The Pity of War - Romano Cagnoni

Watching the heavily edited and filtered images coming out of Syria at the moment, proved to be a sobering context for Romano Cagnoni's latest exhibition.   I've blogged about him before, when he had a small show in London, but this one is a big retrospective at the Palazzo Mediceo (the wonderful former home of the Medici family) in Seravezza.  Romano is probably Italy's greatest living photographer and has made his reputation  in war zones.  He specialised in going in under the radar and reaching the places the authorities didn't want anyone to see.

The result is a  narrative record of the terrible things that human beings do to each other.   His photographs of Biafra are brilliant, but too horrific for me to reproduce here.  He was also in Vietnam and in Croatia and Bosnia when Yugoslavia imploded.   His pictures of what was left of Vukovar are particularly shocking.

More recently he's been to Groszny to photograph the conflict in the Chechen Republic.

One of the most interesting things about the exhibition is Romano's commentary on what is, effectively, a record of his life.   Under a stunning black and white photo of a room full of men all sitting at separate tables in a bar, he writes that  'men's loneliness is linked with fear.  Men fear one another.'  And fear leads to war.

 And he sees the Chechen guerilla fighters as modern-day Greek heroes like Ulysses.

With his recent work he's been experimenting with a large format camera and huge colour prints that use landscape, colour and texture with the dexterity of a painter.  I'm afraid my poor little sony pot-shots can't even begin to convey the beauty of these photographs, or the size - the canvases above and below were both life-size.

As a writer, struggling with words, I do envy the amount of narrative that can be conveyed (without any translation) in a single image.  This is work of the highest possible calibre.  The exhibition lasts until 9th April.


  1. I agree Kathy- its hard not to envy the power and immediacy of the image and of photgraphs in particular. This looks like a stunning exhibition. I'm really drawn to art as inspiration at the moment. I want to explore combining words from the poetry I'm writing with images -as is done here in the powerful lines about men's lonliness.

    As for Syria - I despair and can hardly bear to watch. I despair even more that we appear to be powerless given the position adopted by Russia and China.

  2. Fantastic, graphic, heartbreaking post. So thought provoking. We live such complacent lives. Although the images would take a thousand words to explore the same level of meaning it is through your words that today I have accessed these telling images. Thank you.

  3. Sounds like an amazing exhibition by an amazing artist.

    An artist with a message that is all but censored in today's world. The war in Viet Nam was protested (and ultimately brought to a halt) because for the first time people were shown what war meant. The portrayal of violence is very carefully edited today.

  4. Yes, I think we rely on people like Romano to show us what is really happening. There was a photograph from Africa showing a man carrying his daughter who had just been killed by a high velocity bullet which had torn a hole right through her. It made me feel sick, but then I thought, perhaps we need to see these images. Maybe if enough people felt like that, something might be achieved, as in Vietnam. I fear that the world is becoming a much more violent place.


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