Paolo Pellegrin is one of the world’s most celebrated contemporary photographers. Winner of 10 World Press Photo Awards, the Robert Capa Gold Medal Award and many more prestigious prizes, Pellegrin has explored the far reaches of the world to tell stories of people, wars and humanitarian emergencies through an emotional lens. Often shot in black and white, and sometimes in colour, Pellegrin’s images are infused with poetic meaning, capturing a fleeting moment in time when the most extreme emotions come to the fore: pain, heartbreak, happiness, surprise, desperation.
Until March 10, Rome’s MAXXI Museum – the spectacular cultural destination designed by late architect Zaha Hadid – is hosting a massive, comprehensive exhibit that chronicles Pellegrin’s work. Covering various floors and featuring images that have been blown up on a grand scale, “Paolo Pellegrin: Un’Antologia,” includes numerous previously unseen works and a number of videos, the whole covering a 20-year period in the Italian photojournalist’s career, from 1998 to 2017.
The exhibit offers two extremes of light and dark. The first part is dark, dominated by the colour black. Images here are about human suffering, but also the intimate beauty of mankind in the expression of its deepest emotions. The second part of the show shifts into a light-filled space in which images of nature prevail, in a nod to the fragility of the human condition.
For Pellegrin, one of the main purposes of his work has been to capture the raw, elemental human response to horrific events like wars and massacres – the reactions that emerge from communities following military attacks. The exodus of refugees, families trying to rebuild their lives among the rubble and people in the midst of flight appear in Pellegrin’s photographs, in places such as Kosovo, Haiti, Iran, Cambodia, Uganda and Lebanon. He captures racial tension, poverty and crime in the United States, migrants in Lesbos and three ISIS prisoners waiting to be processed in Iraqi Kurdistan. A particularly gripping photo from summer 2006 shows a bare-chested man gesturing in desperation in Beirut’s southern suburbs moments after an Israeli air strike.
With their greys and blacks, shadows, moving figures and portions of bodies, Pellegrin’s photographs transcend the ephemeral instant during which they were captured to become everlasting, timeless tales of tragedy, but also of beauty.
“Paolo Pellegrin: Un’Antologia” started on November 7, 2018 and runs until March 10 this year at the MAXXI Museum in Rome, maxxi.art