The “Sub Sole” [Under the Sun] series by photographer Massao Mascaro, presented at the 2021 Rencontres d’Arles photography show as part of the Louis Roederer Discovery Prize, is part of his lengthy exploration of southern Europe. Between 2010 and 2015, the photographer goes to Calabria, in southwestern Italy, the land of his grandparents and the birthplace of his mother, “a region of peasants and mafia,” he told me, “but it’s the peasant side that I was interested in.” While working on his series “Ramo”, which means “branch” in Italian, “migrants, or rather asylum seekers, to use a different term, were arriving in Calabria in throngs.” Unlike much of the rest of Italy, they were welcomed to this region with open arms. This land of exile was becoming a welcoming land of refuge. “I saw my uncles, peasants, putting migrants to work. Misery employing misery.”
Next came the series “Garden,” shot in Madrid, for which he won the Bozar Nikon Monograph Series Award in 2016. In that series he took an interest in the mythological space of the garden, and went on to continue his exploration of myths in the “Sub Sole” project carried out from 2017 to 2020 in seven cities (Ceuta, Naples, Athens, Palermo, Istanbul, Tunis and Lampedusa) around the Mediterranean rim. He was following the itinerary of Ulysses’ journey. “I was looking for a compass and this course seemed an obvious choice to me, even though my images are not inspired by that story. Just the opposite, in fact; I did not want to be doing illustrations for the text.”
But literature accompanies him on his travels, though; among his favorite authors, he mentions Jorge Luis Borges and Paul Valéry, as well as Eugenio Montale, an Italian poet of the 20th century whose Cuttlefish Bones is his most famous work. Still life photographs and portraits of young people coexist in what Mascaro considers “obvious resonances.” Turning his back to the sea and the sun could be the leitmotif that guided him in these shots, even though his images are bathed in light. Shooting on film, Mascaro pursues his usual approach to photography, which allows him “to be autonomous,” he explains. “I like to develop my images. My prints are then made hand in hand with a Brussels printer. It’s work I love to do. And the question of black and white, for me, is a question of colors but with another shade, a shade of gray.”
Eighteen images are presented during his exhibition in Arles. The rest of his series, consisting of more than one hundred photographs, will be exhibited in its entirety at the Foundation A Stitching in Brussels, from September 25 to December 19, 2021. A book will also be published by Chose Commune in September. When we asked the photographer why he chose the title “Sub Sole,” he replied that he was inspired by the expression “Nihil novi sub sole” [nothing new under the sun] from the Vulgate, the Latin Bible. This choice of language, Latin, was also an obvious choice to him: a dead language perhaps, but also one that provides the roots of so many other Mediterranean languages. Italian writer Umberto Eco considered translation the language of Europe. When looking closely at Mascaro’s work, one can easily imagine photography becoming the language of the Mediterranean.
By Sabyl Ghoussoub
Born in Paris in 1988 into a Lebanese family, Sabyl Ghoussoub is a writer, columnist and curator. His second novel, Beyrouth entre parenthèses [Beirut in Parentheses] was released by Antilope editions in August 2020.
“Sub Sole”, Massao Mascaro. Exhibition curator: Sonia Voss. Église des Frères Prêcheurs (as part of Les Rencontres d’Arles 2021). July 4 – August 29, 2021. Book available here.