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Foto/Industria 2017: identity and illusion

Foto/Industria, the industrial photography biennial that takes place in Bologna, is unique for its theme and for the synergy between the strength of the exhibits and the charm of the historical venues. The city is hosting fourteen exhibitions downtown and at the MAST Photo Gallery.

According to François Hébel, artistic director of Foto/Industria (and of the Mois de la Photo du Grand Paris, 2017), “This third edition of the biennial has two ambitions, two thesis on photography that it seeks to illustrate. On one hand, the unique eye of some of the most well-known photographers can be fostered by projects commissioned by corporate clients (identity) and on the other, photography, despite its inherent objectivity, can bring illusion to the world of work and production. For a long time, the corporate world of industry has been opening its doors to photographers, giving them a carte blanche to work as they please,their fame having entitled them to this privilege”.

As they managed to document areas of production and work (access to which is typically limited), “they succeeded in transcending the subject matter, adding their individual, unique touch to the moments they capture, creating an artwork”, Hébel adds.

An observer can easily feel it, looking for instance at the works by the Russian constructivist Alexander Rodchenko, the images by American photographer Lee Friedlander or industrial landscapes by Czech photographer Josef Koudelka, member of Magnum Photos, taken over thirty years as part of corporate commissions. By the way Koudelka printed his three meters sized Industrial Landscapes expressly for Foto/Industria 2017.

“Illusion is a fundamental component of the photographic act. The world of work and industry is a fascinating field of action for photographers”, Hébel says and the biennial mixes different genres, periods, and aesthetics to offer a remarkable panorama of this multifaceted aspect of photography.

With Foto/Industria, the mission of the MAST Foundation, as synthesized in the “ethics and aesthetics” advantage, is to offer the public a highly aesthetic and creative testimony and to direct attention to the ethical values of “doing”. Indeed, photographers manage to make the working world  “ clearer”, dealing with traditions, new technologies and the historic and contemporary challenges it faces. There are not only mechanical devices in their images, but men and women at work (unfortunately even children, like in the pictures by Mimmo Jodice, evidence of his civil commitment during the ‘70s).

The focus is on “the work”, like in the Stakeout Diary by Yukichi Watabe, the first Japanese photographer to obtain permission (in the ‘50s) to accompany police during criminal investigations, revealing a universe shot through with the aesthetics of a film noir.

The exhibits by Thomas Ruff and Carlo Valsecchi are curated by Urs Stahel, curator of the MAST Photo Gallery. Machine & Energy by Ruff, at the MAST, presents the images of an artist dedicated to exploration, for whom the camera can transform elements of reality into new visual material that speaks of machines and energy through multi-form languages, while Carlo Valsecchi in Developing the Future portrays an innovative industrial space using images similar to technical drawings.

Other shows within the Foto/Industria are: Sputnik: the Odissey of Soyuz 2, curated by Joan Fontcuberta, Landscapes of American Power (Walther Collection and Mitch Epstein), The End of Manufacturing by John Myers, Workforce by Michele Borzoni, Machina & Mechanism by Mårten Lange, Past Forward by Vincent Fournier and Transform by Mathieu Bernard-Reymond.

The Biennial, promoted by MAST Foundation in collaboration with the Comune di Bologna, was first held four years ago. And, as the Major of Bologna Virginio Merola recalls, “Isabella Seragnoli, the entrepreneur who started both the Mast and Foto/Industria, regarded these projects in order to extend and share the entrepreneurial and cultural scope of the Foundation with the historic center of Bologna and the community”.

The Foto/Industria badge grants free access to the exhibits and (upon reservation) to all the events, conferences, guided tours, video projections and workshops for kids planned during the biennial.

MAST [acronym for Manufactury of Arts, Experimentation and Technology] is a non-profit organization associated with the Coesia industrial group. By the way, Mast unveiled the new artwork by Anish Kapoor, “Reach”, with its engaging shape and its countless reflected images between tangible and virtual world.


Paola Sammartano

Paola Sammartano is a journalist specialized in arts and photography based in Milan, Italy



Foto/Industria 2017
October 12 to November 19, 2017
(the exhibit at MAST PhotoGallery is on until January 14, 2018)
Bologna downtown + MAST PhotoGallery, via Speranza 42, Bologna
40124 Bologna