Personal impressions of Italy

Sonata is a visual diary based on frequent visits to Italy.

Words by

Artdoc

© Aaron Schuman | Sonata

The German romantic poet, novelist, and philosopher Johann Wolfgang Goethe wrote his famous book Italian Journey in the 18th century, based on his diaristic notes. Aaron Schuman, inspired by the poet's writings, made a visual diary based on his frequent visits to his beloved Italy. He named his book Sonata in reference to music and is also divided into three parts. Even though the book tells about his visual experience of Italy, it may be better described as a universal account of travelling, memories, emotional values of cultural objects and feeling free and lost in nature.

Aaron Schumann got acquainted with Italy in his early childhood. When he was only two, his family spent two months in Italy, which obviously is too young to have memories, but unconsciously, he still remembers the vibrant smells, sounds, and lights. As his family returned to Italy every three or four years, he became interested in the Mediterranean country. "As I got older, I started travelling by myself with my own family. I felt a kind of connection to the country, but through a traveller's eyes, a foreigner's eyes. I'm not claiming to be Italian or that I have a special connection to Italy other than being one of tourists, but I became connected to Italy."

© Aaron Schuman | Sonata

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© Aaron Schuman | Sonata

Goethe

Goethe wrote in his Italian Journey that Italy was a country where he found overwhelming sense impressions: sounds, smells, tastes, and sights, that saturated him with sensory experience and could be associated with youth memories. "Can I learn to look at things with clear, fresh eyes?", Goethe wrote in 1786. This resonated with Schumann's experience in Italy. "I felt similar things because of my early childhood experience. After my travel to Italy, I read Goethe; it was intriguing to see that 250 years ago, he was one of the early grand tourists who went there. He felt the immediacy of sensory impressions, which I felt too when I travelled to Italy myself." Schumann realized that when you travel, you tend to put your experiences into your own well-known categories of facts and knowledge. "Throughout my life, I learned more and more about Italy. So, I know about its history and art history. I am inundated with the ideas of ancient Rome or the Renaissance. But when I was travelling there for this project, I was trying to fight through those preconceptions and see something Goethe called 'seeing with fresh eyes'. I tried to be open to things I saw on a sensory level and not necessarily engage with them on an intellectual or critical level. I went to many tourist sites like Pompeii and museums to see a Caravaggio. But when I would go to those places, I was trying to strip back all of the intellectual baggage and just see it for what it was through my own eyes again. I imagine the book is not really intended to be a documentary about Italy."

© Aaron Schuman | Sonata


Vesuvius

For Schuman, his Italian photographic journeys were a paradoxical experiment because he tried to eliminate a certain romanticization and preconceptions of well-known Italian sites. At the beginning of the book, we see a romantic neo-impressionistic painting of Vesuvius' volcanic eruption that hangs against a rose-purple cracked wall. The photo seems to mock all the Italian cliches.

Italy is a country defined by our culture as the beautiful country of passion and La Dolce Vita.

"Italy is a country defined by our culture as the beautiful country of passion and La Dolce Vita, but I was trying to resist them a little bit. I tried to find an alternative angle to see those places and understand if other ways exist to engage with those ideas and feelings. When I took that picture of the Vesuvius, I was interested in the painting and the cliches that surround it. But I was also really interested in the cracks on the wall. It almost looks like the volcano has exploded and broken the wall. I like the idea of mixing different ways of seeing and realities. I wanted to see the experience of looking at this painting in this particular place. How does it feel like to me right now?"

© Aaron Schuman | Sonata


Music

In one of the photos in the book, we see a statue of a horse behind the reflection of a window. We also see a car and the brick of a building in the street. An introspective image with references to the past. It seems the photographer is half-dreaming his voyages in Italy. "I like the gesture that the horse is making. The picture combines that special energy with the golden light. I tried to capture those moments when I was not overwhelmed by what I saw."

