Back to the communes

From the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson [1], Dennis Stock [2] and Roberta Price [3] in the early 60s and 70s, to the recent projects of American and Italian photographers Joel Sternfeld and Carlo Bevilacqua, it is clear that the curiosity for the hidden life of collective experiments - or communes - is far from fading away and still remains a fertile field of research for documentary photographers.

By means of idyllic scenes, dancing people and decadent architectures, along the decades each practitioner has contributed to the construction (or deconstruction) of the myth of communal living between glorification and pity.

American photographer Joel Sternfeld’s 2016 Sweet Earth series portrays the everyday life of various collective experiments across the United States. Investigating this long-lasting tradition - which he claims can be traced back to the 19th century - Sweet Earth captures an eclectic range of examples sprinkled by successes and failure - from the Dome Village of Los Angeles, which was dismantled in 2006, to the experimental town of Arcosanti founded by Paolo Soleri in 1970. Just like fragments of a parallel world, each picture offers a glimpse of the ephemeral daily routine of the inhabitants who - like everyone else - still wonder, fail and try again.



Following the path of Joel Sternfeld, in the beginning of 2017 Italian photographer Carlo Bevilacqua published Utopia. Riding the current wave of collectiveness’ revival, the series uncovers “utopian communities” of all kinds - from Spirit Land in Canada to Auroville in India and Can Masdeu in Spain. Demonstrating the global scale of the movement as well as its longevity, in his project Bevilacqua collects a large sample of counter ways of living that question individualism. As Bevilacqua observes, what they all had in common “was the conceptuality inherent in the positive sense of the term utopia, which in this case does not mean at all that we are going to live all happy on the earthly paradise”.




1_Dome Village, Los Angeles, California, August 1994. Courtesy of Joel Sternfeld and Luhring Augustine, New York [source] ; 2_Paolo Soleri at Arcosanti, Cordes Junction, Arizona, August 2000. Courtesy ofJoel Sternfeld and Luhring Augustine, New York [source; 3_N Street Cohousing, Davis, California, March 2005. Courtesy ofJoel Sternfeld and Luhring Augustine, New York [source; 4_Mandarom Shambhasalem in France near Cannes, © Carlo Bevilacqua  5_Marinaleda in Spain © Carlo Bevilacqua

[1] During the 1960s, members of the photographic cooperative Magnum Photos - such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Raymond Depardon, Dennis Stock and Joseph Koudelka - went off the road to search for communal living experiments. Cartier-Bresson reported from the Lama Foundation an intentional commune near the town of Taos in New Mexico, USA; [2] William Hedgepeth and Dennis Stock, Alternative: Communal Life in New America, Collier Books, New York, London, 1970; [3] Starting as a photographical research documenting on the East Coast of the United States in the late 1960s, Roberta Price ended up living few years at “Libre” one of the most long lasting commune of the era. The photographs - later compiled in the book Huerfano: a memoir of life in the counterculture, University of Massachusetts Press, 2004 - capture intimate moments which suppose a high level of complicity and trust between the subject and the photographer; Geoff Dyer, “Look right, then left”, The Guardian, January 6th 2007;

Published: 2 Oct. 2017

#pioneers #storytellers #Photography #communes #Counterculture #TogethernessInDesign

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