sense of a body in movement. In another photograph made in winter in New York, groups of ice skaters appear to have simply stopped in place; despite their forward movement, motion is only barely implied. 

Pepper’s refusal of time is also evinced in the way he tends to behold the world, unconcerned for the moment, for fashion, or for any kind of journalistic sensibility. It is difficult to determine a possible date for most of these photographs. Some simply exist outside the need for time, as when he depicts two people (age, gender indeterminate), fishing along the shore, or a boy performing an acrobatic leap at the edge of an otherwise empty coastline. Even when he sets his photographs in urban space, it is one that is absent shiny newness, people engaged with technology or modes of dress that suggest an identifiable point in time. Instead, Pepper frames his images in a way that skirts time, conjuring moments that could have existed decades ago. In transcending the here and now, he reveals something more telling, more lasting, about the individual, human interaction, and public and private behavior.      

This recent collection contains a single group of photographs to which a time and place is clear – those made in New York just months after Hurricane Sandy flooded much of the city’s coastline. Pepper is intimately familiar with New York but less with the far edges of the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens that he visited a few months after this hurricane devastated neighborhoods populated by the bungalows of working-class people. This journey to the city’s geographic edge was to a realm that literally and figuratively exists at the margins. Here, Pepper photographed mostly unpeopled landscapes. The most elegiac of these images is a grainy scene of a bent flagpole with a frayed American flag set barely at half-mast; the flat landscape surrounding it seems to have been shorn clean. Such a photograph presents New York as its opposite: empty, quiet, pessimistic. Other pictures depict a fenced off Coney Island; a vacant strip of carnival attractions, with two men framed by metal architecture engaged in a tentative conversation; and a mysterious scene of a conservative Jewish family grouped near the water enacting a private ritual. These unexpected views of New York chronicle a particular moment and place – New York after the storm, a habitat of melancholic survivors. 

 

In a way, John Pepper was always a photographer.  He received his first camera at age 12 along with some basic instruction from his father, a prominent journalist. Bill Pepper was then Rome bureau chief for Newsweek magazine; a role that put him into close contact with a wide circle of highly accomplished photographers. In these years, the late 1960s and early 1970s, Pepper had the good fortune to meet figures like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ugo Mulas, Chim (David Seymour), and Sam Shaw. At age 14 he apprenticed with Mulas, the Italian photographer known for his portraits and street photos. It was Mulas who told Pepper about the importance of walking, and of waiting. He would often go to train stations, where something would always happen, something worthy of being photographed. Like Mulas and the other storied photographers he came to know, Pepper became drawn to working outside, to walking the streets alone, and to seeing what would happen while traveling with camera in hand. 

In addition to the unusually early exposure that Pepper had to a great deal of exceptional photography, he also gained an enduring appreciation for a classic mode of working with the medium. He has always worked with film cameras, being uninterested in turning to digital cameras or image-making techniques. Moreover, he typically uses Tri-X film, a high-speed black-and-white film once popular with photojournalists because it can be used in dim lighting situations as well as to capture movement. Tri-X is known for producing a sharp image with a grain structure made more visible when the film is pushed, a technique Pepper often employs. As he matured as a photographer, he maintained this preference. “In choosing black and white, one chooses not to have color,” he states. Color functions as content in and of itself, an added element that “takes the edge off” from the actual subject of the picture. For Pepper, photography in black and white offers a distillation of what has been seen through the viewfinder; it can infuse a scene with mystery and offers the possibility of constructing, photographically, an image out of reality. 

In this sense, Pepper’s work is a departure from the photography of his youth, the street photography that aims to reflect a gritty, unadulterated realism. These photographs, in contrast, can be seen as a form of willed creation; his images are as much “real” as conjured. “I go to a place I don’t know,” he states, in explaining how these images come to life. Pepper speaks of a subliminal process of photographic composition, stating that he simply must trust the moment when a subject or situation comes before his camera.

Pepper has produced some of his most enigmatic work along the coast of the Russian/Finnish border, where he made a small group of photographs of a small gathering of people along a grim shoreline, an ominous sky hanging overhead. The photos are cinematic in their scope, scenes that suggest that we’ve stumbled into the midst of a complicated story. Pepper’s use of black-and-white film, along with the grainy quality of the prints, underscores their bleak character. These are some of the most specific images in his recent oeuvre – we observe the details of a place, see peoples’ faces, and can imagine something of their circumstances based on their dress and environment. At the same time, these photos are among his most ambiguous, devastating in their lack of explanation or resolution. The narrative, if there is one, can only be devised by the viewer. They are surely not staged, and yet they seem enacted, as if the photographer had a directorial role in willing these moments into existence.

