If you haven’t been to the ancient Tuscan hilltop town of Cortona, Italy, you should go. If you haven’t witnessed the interesting, eclectic mix of photography exhibitions at the Cortona On the Move Photo Festival curated by Artistic Director Arianna Rinaldo, you should go to Cortona for the opening dates of the festival, July 14 to 17th. You won’t want to miss the opening talks, receptions, portfolio reviews, workshops nor the opportunity to rub elbows with some of the most exciting photographers and photo minds in the world all in the magical city of Cortona.
I was lucky enough to be teaching photography classes in Cortona for an American university in the Summer of 2013 when I fortuitously happened upon Cortona On The Move during its third season. I bumped into photography legend Joel Meyerowitz in 2013 as he instructed students in a Cortona On The Move Workshop in Piazza Della Repubblica. And, I coaxed him to pose for a picture with me. Teaching in Cortona again in 2015, I took a small, intimate workshop examining personal projects with Philip Toledano that transformed my thoughts regarding my struggle with art and self-doubt.
A unique thing about the Cortona On The Move Festival is the diversity of exhibition venues throughout the town: a former hospital, meat shop, and a fortress to name a few. One can wander through these abandoned spaces and be intrigued even without art on the walls. The contrast between the centuries-old architecture and contemporary photography creates a fascinating mixture of art and space with history hovering in a dark corner.
The Old Hospital, located in the middle of Cortona, hosts individual exhibitions throughout the space, even in old surgical rooms with drains in the floor. I’ve seen social issue projects at the Old Hospital like Elena Perlino’s Pipeline and Kai Wiedenhoefer’s Confrontier, as well as video installations and documentary projects of war and haunting faces from third world countries. I’ve also seen contemporary work like Love Me by Zed Nelson and humorous projects like Weird Sports by Sol Neelman in the Old Hospital’s galleries that take advantage of Italian light spilling through windows in rooms with dated tiled walls that enrich the experience of seeing.
My favorite exhibition space at Cortona On The Move is the Medici Fortress of Girifalco (16th Century). If you are walking to the fortress from town, be sure to be prepared for an uphill climb; bring water, food, wear comfortable shoes and maybe even tote an oxygen mask because the walk is up, up and up a little more. The fortress stands at least three stories high, and you will wind through engaging photography exhibits in gallery spaces on each floor. Be sure to walk outside the fortress on the top level and take in a view of Cortona and Lake Trasimeno as they majestically unfold in the valley beneath you.
Don’t leave the fort without seeing the main exhibition on the ground level in a beautifully lit, intimate and quiet cave-like gallery. (It also is climate controlled and in the heat of the Cortona summer this is a big plus.) I saw the Taking My Time Retrospective by Meyerowitz and Philip Toledano’s Maybe exhibit in this, the festival’s premier gallery space. Each exhibition boasted large framed colorful prints, well lighted in a comfortable and inviting atmosphere where ancient aesthetic coincides with urban contemporary.
I’m not quite sure how Executive Director Antonio Caroloni and the Cortona On The Move staff manage the logistics of the festival because logistics in Italy can be a bit more complicated than those in the U.S. Things like consistent wireless access in ancient buildings and shipping and receiving work to and from Italy can create operational nightmares. I’m imagining the effort and anxiety of the installation process on 16th-century walls, physically getting the work into dark tight spaces and the challenge of lighting in an old windowless meat shop. These obstacles don’t appear to be problematic to the festivalgoer; everything seems to move as it should at Cortona On The Move.
Educators, students, photographers, artists, collectors, photo enthusiasts and anyone who wants to see an international collection of great photographic works should experience the uniqueness of Cortona On The Move. If you haven’t been to this world-class celebration of photography, you should go, and soon. It’s an excellent opportunity to meet some of the brightest photo minds in the business and witness an eclectic mix of photography and innovative installations in an ancient walled Tuscan community. It doesn’t get much better than this.