There is a correlation between photography and music, an art form that is hard to rationalize, as there is no dictionary of tones connected to emotions. The association with music was the reason that Schuman chose Sonata as the title of the book. "I structured it in a musical rhythm because music is definitely one of those things where it's almost impossible to articulate why a minor chord makes us sad or melancholy, and a major chord makes us happy. It resonates with emotions without conscious articulation. Throughout the whole book, there are relationships between pictures. I'm not an expert on classical music, but I was thinking about how I could relate photography to music. My understanding of the Sonata is that it has these three movements, where the first movement is the opening of the exposition, the second movement is more of an experimental kind, and then the third movement returns to some of the motifs and themes of the first movement, but presented in an alternative way. That was the idea behind the composition of the book."

© Aaron Schuman | Sonata


Black and white

The book is divided into two parts with colour photographs taken in urban locations, mainly with cultural connotations. The middle section contains merely black and white landscape photographs. "The middle section with the black and white landscapes is experimental. They are not landscapes but pictures I took in olive groves. It's more of an exploration of nature and being overwhelmed by that environment. For me, it was a way of getting away from the man-made world. The black and white section connects the two other colour parts.

Aaron Schuman wanted to create in the middle section a very different feeling than the first and last sections. "It worked better to do this in black and white because I wanted to create a dizzying feeling. When you're wandering around these olive groves, it's quite easy to get lost. So I wanted it to create this experience for the viewer."

© Aaron Schuman | Sonata


Universal

The Italian voyage depicted in a rhythmic musical form in Sonata does not only describe Italy but, in a universal way, talks about the experience of travelling anywhere in the world. It shows the feeling of immersing oneself in another culture and landscape. The book is a melodic rhyme about observation as an act itself and being emotionally affected by memory-embedded objects and the natural world without cultural pressure. This made Schumann feel connected to Goethe. "I think Goethe was trying to find a place where he could just be free from society. He made a lot of observations in the natural world because he considered himself a bit of a natural scientist. So, he was constantly talking about the geology, the rocks, the plants, and that sort of thing. It was an idea of trying to break away from the tightness of the Germanic cultural experience."

In the same way, Aaron Schumann made Sonata, which became a flight to his inner self. "I don't want people to misinterpret it as if I am trying to describe, explain or document Italy. I don't want the book to be misinterpreted. I want it to be clear that this is a personal, diaristic, subjective interpretation of my own experience of this place."


Aaron Schuman is an American photographer, writer, curator and educator based in the United Kingdom. He received a BFA in Photography and History of Art from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts in 1999 and an MA in Humanities and Cultural Studies from the University of London: London Consortium at Birkbeck College in 2003. He is an Associate Professor in Photography and Visual Culture and the founder and Programme Leader of the MA/Masters in Photography programme at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol).
website
Instagram:@aaschuman
Sonata









Personal impressions of Italy

Sonata is a visual diary based on frequent visits to Italy.

Words by

Artdoc

© Aaron Schuman | Sonata

The German romantic poet, novelist, and philosopher Johann Wolfgang Goethe wrote his famous book Italian Journey in the 18th century, based on his diaristic notes. Aaron Schuman, inspired by the poet's writings, made a visual diary based on his frequent visits to his beloved Italy. He named his book Sonata in reference to music and is also divided into three parts. Even though the book tells about his visual experience of Italy, it may be better described as a universal account of travelling, memories, emotional values of cultural objects and feeling free and lost in nature.

Aaron Schumann got acquainted with Italy in his early childhood. When he was only two, his family spent two months in Italy, which obviously is too young to have memories, but unconsciously, he still remembers the vibrant smells, sounds, and lights. As his family returned to Italy every three or four years, he became interested in the Mediterranean country. "As I got older, I started travelling by myself with my own family. I felt a kind of connection to the country, but through a traveller's eyes, a foreigner's eyes. I'm not claiming to be Italian or that I have a special connection to Italy other than being one of tourists, but I became connected to Italy."

