«Photographs were my notes on a world I was discovering. Everything I saw, even the houses, gave me a feeling of a millennial continuity, perhaps even an eternal one», says Milton Gendel (1988 catalogue published by Sellerio Editore).
It was the fall of 1950 when the American photographer, then in his 30s, set out on a fascinating journey through a Sicily still rural and mysterious. He followed the footprints of another American photographer, Marjory Collins, who had been appointed by the American government to report on the effect the Marshall Plan was having on post-war reconstruction.
Seemingly inspired by the Neorealist trends in photography at the time, a closer look at Gendel’s images show them to be of a different nature: black and white snap-shots that depict a simple, archaic world without attempting to make a social commentary.
With his bioptic Rolleiflex, Gendel captured timeless atmospheres and suspended moments inhabited by humans with such ancient features, humans so closely attached to their territory as to evoke the archetypal. He shows a deep respect towards these places where little seems to have changed since they were known as Magna Grecia. Rather than indulge in a superficial pietism, he underlines their aching, poignant eternity. And his eye is an astonished one, full of a wonder that is very different from the gloomy, tragic vision that characterized Italian neorealism. The exhibited photographs are original prints produced for an exhibition at the Civic Museum of Gibellina in 1988. They are accompanied by archival material, letters and photographs from the 1950’s. The prints are held at the Photographic Archive of the City of Gibellina.
Milton Gendel was born in New York in 1918. He studied Art History at Columbia University with Meyer Schapiro, who introduced him to André Breton and to the surrealists group in New York. In 1945 he went to China, sent by the american army: he started photographing there with a borrowed Leica. Once back in New York Gendel worked as a freelance art critic. In 1949 he arrived in Rome with a Fulbright bag and he started attending /hanging out amongst the artistic circles: Tancredi, Toti Scialoja, Alberto Burri, Piero Dorazio. He took an impressive amount of photographs in Rome and during his travels in Italy, using a Rolleiflex almost all the times. In 1954 he was a correspondent for the magazine ArtNews and then for Art in America. In 1977 he presented his first exhibition at the Galleria Marlborough in Rome. From that moment on he continued exhibiting his work and he presented a great number of other exhibitions and he is finally considered one of the most important photographers of the XX century. In 2011 the Museo Bilotti of Roma and the American Academy of Rome celebrated his work as a photographer and art critic with an extended retrospective. In the same year Gendel exchanged all his photographic archive to the Foundation Primoli for an apartment on the Tevere where he’s still working today.