28 Photographs by Francesca Magnani

on view at The Italian Cultural Institute in New York

November 14, 2023 – January 31, 2024


by Julie Lasky

Whenever I see any of Francesca Magnani’s photographs, I look for the people. Much of the time, they fill the frame — intense, aware figures saturated with the lively color of public gatherings, meeting the camera’s eye with a wide smile or caught appreciating a spectacle not of their own making: a wedding procession, a Black Lives Matter protest, the necklace of lights outlining the cables of the Brooklyn Bridge as the sun sets over New York Harbor.

Even when tiny figures punctuate her cityscapes or dissolve into a busy background, they are documentary evidence of a world that keeps on pulsing. Vitality is Magnani’s theme, which means that even in the direst of situations, her camera moves us forward. “La Città in Maschera/The City in Masks,” a 2021 exhibition of her work at the Italian Consulate in New York, showed how the pandemic emblem, the mask, became a device for communicating identity, even as it covered the face and muffled the voice. The streets, with their disease-diminished life, became her runway for a procession of unvanquishable New Yorkers.

Her new exhibition represents a homecoming in more than one way. It has been five years since Magnani, who has lived in New York City since 1997, returned to her native Padua. She shows us vendors peddling jewel-like produce, veterans of the choppy surf of national political life, distracted lovers and tourists crossing a historic plaza, immigrants in transit stations hovering between worlds. She is thousands of miles from New York, and the subjects are the same.

“Great photographers find order in a disordered world, beauty in the most blasted terrain,” wrote the critic Vince Aletti in the Village Voice about photographs that spilled out after 9/11, Magnani’s among them. “They can’t be trusted to tell us the truth—no artist can. But they can indicate a way out of the confusion and illuminate the path.”

The subjects of Magnani’s photographs carry those torches in their fleeting expressions of energy and joy.

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