© Aaron Schuman | Sonata
© Aaron Schuman | Sonata

Goethe

Goethe wrote in his Italian Journey that Italy was a country where he found overwhelming sense impressions: sounds, smells, tastes, and sights, that saturated him with sensory experience and could be associated with youth memories. "Can I learn to look at things with clear, fresh eyes?", Goethe wrote in 1786. This resonated with Schumann's experience in Italy. "I felt similar things because of my early childhood experience. After my travel to Italy, I read Goethe; it was intriguing to see that 250 years ago, he was one of the early grand tourists who went there. He felt the immediacy of sensory impressions, which I felt too when I travelled to Italy myself." Schumann realized that when you travel, you tend to put your experiences into your own well-known categories of facts and knowledge. "Throughout my life, I learned more and more about Italy. So, I know about its history and art history. I am inundated with the ideas of ancient Rome or the Renaissance. But when I was travelling there for this project, I was trying to fight through those preconceptions and see something Goethe called 'seeing with fresh eyes'. I tried to be open to things I saw on a sensory level and not necessarily engage with them on an intellectual or critical level. I went to many tourist sites like Pompeii and museums to see a Caravaggio. But when I would go to those places, I was trying to strip back all of the intellectual baggage and just see it for what it was through my own eyes again. I imagine the book is not really intended to be a documentary about Italy."

© Aaron Schuman | Sonata


Vesuvius

For Schuman, his Italian photographic journeys were a paradoxical experiment because he tried to eliminate a certain romanticization and preconceptions of well-known Italian sites. At the beginning of the book, we see a romantic neo-impressionistic painting of Vesuvius' volcanic eruption that hangs against a rose-purple cracked wall. The photo seems to mock all the Italian cliches.

Italy is a country defined by our culture as the beautiful country of passion and La Dolce Vita.

"Italy is a country defined by our culture as the beautiful country of passion and La Dolce Vita, but I was trying to resist them a little bit. I tried to find an alternative angle to see those places and understand if other ways exist to engage with those ideas and feelings. When I took that picture of the Vesuvius, I was interested in the painting and the cliches that surround it. But I was also really interested in the cracks on the wall. It almost looks like the volcano has exploded and broken the wall. I like the idea of mixing different ways of seeing and realities. I wanted to see the experience of looking at this painting in this particular place. How does it feel like to me right now?"

© Aaron Schuman | Sonata


Music

In one of the photos in the book, we see a statue of a horse behind the reflection of a window. We also see a car and the brick of a building in the street. An introspective image with references to the past. It seems the photographer is half-dreaming his voyages in Italy. "I like the gesture that the horse is making. The picture combines that special energy with the golden light. I tried to capture those moments when I was not overwhelmed by what I saw."

There is a correlation between photography and music, an art form that is hard to rationalize, as there is no dictionary of tones connected to emotions. The association with music was the reason that Schuman chose Sonata as the title of the book. "I structured it in a musical rhythm because music is definitely one of those things where it's almost impossible to articulate why a minor chord makes us sad or melancholy, and a major chord makes us happy. It resonates with emotions without conscious articulation. Throughout the whole book, there are relationships between pictures. I'm not an expert on classical music, but I was thinking about how I could relate photography to music. My understanding of the Sonata is that it has these three movements, where the first movement is the opening of the exposition, the second movement is more of an experimental kind, and then the third movement returns to some of the motifs and themes of the first movement, but presented in an alternative way. That was the idea behind the composition of the book."

© Aaron Schuman | Sonata


Black and white

The book is divided into two parts with colour photographs taken in urban locations, mainly with cultural connotations. The middle section contains merely black and white landscape photographs. "The middle section with the black and white landscapes is experimental. They are not landscapes but pictures I took in olive groves. It's more of an exploration of nature and being overwhelmed by that environment. For me, it was a way of getting away from the man-made world. The black and white section connects the two other colour parts.

Aaron Schuman wanted to create in the middle section a very different feeling than the first and last sections. "It worked better to do this in black and white because I wanted to create a dizzying feeling. When you're wandering around these olive groves, it's quite easy to get lost. So I wanted it to create this experience for the viewer."

