A celebration of chandeliers
by Roger Williams
Some collaborations come together out of necessity. Others are organic, instinctive, that grow into friendships and mutual regard. One such is the coming together of the Afridi Gallery with the photographer Alessandro Durini di Monza, whose striking images are now on the gallery walls, where just a short time ago Berber rugs and Suzani textiles from Central Asia were hung.
Most striking are photographs of a dozen chandeliers in a deconsecrated church in Catania in Sicily. “I took them just as I found them,” says Alessandro. “They surrounded a larger chandelier, like twelve apostles circling Christ. Their glass had been shot away, perhaps by German soldiers who were there in the Second World War, just bored young men. The church had been deconsecrated and used for storage. I just happened to be there when it was being restored, but there was nobody there.”
Bereft of their glass crystals, twisted wire frames dangle like cages from which birds have made their escape. They reminded Alessandro of Alexander Calder’s mobile sculptures. Each chandelier pictured is slightly different, some showing faint colour in the plasterwork. None has been technically enhanced. One, photographed against a dark background, appears white on black, like a negative, and one has been enlarged to hang alone on the back wall of the gallery above an angular, black display table, evoking an image of an altar and a crown of thorns. Typically for the gallery, where objects are moved around no matter their age or provenance, a contemporary West African jar sits on this table like an offering, while a plain dark Persian flat-weave kilim lies on the floor and a magnificent Oscar Torlasco lamp illuminates the tableau.
Enthusiastic and engaging, Alessandro is a good companion at an Afridi lunchtime table where the gallery’s colleagues pick their favourites from the surrounding chandelier pictures. They remind Anthea Roberts of a dressmakers’s wire dummy, and Chloe Burman likes the drama of the white on black. All are agreed they work well as a group, and would work equally in pairs or in threes.
Over tea and the famous Afridi coffee, Alessandro explains that his camera is always by his side, a Leica on his belt like a holstered pistol. He is still using Kodachrome film, which, he says, seems to be making a come-back. He sometimes uses a Polaroid, too. Taking photos wherever he goes, he admits he is not always popular with his wife, Narges because when they are out walking, he frequently stops to take pictures. Usually these are just of things he notices, rarely of people, though his images might contain a lone figure if it adds to the composition.
One results of his continual picture-taking is an eight-page paper that he publishes four times a year, with a spring edition due out soon. He also publishes four special editions, the last of these on ‘fallen heroes’ – autumn leaves. Ideas for these coalesce as he goes along. One theme, ‘staircases’, has taken a step further. They are the subject of four large colour prints that can be seen from the street in the gallery window.
“These are spaces in between places,” he says “They exist in time, but they are not in places we inhabit. People pass through them on their way to somewhere else.” Mounted on aluminium and sandwiched between sheets of plexiglass, they are in limited editions. An iron-railed staircase in a house in Provence contrasts with the concrete and scaffolding stairs of a City restaurant, while photographs of the Nelson Staircase at Somerset House is not the usual upward spiral shot, but focuses the viewer’s attention towards what seems like an eye.
“Photographs are not a new direction for us,” says Shahbaz Afridi. “We have had a number in the gallery before. I always like putting different things against each other in a room to see how they look, like the 9th-century Persian ceramic bowl by the chandelier photographs: it looks so modern. Objects shouldn’t be static. Moving them around makes you look at them again. I have known Alessandro for some time, and we share a taste in many things. When we were arranging the pictures in the gallery, I would send him photographs, and we would send ideas back and forth. I think these are beautiful, really interesting photographs and I could imagine them in many different settings.”