On Friday, community members interested in Binghamton’s art scene had an opportunity to take shelter from the bitter cold in Court Street’s Artisan Gallery, which held an opening reception for its new exhibition, “Italia Rediscovered.”
While the collection of photographs displayed were curated and arranged by Greg A. Chianis, a longtime photographer, the individual behind the camera remains unknown. While traveling in Italy, Chianis stopped at an antique market and discovered six rolls of film negatives, which featured an assortment of photographs taken in the 1930s and 1940s. Chianis selected 40 photos from the collection of approximately 200, with the intent of transporting the viewer to an unfamiliar time and place through the lens of a primary source.
Chianis did not purchase the film rolls with the intention of creating an exhibition, but when attempting to come up with an idea for his show at the Artisan Gallery, he returned to them and found an opportunity to step out of his comfort zone.
“I was thinking about, ‘How do I mix my work with their work?’ and it didn’t really make too much sense,” Chianis said. “So I just decided, let’s dedicate this to an unknown photographer, to the Italian people and the story that they each tell.”
The collection of images highlight the political identity of Italy under the authoritarian regime of Benito Mussolini, with one photograph featuring a young man wearing a fascist pin on his suit jacket. More broadly, the pictures offer a firsthand account of the daily lives of Italian citizens, whether they focus on a group of sightseeing tourists or a young woman going for an autumn bike ride. Chianis said he focused on the value of the narrative that the exhibition displays while selecting photos.
“I think it was just more about the stories they told me or spoke to me about,” Chianis said. “It was really more about the story, and as I’m sitting there printing them, you get really connected with the people in the images.”
Chianis is a self-taught photographer with a day job as an architect, operating as the cofounder of Chianis + Anderson Architects based in the city of Binghamton. While many of his architectural contemporaries in the area were able to spend a semester in Italy while studying in college, Chianis did not have the same opportunity, not making his first proper trip until four years after his graduation from the University of Texas at Austin. Since then, he said he has more than made up for it, with his most recent trip in October bringing his total to 44 visits to the country.
“I’m a huge Italian fan,” Chianis said. “I’m Greek by descent, but I tell my 93-year-old father that I should have been Italian. He gets mad at me. I just love it. There’s a lot that it offers, from the art, the architecture, the food, the culture, the pace of life. It’s a pretty amazing place.”
Chianis said he views the photos as a necessary extension of his own work in Italy and his understanding of the country, as they provide a narrative that runs through seemingly unconnected snapshots of distant lives.
“If I look at Italy as a pie chart in my mind, my own interpretation through my own photography is quite a big piece of the pie,” Chianis said. “I think this is another slice of the pie, what other people have done and what it is to them. Most of these shots maybe were just family snapshots, they were very well done on a number of occasions. But I think that’s probably what it means, just kind of continuing my story a little bit, and just getting it out to the public.”
The exhibition will be on display from Feb. 6 to Feb. 29. The opening reception, which was initially scheduled for Feb. 7 as part of Binghamton’s First Friday, was rescheduled due to inclement weather.