He silently roams the coasts of Italy with a compact camera, like a witness of our times. He “steals” shots to create a catalogue of beach humanity. Pierfranco Argentiero, working like a craftsman, in a methodical and meticulous manner, for almost twenty years has collected hundreds of photographs of people on holiday, where social differences if not cancelled, certainly diminished. At the beach, the rules change and we change: less shyness, more patience, less neurosis. Somehow born out of holiday boredom and transformed into an investigation, this work gave rise to archetypal characters, recognisable at a glance. We can all recognise the environment in which they were taken, despite the fact that they are decontextualised: there is the street vendor, the lady sheltering from the sun, people playing or reading and the bored beach attendant. Set next to each other, these images create an endless beach, where the sea is never seen, but is always present, because it is in our memory. No matter where sun sunbeds and umbrellas, human beings, cabins and chiringuitos are portrayed: the beach as we know it, a leisurely space and a break from normal life - “an invention” established since the 1930s - is a non-place. In just a century, it has evolved from being a source of food and the starting and finishing point of a journey, to become the suburbs of the city, devoted to pleasure and equally well-equipped everywhere. Without historical, political, geographical and social context, it remains a bare backdrop. It is no coincidence that Argentiero’s archetypes all live on an unchanging backdrop, a monochrome, sandcoloured tabula rasa. By their mere existence, by their repeated gestures, they want to tell us about our society. They are our mirror and we recognise ourselves immediately. Zona Franca is not just a place created ex nihilo, it is a historical document. Argentiero’s work is conscious and clear-sighted and offers itself to future generations, who may change their habits or no longer have beaches to invade, as a memory.
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