The language of photography is just one of the artistic dialects Paolo Ventura uses to tell stories. His prints and books borrow from painting and set design, silent film and the graphic novel. By building and photographing miniature sets in his studio, Ventura has created series that recall the life story of a circus performer (Winter Stories, Aperture, 2009), and daily life in World War II-era Italy (War Souvenir, Contrasto, 2006), among other tales.
Ventura’s latest book, Short Stories (Aperture), reinforces the connection between literature and art in the Italian artist’s work, while also moving it closer to theater and live action film. The book presents six tales told through series of three to six images. In “The Bird Watcher,” a man spotting birds with binoculars befriends a young boy and helps him fly away. “The Twins” pits two brothers on opposite sides of a conflict against one another. And “The Vanishing Man” shows a character in a top coat bearing a gold Star of David disappearing slowly from a city street.
While Ventura has previously worked with miniature sets and figurines, he created these short stories by building life-sized sets in his studio, casting himself, his wife, and his twin brother and son as characters. While many of the stories appear whimsical—there is a red-cheeked magician, a juggler in a polka-dotted costume, and man in a rumpled suit that folds himself into a suitcase—evidence of the melancholy, nostalgia and tragedy that Ventura has explored in previous work exists throughout the book. Just as a great written short story reveals depth and meaning that belies the brevity of the artistic form, with just a few images Ventura is able to create tales that grow and change as they are read and reread. —Conor Risch