Paolo Pellegrin presents “Antarctica” / with Andrea Holzherr and Alberto Prina
Via Armando Diaz, 27 - Trieste
Sunday 31 October 2021
The Italian photographer Paolo Pellegrin started his career in the second half of the 1980s and since then he has documented war, civil unrest, violence in American cities, environmental disasters, mass migration, celebrities and ordinary people.
Paolo Pellegrin’s work is often defined as concerned journalism, his stories are defined by an urgent imperative to bear witness to suffering and resilience. “When I do my work and I am exposed to the suffering of others – their loss or, at times, their death – I feel I am serving as a witness; that it is my role and responsibility to create a record for our collective memory…”
In November 2017, after three decades of depicting human drama and historical world events, Paolo Pellegrin traveled to one of the most remote places on earth, the Antarctic, where he joined Operation IceBridge, a NASA expedition to document the impact of climate change, a subject of prime importance to the photographer.
The NASA operation, which began in 2009, is part of an 11-year campaign to yield an unique three-dimensional view of the Antarctic and the Arctic. Paolo Pellegrin’s trip in 2017 produced the first close-up images of the huge Larsen C ice shelf, which broke away from the Antarctic Peninsula in July of the same year and set to drift in the Weddell Sea.
While this may be unfamiliar territory for Paolo Pellegrin, it wasn’t as alien as it may seem. He has spent much of his career covering historical events, many of which convey suffering and conflict. The Antarctic is simply another kind of battleground; in place of political strife and fighting, icebergs melt and sea-levels rise. “I have photographed conflicts for many years; things that man does to man. Yes there is tragedy but there is also a form of resilience, which can express itself in many ways; in an act of survival, courage, honor or love,” he says. “And you could say that the warming Antarctic – on another order of magnitude and scale – is another conflict. Here, man isn’t present but climate change is a result of human activity and human ideas: Endless growth which has no limits.”
Documenting the seemingly infinite landscape proved to be Paolo Pellegrin’s biggest challenge. “One of the main problems I found was how to engage and render the idea of scale,” he says. “I made a formal decision in most cases to eliminate the horizon and instead look downwards to purposely omit the reference of scale and in a way challenge the viewer even more.”
This deliberate confusion feeds into the idea that climate change is not a straightforward narrative. It blurs the lines between micro and macro and questions the notions of time and scale. As Paolo Pellegrin notes, one of the reasons for climate change denial is the fact that the changes are gradual, sometimes imperceptible, in the short-term. “Because this phenomenon happens over the course of decades, maybe centuries, it is hard for photography to represent it. I therefore chose to capture the fragile beauty of an extraordinary landscape that is extraordinarily in danger.” This combination of abstract beauty and impending destruction elevates Paolo Pellegrin’s work to something more than mere visual documents.
The photographs of the Antarctic’s vast white landscape with its icy patterns of cracks, snow dunes and snowy textures without a horizon line call to mind abstraction in modern art. The monochrome, quasi abstract images recall certain paintings of the Minimalist period, notably by painter Robert Ryman, the cut canvases of the Italian artist Lucio Fontana, or of Japanese calligraphy.
Paolo Pellegrin was born in Rome in 1964. He studied architecture at L’Università la Sapienza and photography at l’istituto Italiano di Fotografia, both in Rome. After working with photo agencies such as Agence VU in France and Grazia Neri in Italy, he joined Magnum Photos in 2001, becoming a full member in 2005. His 1995 series on the AIDS crisis in Uganda attracted great attention, with his photos being published worldwide overnight. Since then, he has covered numerous conflicts in Romania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other places all over the world. Paolo Pellegrin has won many awards, including ten World Press Photo awards, multiple Photographer of the Year awards, the Leica Medal of Excellence, an Olivier Rebbot Award, the W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography for his work on the Islamic world since 9/11, and the Robert Capa Gold Medal Award for his work on conflict in Lebanon. His work has been presented in many exhibitions and been published in several books, the latest being “Paolo Pellegrin An Anthology” presented at MAXXI in Rome and published by Silvana Editoriale.