For most, this name is likely new. However, Cesare Colombo played an important role in the field of photography by promoting dignity and value as a means of artistic expression
Famous for his historical studies, during his career he was a curator for numerous exhibitions, handled the reorganisation of photographic archives, carried out research, and was the author of essays and much more. Moreover, in the 1980s he recovered the Maputo archives in Mozambique, when the African country, re-emerging from a devastating war, saw its first steps towards national redemption in the recovery of this visual memory.
Milano – anni ’50
However, in addition to his work as a scholar, Cesare Colombo was also a great photographer, creating shots of extraordinary beauty and communicative power. The exhibition dedicated to him in Milan at the Castello Sforzesco from November 2019 to February 2020, aims to bring his activity as a photographer to the attention of the public, highlighting an artist with a vast array of interests, although he mainly focused on mankind and its role in modern society.
Somma Lombardo – 1964
It is no coincidence that the exhibition is held in Milan, due to his tight connection with his city of birth – back in 1935 – and a place where he recorded its vices and virtues with shots that linked the truth of the document to the beauty of art. Photography was not his destiny when he enrolled in the university in the 1950s.
Maiorca – 1973
Decentramento industriale, giovani operaie – 1964
However, he found himself immersed in the tumultuous Milan lifestyle and started a freelance career becoming, in his own words, an angry operator (un operatore arrabbiato). The value of commitment and testimony was likely something he had learned from his father Augusto, a figurative painter interested in political and social issues.
Milano, disordini durante uno sciopero alla Rinascente – 1968
Calabria – 1972
Venezia, Facoltà di Architettura – 1964
Roma – 1963
Bibione, Venezia – 1992
Milano, Scuola elemantare in Via Sant’Orsola – 1968
Milano, Alzaia Naviglio Pavese – Fine anni ’50
That said, Cesare belonged to that group of committed young men and women who understood the importance of photography in the new society that was taking shape in the second post-war period. He therefore began to write and work for the spread of this artistic medium, in addition to taking photos with a quite lucid feel, in which the photographer and the editor come together. In fact, his photographs have the strength of that of an active witness, but also the rigour of objectivity. In the name of this intransigence – and without any apparent contradictions – he managed to carry out his visual consultant work for large industrial groups together with his “socially engaged” shots that denounce the distortions of the system, the anonymity of modern life and the massification of the work in factories.
Milano, Lungo il naviglio Grande – Anni ’60
Milano – 1956
An example, in this sense, is the famous night photo of the Galfa skyscraper, taken in 1969, which shows employees at work seen through the windows. The artist has managed to create the feeling of claustrophobic environments made up of small cells where employees are hard at work. His archives constitute an importance testimony of the Italian and Milanese industrial development of the last 50 years. His photographs do not offer exotic settings or shots of distant war scenarios. He is completely absent from the spasmodic search for recognition and strong sensations.
Milano, Grattacielo Galfa -1968
Cesare Colombo put urban reality on stage, with overcrowding and excessive construction and degraded suburbs. In addition, he highlighted the reality of life at the time, like the youth protests of the 60s, the clashes with the police, but also the crowded local markets or the chaos of Piazza Affari, Milan’s stock exchange.
Milano, Piazza Borromeo – 1956 -57
The exhibition is interesting not only for the quality of the artist and for the important role he had in the field of photography, but because he fills a gap in Italian culture, where photography has only in the last twenty years established itself as a full-fledged art form. In the midst of his career, Colombo had begun expressing his concern about the marginalization of photography, suffocated by a cumbersome artistic tradition that saw photograph as a less important relative. The Milan exhibition has the undoubted merit of drawing our attention to the value and meaning of this expressive form, allowing us to look at images that teach us how to see.
Anna Maria Calabretta