© Aaron Schuman | Sonata


Universal

The Italian voyage depicted in a rhythmic musical form in Sonata does not only describe Italy but, in a universal way, talks about the experience of travelling anywhere in the world. It shows the feeling of immersing oneself in another culture and landscape. The book is a melodic rhyme about observation as an act itself and being emotionally affected by memory-embedded objects and the natural world without cultural pressure. This made Schumann feel connected to Goethe. "I think Goethe was trying to find a place where he could just be free from society. He made a lot of observations in the natural world because he considered himself a bit of a natural scientist. So, he was constantly talking about the geology, the rocks, the plants, and that sort of thing. It was an idea of trying to break away from the tightness of the Germanic cultural experience."

In the same way, Aaron Schumann made Sonata, which became a flight to his inner self. "I don't want people to misinterpret it as if I am trying to describe, explain or document Italy. I don't want the book to be misinterpreted. I want it to be clear that this is a personal, diaristic, subjective interpretation of my own experience of this place."


Aaron Schuman is an American photographer, writer, curator and educator based in the United Kingdom. He received a BFA in Photography and History of Art from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts in 1999 and an MA in Humanities and Cultural Studies from the University of London: London Consortium at Birkbeck College in 2003. He is an Associate Professor in Photography and Visual Culture and the founder and Programme Leader of the MA/Masters in Photography programme at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol).
website
Instagram:@aaschuman
Sonata









Back to Magazine

Personal impressions of Italy

Sonata is a visual diary based on frequent visits to Italy.

Words by

Artdoc

© Aaron Schuman | Sonata

The German romantic poet, novelist, and philosopher Johann Wolfgang Goethe wrote his famous book Italian Journey in the 18th century, based on his diaristic notes. Aaron Schuman, inspired by the poet's writings, made a visual diary based on his frequent visits to his beloved Italy. He named his book Sonata in reference to music and is also divided into three parts. Even though the book tells about his visual experience of Italy, it may be better described as a universal account of travelling, memories, emotional values of cultural objects and feeling free and lost in nature.

Aaron Schumann got acquainted with Italy in his early childhood. When he was only two, his family spent two months in Italy, which obviously is too young to have memories, but unconsciously, he still remembers the vibrant smells, sounds, and lights. As his family returned to Italy every three or four years, he became interested in the Mediterranean country. "As I got older, I started travelling by myself with my own family. I felt a kind of connection to the country, but through a traveller's eyes, a foreigner's eyes. I'm not claiming to be Italian or that I have a special connection to Italy other than being one of tourists, but I became connected to Italy."

© Aaron Schuman | Sonata
© Aaron Schuman | Sonata

Goethe

Goethe wrote in his Italian Journey that Italy was a country where he found overwhelming sense impressions: sounds, smells, tastes, and sights, that saturated him with sensory experience and could be associated with youth memories. "Can I learn to look at things with clear, fresh eyes?", Goethe wrote in 1786. This resonated with Schumann's experience in Italy. "I felt similar things because of my early childhood experience. After my travel to Italy, I read Goethe; it was intriguing to see that 250 years ago, he was one of the early grand tourists who went there. He felt the immediacy of sensory impressions, which I felt too when I travelled to Italy myself." Schumann realized that when you travel, you tend to put your experiences into your own well-known categories of facts and knowledge. "Throughout my life, I learned more and more about Italy. So, I know about its history and art history. I am inundated with the ideas of ancient Rome or the Renaissance. But when I was travelling there for this project, I was trying to fight through those preconceptions and see something Goethe called 'seeing with fresh eyes'. I tried to be open to things I saw on a sensory level and not necessarily engage with them on an intellectual or critical level. I went to many tourist sites like Pompeii and museums to see a Caravaggio. But when I would go to those places, I was trying to strip back all of the intellectual baggage and just see it for what it was through my own eyes again. I imagine the book is not really intended to be a documentary about Italy."

© Aaron Schuman | Sonata


Vesuvius

For Schuman, his Italian photographic journeys were a paradoxical experiment because he tried to eliminate a certain romanticization and preconceptions of well-known Italian sites. At the beginning of the book, we see a romantic neo-impressionistic painting of Vesuvius' volcanic eruption that hangs against a rose-purple cracked wall. The photo seems to mock all the Italian cliches.