 “We are all actors of our own lives,” Pepper once wrote. And by extension, we may be actors in the lives of others. One issue that the documentarian and those working with the camera in the public sphere have long grappled with is their relation to the subject. If the majority have produced their work in the public sphere using various forms of furtiveness, a few seek permission, not wanting to exploit the person photographed. For Pepper, the lack of relationship with the subject, the denial of collaborative authorship, is essential to his practice. He notes that the people within the picture frame are integral to the image, and yet they are only part of it. The landscape, built forms, and light, all contrive to form the photograph. The human subject assumes the function of an actor, even if undirected and unaware of this role.  For Pepper, the real relationship is with the camera, with the overall image that can be created. 

Pepper often works in cities – in Italy, where he is based, and recently in New York, Barcelona, and Vienna. But he is most powerfully drawn to recording human life along the shore – a setting that attracts people of every kind, and a realm where people feel free to exhibit private behavior. Water is fundamental to ritual and to spiritual beliefs across the world; it connotes cleansing, healing, and life itself.  Water can also be forbidding, destructive, and deadly; our greatest stories (Noah, Moses, Ahab) tell of epic confrontations with the sea. And it is profoundly personal, whether because of our dependence on it for our survival or for the memories held by so many of days at the shore. For Pepper, the human form takes its proper scale set at the water’s edge, against a vast liquid expanse that holds this broad arc of symbolic connotations. Seen against its vastness, the human form is small and yet relentlessly alive, simply being, observing and being observed.

 

Good photography, or any other manifestation in man, comes from a state of grace. Grace comes when you are delivered from conventions, obligations, convenience, competition, and you are free, like a child in his first discovery of reality. You walk around in surprise, seeing reality as if [it is] for the first time….

 

Sergio Larrain

 

Elizabeth Ferrer

2014

 

Notes

 

(1) Jean Paul Sartre, “Une Idée Fondamentale de Husserl” in Situations I (Gallimard: Paris, 1947).

(2) Push processing allows a photographer to underexpose film in the camera (for example, to maintain a fast shutter speed in low-light conditions) and compensate in the darkroom by developing the film for a longer time than recommended for the particular type of film.

(3)Sergio Larrain, letter to Agnès Sire, published in Popsicle # 46, December 16, 2013, “The Letters of Sergio Larrain.” Retrieved from  HYPERLINK "http://www.littlebrownmushroom.com/blog/popsicle-46-the-letters-of-sergio-larrain" http://www.littlebrownmushroom.com/blog/popsicle-46-the-letters-of-sergio-larrain on February 28, 2014.

 

TEXT IN ITALIAN

TEXT IN RUSSIAN

 

 


"DIMENSIONS BETWEEN THE SUN AND EARTH" (1)
by Roberta Semeraro
2011

The one and only protagonist in John Pepper's photography is humanity in its many manifestations. Men, women, young and old, children and teenagers, are captured in every day life between the earth and the sun. In his photography, the earth is a horizontal surface on which his figures are well anchored, yet also dimensionalized in their daily moments of labor and rest.
The landscapes appear variously in the sprawl of urban cement and streets of stone or when filled with water of the sea and sand of an arena. When John says that he is defined by the earth, he's giving us a literal key to enter his interior world with an awareness of life beyond surface appearances. His photos are real because they are drawn from reality without postures. Further more, they are to be considered real in being images caught in a "decisive moment"(2).

