Sides Exhibits 'Human Traces' Photo Collages in Italy

Sep. 15, 2010


FLORENCE, Ala. – University of North Alabama art professor and award-winning Alabama photographer Wayne Sides will exhibit his photo collages at the invitation of the Comune di Pietrasanta in the Palazzo Panichi on the Piazza del Duomo Sept. 18-Oct. 17 in Pietrasanta, Italy.

Located on the coast of Tuscany in the foothills of the Apuan Alps, Pietrasanta is a hub of contemporary arts activity and is also known as one of 16th century sculptor Michaelangelo Buonoratti’s outposts as he searched for perfect white Carrara marble a few miles to the north.

“Tracce Umano” (translated as “Human Traces”) depicts Sides’ work documenting immigrant populations in Italy combined with his longtime interest in illuminating issues of social justice in Alabama since the late 1970s.

In 2008, Sides received a UNA faculty research grant to study the effect of immigrant populations on historic architecture in Italy. In 2009, he received a second faculty development grant to further document and produce photographs.

His project led him first to Prato, Italy, to photograph the Chinese garment center known as “little Peking” and later to Pisa to photograph a recently destroyed Rom (formerly known as “gypsy”) settlement.

As he photographed these uprooted populations and witnessed all manner of difficulties that immigrants and the communities in which they settle face, Sides began to visualize people as having been pasted into the landscape on top of one another – literally overlaid without definite boundaries, much like a collage.

His photographs evolved into photo collages, combinations of images, with traditional black and white photography enhanced by applied color, or images layered one upon another, in some cases creating scenes that are surrealistic, or whimsical, and at times reminiscent of symbolist painters such as Hieronymus Bosch or collagists of the 1960s Pop Art Movement.

As he photographed in Italy during two trips in 2008 and 209, then processed his work back home in Florence, Sides said he was reminded of the racial injustice of Alabama in the 20th century, in general, and of his own photographs of the Ku Klux Klan, in particular. This work led him to look closely at how an indigenous population deals with “outsiders” and vice versa. Some earlier photographs of Sides’ found their way into the collages, too.

“It’s as if the cultures I’ve photographed for more than 30 years – rural Alabama, the Ku Klux Klan, street people in New York, and now the immigrant populations in Italy – have all overlaid one another in a statement about human beings trying to live alongside one another.

“Of course, they are often not very successful in the attempt,” Sides said. “The metaphor of human connections may define my entire body of work. I am grateful that both my home state of Alabama and my new friends in Pietrasanta are interested in supporting me as I make art.”

After Sides showed his Prato Chinese immigrant series in the closing program of the 2008 cultural arts exchange dubbed The Alabama Experience, he was invited to return for further on-location work. After his 2009 return trip, the Commune de Pietrasanta invited him to exhibit.

The importance and innovation of Sides’ work was recently noted by Dr. Vagn Hansen, dean of the UNA College of Arts and Sciences. “Artists help us to see people, events and entire movements through creative eyes,” Hansen said. “Wayne Sides has a special gift for joining the documentary, artistic and emotional aspects of photography into a synthesis that confronts us with realities of human relations in this global age.

“Our university is especially pleased to have a role in sharing Professors Sides’ work with the public on both sides of the Atlantic.”

In speaking about cultural exchange between Alabama and Italy, Albert B. Head, executive director of the Alabama State Council on the Arts, said, “One of Alabama’s most prominent photographers, Wayne Sides, has been an integral part of the state’s exchange efforts that began in 2008 when a group of Alabama artists, educators, arts administrators and public officials traveled to Pietrasanta, Italy, as part of a celebration of art and culture.

“It is the hope and expectation of the State Council on the Arts that projects of cultural exchange with Pietrasanta, arguably the sculpture capitol of the world, will continue and opportunities for artists, students and organizations will evolve in ways that provide meaningful benefits to Alabama,” Head said.

The Alabama State Council on the Arts awarded Sides a 2010 cultural arts exchange grant.

In announcing Sides’ invitation to exhibit his work, Comune di Pietrasanta Mayor Dr. Domineco Lombardi said that Sides’ work in 2009 showed a deepening of his understanding of the theme of immigration in Europe, and he “successfully blended this with the beautiful and historic Tuscan landscape.”

Nothing that Sides’ work helps cultures understand how they may stereotype one another, the mayor continued, “The city administration invited Sides to exhibit his works in Pietrasanta as a result of different points of view that could perhaps bring up situations for us already taken for granted, combining them with other visions already present in Sides’ creative imagery.

“Wayne Sides presents his works basing himself above all on icons and meanings, but especially on stereotypes, present both in the Italian and American cultures, that could in some way spoil the approach and, consequently, the communication or the cohabitation among diverse populations,” he said.

“Thanks to photo collages and design, Sides creates extremely interesting and significant visual puzzles, which surely will have great following both here and at an international level,” Lombardi said.

Sides hopes to continue his project, perhaps publishing the photo collages with essays by some of the scholars who study the issues, as well as some of the Rom population leaders who spoke with Sides at the 2008 symposium in Pietrasanta.

“I know I am not through with this work,” Sides said. “Immigration and assimilation are vast problems globally, and I hope an artist’s point of view can contribute to understanding.”

Images from “Human Traces” can be seen at www.waynesides.com and at www.museodeibozzetti.it.