Italy is a country defined by our culture as the beautiful country of passion and La Dolce Vita.

"Italy is a country defined by our culture as the beautiful country of passion and La Dolce Vita, but I was trying to resist them a little bit. I tried to find an alternative angle to see those places and understand if other ways exist to engage with those ideas and feelings. When I took that picture of the Vesuvius, I was interested in the painting and the cliches that surround it. But I was also really interested in the cracks on the wall. It almost looks like the volcano has exploded and broken the wall. I like the idea of mixing different ways of seeing and realities. I wanted to see the experience of looking at this painting in this particular place. How does it feel like to me right now?"

© Aaron Schuman | Sonata


Music

In one of the photos in the book, we see a statue of a horse behind the reflection of a window. We also see a car and the brick of a building in the street. An introspective image with references to the past. It seems the photographer is half-dreaming his voyages in Italy. "I like the gesture that the horse is making. The picture combines that special energy with the golden light. I tried to capture those moments when I was not overwhelmed by what I saw."

There is a correlation between photography and music, an art form that is hard to rationalize, as there is no dictionary of tones connected to emotions. The association with music was the reason that Schuman chose Sonata as the title of the book. "I structured it in a musical rhythm because music is definitely one of those things where it's almost impossible to articulate why a minor chord makes us sad or melancholy, and a major chord makes us happy. It resonates with emotions without conscious articulation. Throughout the whole book, there are relationships between pictures. I'm not an expert on classical music, but I was thinking about how I could relate photography to music. My understanding of the Sonata is that it has these three movements, where the first movement is the opening of the exposition, the second movement is more of an experimental kind, and then the third movement returns to some of the motifs and themes of the first movement, but presented in an alternative way. That was the idea behind the composition of the book."

© Aaron Schuman | Sonata


Black and white

The book is divided into two parts with colour photographs taken in urban locations, mainly with cultural connotations. The middle section contains merely black and white landscape photographs. "The middle section with the black and white landscapes is experimental. They are not landscapes but pictures I took in olive groves. It's more of an exploration of nature and being overwhelmed by that environment. For me, it was a way of getting away from the man-made world. The black and white section connects the two other colour parts.

Aaron Schuman wanted to create in the middle section a very different feeling than the first and last sections. "It worked better to do this in black and white because I wanted to create a dizzying feeling. When you're wandering around these olive groves, it's quite easy to get lost. So I wanted it to create this experience for the viewer."

© Aaron Schuman | Sonata


Universal

The Italian voyage depicted in a rhythmic musical form in Sonata does not only describe Italy but, in a universal way, talks about the experience of travelling anywhere in the world. It shows the feeling of immersing oneself in another culture and landscape. The book is a melodic rhyme about observation as an act itself and being emotionally affected by memory-embedded objects and the natural world without cultural pressure. This made Schumann feel connected to Goethe. "I think Goethe was trying to find a place where he could just be free from society. He made a lot of observations in the natural world because he considered himself a bit of a natural scientist. So, he was constantly talking about the geology, the rocks, the plants, and that sort of thing. It was an idea of trying to break away from the tightness of the Germanic cultural experience."

In the same way, Aaron Schumann made Sonata, which became a flight to his inner self. "I don't want people to misinterpret it as if I am trying to describe, explain or document Italy. I don't want the book to be misinterpreted. I want it to be clear that this is a personal, diaristic, subjective interpretation of my own experience of this place."


Aaron Schuman is an American photographer, writer, curator and educator based in the United Kingdom. He received a BFA in Photography and History of Art from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts in 1999 and an MA in Humanities and Cultural Studies from the University of London: London Consortium at Birkbeck College in 2003. He is an Associate Professor in Photography and Visual Culture and the founder and Programme Leader of the MA/Masters in Photography programme at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol).
website
Instagram:@aaschuman
Sonata









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