Portraits without faces at Camilla Grimaldi

Italian photographer Martina Bacigalupo shows found photographs at London's Camilla Grimaldi gallery

Gemma Padley — 15 April 2014

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Image © Martina Bacigalupo

The second exhibition at Camilla Grimaldi’s new central London gallery is Martina Bacigalupo’s Gulu Real Art Studio.

The exhibition, which is Bacigalupo’s first in the UK, presents a selection of discarded photographs that she found in a rubbish bin at the Gulu Real Art Studio in northern Uganda.

Bacigalupo, who was born in Genoa, Italy, and has been published in the The New York Times Magazine, The Sunday Times Magazine, and Le Monde Magazine, among others, came across the photographs just over three years ago after a visit to the Gulu studio. The studio is purportedly the oldest in the Ugandan city and Ugandans flock from miles around to have their portrait taken there.

The faceless portraits are made by a human-operated machine that is only able to produce four prints at a time. When a customer asks for a single ID portrait, the face is cut out from the print and the rest are discarded. Bacigalupo, who is now represented by Camilla Grimaldi, began to collect these ‘faceless portraits’, which form the basis of her series.

“Vivid and diverse, the images extend the tradition of African vernacular studio portraiture but at the same time the cut-outs create completely unconventional portraits,” writes the gallery on its website. “What remains heightens the viewer’s attention to gesture and detail, and it is through these subtle details that other markers of identity slowly reveal themselves.”

Without their faces, attention shifts to the sitter’s bodies – their clothes, accessories, posture and the position of their hands. Collectively, the images present a fascinating cross section of society in this part of the world.

Bacigalupo, who is currently based in Burundi, East Africa, and is a member of Paris agency Agence Vu, also interviewed some of the sitters, who range from nurses, soldiers, and farmers, to teachers, businessmen, and nuns. Many of the people she spoke to shared personal stories that touch on political, economic, and social issues facing Ugandans today.

A book featuring images from the series and material from Bacigalupo’s interviews is published by Steidl and available to buy online and from the gallery.

As we report in our April issue, Camilla Grimaldi, former co-founder and co-director of photography gallery Brancolini Grimaldi in Mayfair, London, launched her own gallery in January 2014. Camilla Grimaldi gallery is currently located in a temporary space on Old Burlington Street, London.

Gulu Real Art Studio at Camilla Grimaldi runs until 25 April. Admission is free.