John is never hesitant. He is instead decisive, ruthless and almost cruel in capturing moments of life. Like a vampire, he feeds on other people's lives. Reality in his photographic universe is composed of people who live and fight to survive and, as such, his photography has been compared to neorealist cinema. There is no pity in it.  And the reality he describes is surprisingly beautiful in its simplicity.
Even in the streets of a chaotic metropolis like Rome, there can be poetry in a family eating ice-cream on a bench, or in men, women and children chatting on the doorstep of their home. He searches for his subjects in working class areas of the city, like Trastevere in Rome -- in the back alleys and streets where time slows down. Behind every corner, the rare photo may be found.
His photographic world also knows no logic -- only technique and multiple points of view. In taking photographs he himself is often surprised: a young women in a car smiling and winking into the lens; the intense portrait of a homeless man with a scarred face, or the mystery of a young man in a white shirt with his hands in his pocket. A spontaneous reaction to these provisional encounters, composed only of glances and the infinity of silence, takes one beyond the portrait into other extended meanings. The subject is there by chance, unprepared to be photographed yet consenting to be revealed for what it really is.
John works with natural light. And it's the light of the sun that stamps itself on his film in configuring people and objects in his film. He works with a Nikon F using an external light meter with Tri-X and 400asa film -- carefully calibrating light upon the lens, opening and closing it to ensure a balance between light and shadow.
His sensibility for light derives from an initial adolescent experience in the dark room, and in part, from painting. He knows how to control light that can enhance vision yet also burn it --blurring the photograph. And he always uses first class printers like Fotogramma 24 in Rome.
Simona Bugianovi, in the great Roman tradition of printing art photography, considers working with John a unique experience. "I will never forget when John took me to a show of Caravaggio, to explain exactly how he conceived of light".
 John follows with care every single passage in his photographs, even in their printing. When editing the proofs, he uses a felt pen to mark each photograph according to his personal vision. "John has an instinctive relationship with light." affirms Simona. And light is what drew him to Sicily. After residing in Rome, New York and Paris, he has been living in Palermo for the past two years. When he says that the sun is his dimension, he provides another key to comprehending his volatile temperament.
He is attracted to the people of Sicily because this island, bathed by waters of the Mediterranean, remains an oasis of passion and faith in a desert of humanity. Processions, country fairs and open-air markets in turn provide rare moments of inspiration for his photographs. In a world conditioned by the rising sun, people emerge in the first light of dawn to live in the streets -- boys playing cards, dancing, and eating spun sugar -- shouting and talking loudly without concern because the street is their home.
Palermo itself is a city with a pulsating heart. Here John loses himself because this dimension, after all is his dimension. The faces of Sicilians seem to adapt perfectly to the black and white resolution in his photos - raven-black hair, fair complexion, thick black eyebrows, large dark eyes and long noses cutting into the light.
Sicily, as a borderland of southern Europe, retains a masculine culture. The Sicilian man bares his chest and his shoulders as though they were war trophies. A sensual vein runs through nude and virile arms, forever tense and ready to fight. Sicilian men also know the burden of working the land and the danger of work at sea. This is their dignity and truth, for it has defined them and their strength for generations with a heroism residing in the creation and care of their families. The men in John's photos conserve intact this inheritance.
In confronting the old man in a T-shirt and shorts, amid playing children, with the old man in waistcoat, jacket, tie, wearing dark sunglasses while sitting on a stone bench, one can perceive exactly the differences between elderly people in two different social contexts.  In the first photo, taken in Sicily, there is a mute dialogue between the characters when John captures the immortality of a decisive moment, resembling an invisible thread uniting different stations of life. The old people in the South are almost never alone. On the contrary, they have a determinant social role as reference points for their families, especially the children.
The old man in jacket and tie portrayed in Rome, hides behind black glasses, but the slight protrusion of his upper lip betrays a singular grief. The stone wall behind him resembles a cold white curtain that receives him not.  John couldn't have captured a more mystical moment of solitude. In this photograph, built on horizontal lines, the man is the only vertical element, a conceptual time-line where the man himself is the only protagonist.  His immobility refers us to the eternity of death, and John behind the camera understands that this man's death has begun with social oblivion.
The gestures in these photos are always spontaneous and natural. Children are often caught in the most naïve poses while playing. And they are also the ones to express the most intense emotions, as in the little girl hugging her mother. Its structure is worth noting. The daughter and the mother are of the same flesh; there is no space between their bodies. The little girl's curly raven-hair is one with her mother's. The photograph is also harmonic in its composition - two symmetrical sources of light, with perfect balance between the black and white portrayals.
The sun, the light of day, returns to reaffirm itself in landscapes, where space is defined by the presence of people. The vastness and profundity is perceived in relationship to the dimension of a human being. One or more characters are captured in the foreground while we see others far away and still others on the horizon. The image is enlarged according to vectors of the half-lines cutting across angles formed by conjoined positions of the figures.
