Winter Stories: Photographs by Paolo Ventura

Book Review

By Sarah Munro

Winter Stories
Photographs by Paolo Ventura
Essay by Eugenia Parry
APERTURE, October 2009
Edition of 2,000
11 1/2 x 14 in. (29 x 35.5 cm)
120 pages; 65 four-color images
Clothbound with jacket
ISBN 978-1-59711-125-6
$85.00; £50.00

Paulo Ventura has a knack for photographing people.

In fact, it hardly matters that they’re not real.

Ventura envisions iconic images of melancholy, romance and nostalgia.  He sketches these scenes out in intimate detail, plotting posture and costumes and props, layout and lighting and angles.

Then he builds them out of cardboard.

Plus plastic and wood, bits of fabric, props and dolls donated by other enthusiasts.  Says Ventura, “I set out to find things, but I soon realized that I knew exactly what I wanted so it would just be easier to make it myself.”  Taking visible cues from filmmakers like Federico Fellini, Ventura carefully constructs and photographs what indeed seem like miniature movie sets.  They are haunting approximations of old world Italy inhabited by spectral circus performers.  A tightrope walker teeters on his wire while men in hats and heavy overcoats look on.  A harlequin lays hopelessly corpselike in bed, the mirror’s reflection only making him appear more alone.  An aging showgirl perched in purple feathers atop her horse seeks the attention of a detached spectator.  As suggested by Eugenia Parry’s accompanying essay, these are the faded memories recalled and romanticized during the winter of one performer’s life.

Or they would be, had he ever lived at all.

Some of Ventura’s set-ups are uncannily real, while other images come tantalizingly close to revealing that they are, in fact, a fiction.  Real or imagined, Paulo Ventura’s pictures are images of an era: atmospheric vignettes imbued with quiet drama and emotion.

Even if their subjects can’t feel it.

   

Sarah Munro is a Toronto-based writer and photographer. She holds a BFA in photography from Ryerson University and is currently pursuing her MA in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management. As the facility’s former Exhibition Coordinator, she now serves on the advisory board for the Ryerson Gallery. Sarah also acts as Publications Assistant for the Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art and operates as Book Reviews Editor for their publication, Prefix Photo magazine.