The Genteel
March 7, 2021


Mimmo Jodice. Source:
The Biosphere in Montreal, Canada by Mimmo
Jodice, 2012. Source:

A city and its citizens have a relationship based on passion, trust and comfort. If you feel no passion for your city - its offerings, mood and potential - you will not engage with it. If you do not trust your city, you will not explore its streets and crevasses. If you do not feel comfort, you can never call it home. These three pillars shape your perception of the city. But perceptions can change and sometimes it takes exposure to another vision to alter yours. With his Hasselblad camera, Mimmo Jodice led me to rediscover a city - Montreal - I thought I knew.

I hesitate to call Jodice a photographer. As one of the first photographers in 1960s Italy to use the medium as creative self-expression, Jodice continues to use photography as his own artistic language. His work has been showcased in prominent museums such as the Guggenheim Museum (New York), Rome's Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna and even the Louvre. His work is published in over 40 books to date.

Throughout his prolific career, Jodice has taken risks and made several creative decisions; the most prominent one happened in 1978. Jodice decided to no longer photograph people, so as to not concern his work with human conditions in order to focus solely on his visions of reality. This led him to photograph physical spaces and cities, predominantly in black-and-white. Paris, Sao Paulo, Moscow, Boston and Tokyo are some of the cities that have received Jodice's artistic attention. 

To get it, I could wait hours for the cars and the pedestrians to leave. I want silent images.

Keeping with his promise, there are no signs of human life in Jodice's city portraits. But, that's not to say that they are lifeless. His photographs show cities in complete solitude, allowing viewers to really see it, if not admire it, as if for the first time. This sincere solitude derives from the slow pace of Jodice's work process.

Jodice explains the process to Montreal-based magazine Les Prix, "Each photo must be taken as it would have been 50 years ago...I want a timeless photo...To get the right picture, I must wait, imagine...To get it, I could wait hours for the cars and the pedestrians to leave. I want silent images." 

It is, in fact, the silence of his photographs that creates the sense of timelessness in Jodice's work. There's no historical context in his photographs - it's hard to say what year a photograph was taken or what the current social and political circumstances might have been in the city. Rather, Jodice reveals the city's atemporal being and immortality.

The cities captured by Jodice are known to us for their beaming lights, excited tourists, rushing pedestrians and non-stop life. Seeing photographs of cities in dramatic silences is nothing short of surreal. It isn't such a surprise then, when Jodice reveals that his biggest influence comes from Italian surrealist artist, Giorgio de Chirico.

Jodice's work exemplifies the endless hours spent labouring over finding inspirational space, on framing and composition, and finally in the dark room. His process is not instant, nothing is photoshopped. Rather than speeding up the process, he slows it down - embracing every second spent crafting each masterpiece.

"Rialto" from Jodice's Venice Collection, 2010.

In addition to the photograph's silent demeanor, Jodice also employs the Renaissance old-masters chiaroscuro technique - a play with light and dark in order to give two-dimensional objects the illusion of three-dimensional form - that adds instant depth, making the silence that much more meaningful. 

In Spring 2012, Jodice traveled to Montreal, Canada for the first time. To me, Montreal is synonymous with the fusion of old and new architecture, cobbled streets, and by-the-water living, but most of all by its people. Montreal, I thought, would be nothing without the diversity of its citizens and their passion for life. Jodice, through his vision and lens, stripped Montreal of all its human frills and left it standing there - naked and vulnerable, but strong. Its curves, textures, heights and shadows were all re-introduced to me. The city's silence was unrecognisable. Every photograph served as a de-familiarisation of my home - boldly boasting Montreal's timelessness and immortality.

That's the thing about cities, people come and go while the city itself remains - through rain and shine - day in and day out, becoming more beautiful with time, while its people wither and perish. And suddenly, I felt a little bit sad: will it miss me when I'm gone? 

The McCord Museum in Montreal, Canada is featuring a one-of-a-kind exhibition, "Sublime Cities" by Mimmo Jodice, from October 11, 2012 - March 3, 2013. 



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