In the photograph of the young women in bathing suits, the particular detail of the camera foretells the unfolding action. The woman in the black bikini is caught while she leans forward, smiling at the woman with the camera. John seizes the moment when the woman extends her right leg, and in lifting her foot from the sand creates a straight line with the rest of her body. Between the two women a triangle is formed, the base of it being their shadowed line. At the center of this triangle, there is a smaller one, created by three other people bathing in the sea.
In the compositions of Mannerism, such as in Pontormo, the figures are elongated and contorted with eccentric, destabilizing elements, allowing the viewer to see beyond what is represented. I believe this is what John means when he says: "what you see is not what you get," in his concept of photography. The people he photographs are not necessarily beautiful or shapely - indeed, they are often defined by a grimace deforming their faces or in a gesture contorting their bodies. And in this imperfection John provides a key to the reading of his images. The truth is in imperfection because life itself is imperfect.
In following and searching for human beings, John, finds his sites variously in the countryside, on the beaches or simply in pausing at the seashore during a stormy day - seeing in the distance an adolescent girl contemplating the waves breaking on the rocks. Her body is slightly bigger than the pebbles on the beach in the foreground and, against the immensity of the sky, she appears even more fragile when compared with the strength of the sea. The horizon is defined by the black mountain range and by white clouds formed by rising sea foam while the sea itself is a spectacular fresco of intermingling black and white. Beyond the girl, one catches sight of a small fishing village. In this photo, the instant becomes an eternity with an awareness of nature as a stepmother, even while a gathering of black threatening clouds could easily, from one moment to the next, unleashing a storm.
In the photograph of the man in a bathing suit under a white umbrella, his head, as well as his face, is hidden while holding the umbrella. Frequently, in John's photographs, one cannot see the faces of people portrayed from the rear, hiding their identity. Here, however, it is not a casual element, but rather is purposely intended to conceal the identity of the subject, John does not look for the identity of people he photographs. He seeks to avoid particulars of identity, while finding fragments of himself in others.
Sans Papiers means without papers, without identity documents. John's photographs are filled with portraits of these Sans Papiers people, about whom we know nothing, other than an instant of their existence when captured. Often in his photographs we find drifting people of different ethnic groups as in the photograph of a horn player sitting on the ground next to a wandering garbage collector; a beggar on a sidewalk asking for money with his head bowed and his hands together; two gypsies dancing; a startling portrait of a beggar with a black hood in Trastevere.
People living in the streets have nothing other than what philosophers call the naked life -- a life without goals, at the mercy of anybody, wherever you look(3).   In a certain sense, John finds these people without looking for them, if only because they are there, in the streets, and are not invisible. Indeed it is the visibility in their breath of life that he captures. In his world everyone has the same right to exist, and in looking at them he senses this as well.
As a consequence, John's photographs may be defined as without time. In this context, it is difficult to place them in time without knowing when the picture was taken. These people, on the margins of our consumerist society are beyond fashion or trends. They are dressed simply, without frills and with whatever comes in handy, so that a beggar from the 70s is not much different than one today.
And again, one senses the collapsing of time in photos taken in Sicily, where time has stopped in its course. On this legendary Mediterranean island, the atmosphere is redolent of fifty years ago and its traditions and religion cannot be eradicated at any time. Like Swann, upon dipping a madeleine in his tea, remembering his childhood breakfasts before Sunday mass, John recovers his own lost time(4)  in dipping into past experiences. And similarly, through these instants in other people's lives caught on the run, John reclaims his inner time fragmented in past experiences. Perhaps this is the unconscious motivation, which brings John to this corner of the world.
And yet again, it may be said that these photos are without place in the sense that John prowls the back streets of Trastevere, or the historical centre of Palermo, without focusing on buildings or monuments. His interest is always toward people, while history itself becomes a stage for their performances. Or he looks for non-places(5) , spaces in the city that have no identity, areas of transit like train and subway stations - fringes of the modern world where people pass without seeing each other.
These photographs are emotions, feelings captured in images and as such, immaterial and without need for documentation -- Sans Papier. In the cover photograph of this book, a young woman and a young man hugging each other seem, at first glance, to resemble two people enveloped in one another, their hearts beating only for the other. However, in the imperceptible forehead wrinkle of the girl looking away with reflective melancholy and in the boys drooping eyes of resignation, John reveals a painful gulf between their two bodies.

John's photography, apart from obtaining formal excellence, can be located in many aspects between two great traditions at the onset of the past century in Paris -- the street photography(6)  of Robert Doisneau, with whom John shares a rooted empathy for ordinary people, and the humanistic photography of Brassai, Willy Roniz and Izis where he shares their incredible capacity for entering the human soul.

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Notes

(1) Interview with John Pepper

(2) Henri Cartier-Bressonr

(3) "Siamo tutti Sans Papier", Maurizio Ferrarsi, il Sole 24 orer

(4) Swan's Way, 1913 "Rememberances of Things Past", Marcel Proust

(5) Non-place, Marc Augé

(6) "Photography of the XX Century", Taschen

 

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