The Art of Spectating: Francesco Marchetti’s photography project in Belgrade

In her study called “On Photography”, Susan Sontag says: “In teaching us a new visual code, photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe. They are a grammar and, even more importantly, an ethics of seeing. Finally, the most grandiose result of the photographic enterprise is to give us the sense that we can hold the whole world in our heads – as an anthology of images”.

This form of anthology of images and expressions is, for the most part, found in museums, and dotted with meanings that constantly exhort the visitor’s senses. This is why every visit to a museum requires a disciplined observation in an effort too seize the works in their canonicity as well as particularity, and new perspectives. In the microcosm of museums, we can discover more microcosms; produced by the interaction between exhibited works and visitors: a cross-faced skull could look like an impression of a painting while casually interwoven bodies, statues and artwork become an occasion for observation and reflection. A comment made by a person standing behind us can make us laugh, or grasp the deeper meaning of the artwork that we are observing.

It is no coincidence that Victoria & Albert Museum’s photographic exploration course, held by Francesco Marchetti over a three-year period, and exhibited at the Bartselona Gallery in Belgrade (first floor, premise no. 96, access from via Nusiceva Street) from 8th to 20th May, is titled “The Art of Spectating”, or the art of observing, where the latter word, in Italian language, is not only a verb denoting looking at something but also judging. Francesco Marchetti, however, does not propose a pre-established thesis, but works to find combinations of figures which, in their casualty, offer a key to the new interpretation of artwork, or merely have symmetries between human and inanimate that reorganize the visual space and our ideas .

How did this project come about, and how much of street photography is there in the museum context?

“The Art of Spectating” was born from the observation of people’s behaviour, and from alternatives in the context of museum. I am interested in the intimate dialogue that arises between a person and the work of art they are observing. I find that this dialogue rarely happens. When I see groups of people visiting the museum, their attitude is usually dispersive and superficial; it seems that people no longer really contemplate art, and that the establishment of an intimate bond with art is reduced to residual speech now. I do not particularly like the expression that is street photography. I prefer to qualify a project for the concept it expresses. There are certainly elements that could be associated with street photography here, like its spontaneity, but the style is not what qualifies it. Rather, and more importantly, it is the concept.  

The museum is a reflective space in which dialogue with art can become an inner dialogue because time flows at a different speed, especially in a hectic city like London. I distance myself from that reflective behaviour, and from that intimate communication flow that comes from the observation of the work of art and become an observer of the observer. It is important to familiarize yourself with the environment and have a detailed knowledge of the various artwork in order to anticipate any situations that may arise between the person and the art. The opportunity to expose myself now gives me the opportunity to make the photographs alive, and have a look at what I’m doing, which leads me to grow with the project, which in turn evolves over the years.

This is your first ever personal exhbition. Why did you choose Belgrade to stage it?

I have had a personal relationship with Belgrade since 2003. Last year, I participated in the Belgrade Photo Month which is a great and praiseworthy initiative aimed at increasing the visibility of the city at the European level. Thanks to that participation, I had the opportunity to get in touch with other photographers and artistic directors who showed interest in my project. This is how the idea of an exhibition came about. And it was also interesting to show this city something different; a project that was created in another city. I could have presented the material from Serbia, but I preferred to showcase a project that perhaps appears to be more original to the people who are in Belgrade’s photographic environment. You cannot see that quite often here.

So you also have material about Serbia. In that context, what are your future plans?

I am interested in developing a long-term project on rural Serbia, and on the local artisans and their link to the Ottoman heritage. In the meantime, I am open to collaboration with non-profit organizations. Last year, I had the opportunity to work on a project in the context of the English healthcare system, documenting some activities in psychiatric hospitals in Uganda. In 2015, I worked with Miksaliste in Belgrade during the situation with the migrants located near the railway station, and documenting the work of the migrant reception centre. These are the projects that have taught me how to respect the dignity of people that I photograph, the aspects of portraying certain themes, and the photographer’s position regarding ethics. You must also set limits and boundaries, and not allow yourself to be immersed into what can at times become a media circus that does not take into account the dignity of the person.

When did you develop your passion for photography in a more more systematic manner? What was your point of reference, your sources of inspiration?

Generally speaking, it is documentary photography. There is a lot of material around and it’s difficult to evaluate the level and reliability of these works, so my points of reference are renowned and well-known agencies such as Magnum and other independent photographers who are mostly photo- and documentary journalists.

What do you think of the latest trends photojournalism? And how do your photographic approach and style, that are softly imbued with intimist suggestions, fall within a field that more often pushes the photographers towards a sensationalist approach?

I don’t go for this type of conditioning, because I am willing to follow a more personal speech and I do not feel like I have to devote myself to a theme. My main concern is the moment I am in; wondering if I could deal with that particular topic in an original manner. If the answer is not positive, I prefer to find a project that is more personal. Sense of humor is important to me. I see things that belong to everyday reality, seemingly ordinary, but I am curious about the range of human behaviour and emotional reactions, so the simple observation of everyday life can inspire a theme.

There is a remarkable aesthetic sensibility in your photos. How do you attain a balance between the intent of telling and formal research?

Documentation and aesthetics develop in agreement; that is the agreement between the content and the form. Aesthetics and creativity play an important role to the extent that they are not extremely altered. I do not manipulate the photographs, but they certainly carry a certain importance: photography should also be a fun look inside a story. In the context of this project, for example, I consider the situations I have photographed to be pleasant to the eye or even ironic. I would not choose to photograph a situation or person that will portray them in a ridiculing manner. Rather, I would like the people, whom I have photographed, to look back to the photographs and to enjoy them, without feeling that their privacy was invaded.

By Monica Ranieri


Originally from Mestre-Venezia, Francesco Marchetti has been living in London since 2000 where he developed  a passion for photography that has led him to participate in numerous training courses, including a professional course on reportage at Central Saint Martin’s University of Art London (UAL).

Since 2013, Marchetti has received many international awards, and has participated in various collective exhibitions in London. This is his first individual exhibition in Belgrade. Alongside personal photography projects, he collaborated with non-profit organizations in Belgrade, London and Africa.


This post is also available in: Italiano

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