The last few years have been an exciting time for photography in Italy. A combination of important award wins, high-profile publications, and overseas exhibitions, has lead to Italian photographers achieving greater international recognition than ever before. Couple this with a strong national photographic scene – tightly linking photographers, publishers, gallerists, and curators up and down the peninsula – and photography in Italy is undergoing something of a renaissance right now.
Naturally this is great news for Italian photographers. But the nation’s photographic boom also brings many benefits to those visitors hoping to check out some good photography while they are here too. Indeed there’s now much more opportunity to visit photographic exhibitions and festivals in Italy than even just a few years ago. Meanwhile, Italy has not been left behind by what many consider to be the “golden age of the photo book” either, with the country home to many important photobook publishers and photography book stores.
Here’s a list of some of the best places to view world-class photography in Italy today.
Museums, Galleries, and Photography Foundations in Italy
Fondazione Fotografia, Modena
One of the most important centers for photography in Italy is the Fondazione Fotografia Modena in the Emilia-Romagna region. The foundation is host to a large photographic collection and organizes exhibitions by both local and international photographers such as Luigi Ghirri and Stephen Shore. Fondazione Fotografia also runs an extensive education program employing the expertise of international photographic artists such as Jon Rafman.
Matèria Gallery, Rome
Rome’s Materia gallery runs a strongly photo-centric program of exhibitions from its base in the San Lorenzo neighborhood. While the gallery space itself is not huge, the quality of work on show here is very high, and the program frequently features both local and international talent of some renown. However, with a distinct emphasis on the art side of photography, this is not a place to view exhibitions of traditional landscapes or photojournalism.
Fondazione Prada, Milan
Milan’s Prada Foundation is as notable for Rem Koolhas’s architecture and Wes Anderson’s retro bar interior as it is for the contemporary art on display in its numerous gallery spaces. However, the real highlight for open-minded photography lovers here is hidden away in the basement, which houses German artist Thomas Demand’s Processo Grottesco instillation on permanent show.
Other photography exhibitions come up here from time to time too, though, so even if Demand’s intellectual approach to photography isn’t your thing, the Prada Foundation may still be worth a visit.
Rome’s MAXXI (Museum of Art of the 21st Century) is another major art venue that should be on your itinerary, even if just for the building alone – designed as it was by the late Zaha Hadid. And while MAXXI’s exhibition program covers a wide range of contemporary art forms, often with an emphasis on architecture, in recent years the museum has also dedicated major shows to some important Italian photographers.
These have included retrospectives of photographers working on the more journalistic side of things too, such as one dedicated to the legendary Sicilian photographer Letizia Battaglia some months back, and more recently to her fellow Magnum Agency member Paolo Pelligrin.
A relaunch of the once all-but-forgotten National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome has seen this elegant venue return from relative obscurity to become one of the most interesting places to view art in Italy today. Again, the GNAM’s program is not specifically dedicated to photography, but is nonetheless one that has included plenty of high quality photographic work in recent years. Well worth checking out.
Festivals of Photography in Italy
Since Rome’s creaking and conservative Fotografia festival died an entirely predictable death a few years back, it’s been left to young upstart Fotoleggendo to hold the corner for Roman photography. Organized by what is probably the city’s best photography school, Le Officine Fotografiche, Fotoleggendo is a dynamic and youthful festival offering visitors a full program of exhibitions, workshops, screenings, and portfolio readings.
Although once a fixture of early Fall, recent editions of Fotoleggendo have taken place in June. The festival’s location often changes too, and is usually spread between several different venues across the city. Be sure to check the festival website for updates about the next edition.
SI Fest is held every September in the small town of Savignano Sul Rubicone, located between Cesena and the popular beach resort of Rimini in the Emilia Romagna. The festival’s emphasis is on contemporary photography and attracts many well-known international names. SI Fest also organizes an important photography award attracting photographic talent from around the world.
Cortona on the Move
Set against a stunning backdrop of Tuscan hills, the medieval town of Cortona has to be one of the most idyllic settings in the world for a photography festival. On the Move features exhibitions and awards, and runs various open calls for emerging photographers to participate in the program.
The Emilia-Romagna is host to not just one, but two, important international photography festivals, with Fotografia Europea taking place in the regional capital Reggio Emilia each April (although many exhibitions remain on show well into the summer).
Not to be overshadowed by SI Fest (above), Fotografia Europea also attracts important photographic stars from across the globe, with heavyweights such as Larry Fink putting in an appearance.
In addition to an impressive program of exhibitions, the festival’s opening week features guided tours, portfolio reviews, talks, and awards. Each year Fotografia Europea also announces various open calls for participation in the festival’s exhibition program.
Photography Bookshops in Italy
Leporello Photobooks et al.
Located in Rome’s most exciting art and nightlife district, Pigneto, Leporello Photobooks stocks a wide range of photographic books in a stylish and welcoming environment. From major photography releases to the output of small independent publishers – and even rare self-published works and limited editions posters – since its opening a couple of years ago Leporello has quickly established itself as the leading photography bookstore in Italy.
Yet Leporello has always been much more than simply a photography bookshop. Indeed, the store is host to an almost weekly program of exhibitions, artists talks, and presentations. While the majority of these events are of course dedicated to photography, many branch out to cover topics such as graphic design, book design, typography, and even screen printing – making Leporello a central pillar of Rome’s recent artistic and cultural renaissance.
Also in Rome, but smaller and more classically-focused than Leporello, is the photography bookstore ONEROOM. While not offering the same caliber of cutting edge photographic publishing as Leporello, ONEROOM’s more central location makes it a good destination for photography enthusiasts with only limited time to spare in the Eternal City.
Also somewhat conservative in tastes, but with a nonetheless impressive inventory, is Milan’s Micamera bookstore. As with Leporello (above), Micamera regularly organizes photographic exhibitions, talks, and workshops via an eponymous offshoot cultural association.
There’s a lot more to photography in Italy than just stunning locations and exotic subjects. The photographic scene here is thriving right now, and this has created many opportunities to view excellent work by top photographers from both Italy and further afield. If you’re planning a trip to Italy, and are keen to check out some photography while you are here, hopefully this short guide will have given you an idea of where to begin.
Alternatively, if you are in need of photographs of Italy, be sure to check out my gallery pages of fully licensable images.