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world war II photographs italian campaign

alfonso carrara
world war II
italian campaign



The Italian Cultural Institutes of San Francisco, New York and Chicago are proud to present...

"happenchance" an exhibition of photographs by Alfonso Carrara (1922-2012), the late Italian American architect, artist, poet and photographer who momentously documented the Allied advance through Italy in 1945, when he was posted there at the age of 20.

The Italian American experience has never been short of remarkable stories–from social suffering to political success. The cultural and artistic fields are perhaps less obvious, but certainly not less interesting, and the story of Alfonso Carrara is one that immediately commanded our interest and informed our belief that it should be made known to a wider audience.

The subject of these photographs speaks for itself, as images from the dramatic days of World War II often do. Let us only add that the quality of Carrara’s shots always seem to materialize as an index of both the precariousness and immediacy of what he encountered in 1945. In a rehearsal of Roland Barthe’s juxtaposition of the beginning of Photography, where it “photographs the notable,” and a subsequent reversal where whatever gets photographed “becomes sophisticated acme of value,” Carrara’s pictures offer us both: the notorious places and faces of the Liberation, and next to them everyday people and landscapes that the eye of his camera rescues to sharpness and poignant actuality.

“happenchance” is a most revelatory title, not only because of Carrara’s serendipitous encounter with photography in Italy, but also for the way this exhibition was set in motion and evolved–first from an idea of Noa Steimatsky and Alan Cohen, then a more careful discussion which led to Alfonso’s widow, Gillion, and Paul Berlanga of the Stephen Daiter Gallery in Chicago. Their enthusiasm in the project, their suggestions, and their critical effort need to be acknowledged here. Without their contributions this exhibition would not have been possible.


Paolo Barlera
Italian Cultural Institute, San Francisco

Fabio Troisi
Italian Cultural Institute, New York

Andrea Raos
Italian Cultural Institute, Chicago

– from the introduction of the catalogue happenchance

Title Page.jpg

,,".... a disciplined eye 

The photographs by Alfonso Carrara in this catalogue were first presented to my colleagues and me at the Stephen Daiter Gallery in 2011 by Gillion Carrara, the artist’s widow. We recognized a concise and important body of work, and our gallery of which I was then director, served as a natural incubator for the expanding public awareness of the collection, presenting it at a number of artistic venues, both domestic and international. Carrara, a Chicago native, began his studies in 1939 at the yet to be famous Institute of Design in the city. The Diater Gallery has long specialized in works from the Institute of Design and the sophistication of Carrara’s work is reflective of the best of that school’s teachings and traditions, which derived (through the school’s original director, László Moholy-Nagy) directly from the celebrated Bauhaus of Germany.

The short story, so as not to be redundant of other text in this publication, is that Carrara moved to California in 1941 to pursue his study of architectural design with the modernist archiitect, Richard Neutra. In 1942, Carrara was drafted and during the course of his military service during the rugged Italian Campaign, he unofficially took up the camera. His schooling prepared him to create the careful framing and expressionistic points of view which raised his photographs far above ordinary military photo reportage. The making of these images was a most personal statement, from his sense of formal design to the unorthodox procurement of his camera, to his unintentionally conceptual additive of paper clips whose images were recorded onto certain final prints. The presence of something as quotidian as the paper clips that Carrara used to dry negatives that had been soaked (clipping them directly to tree branches) is a notion that some contemporary writers might embrace for its surreal twist to an otherwise straightforward viewing experience. Imagine an ordinary office supply item lingering in ghostly fashion in the sky above a war-torn townscape. How modernist to decide to let process intrude on concept in such a way. Carrara might scoff at that but I’ve only the work to ponder. Almost as startling are the artist’s cool renditions of the human still-lifes, the butchered and brutalized remains of what had been Benito Mussolini and his coterie. These are extreme images, but they look to this viewer to have been taken with an almost serene eye. Similarly, Carrara’s documentation of bombed buildings and the twisted wreckage of trains reveal not only his attraction to architectural and mechanical forms but also an appreciation of the beauty of abstraction derived from incredible destruction. His portraits of the citizenry reveal a growing empathy with their situation, but his main focus is always that of an architect. This body of images is both a testament to one man’s trained eye and a terrible homecoming for someone photographing in his ancestral land, documenting the decimation, even as hope began to return to it in the wake of continuing Allied victories.

This thoughtful publication is a fitting tribute to Alfonso Carrara–a disciplined artist and designer whose photographs documented with a quiet elegance a critical period of tremendous upheaval in world history. These works, however interpreted, are a gift to the eye and a gift to history.

Paul Berlanga
Berlanga Fine Art & Photographs

– from the introduction of the catalogue happenchance


happenchance has exhibited throughout the U.S. at the locations below.

Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco

601 Van Ness Ave
San Francisco, CA 94102, United States

Italian Cultural Institute of New York

686 Park Ave
New York, NY 10021, United States

Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago

500 N Michigan Ave #1450
Chicago, IL 60611, United States