John Davies

The River and the City - Florence

In April 1995 I was invited to run a workshop at Studio Marangoni, Florence, Italy. The theme I choose was based on the relationship between the river and the city.
During this time I made work on the River Arno and Florence.

6 of the photographs were reproduced in Studio Marangoni's magazine "News/Iniziative di fotografia cotemporanea" in 1995 with the following essay:

A fundamental aspect of landscape is the sense of power it can symbolise and evoke. Images of land, water and sky can become metaphors which reflect our emotional and spiritual states. But the landscape can also represent power in terms of land ownership and material wealth. It is this dual and often ambiguous representation of the metaphysical and the material in the landscape that underlies my photographic work.
Florence is entombed in a Renaissance sentimentality - which is part and parcel of its well established tourist industry. The Florentines have carefully protected the views along the river in central Florence so it appears mostly unchanged from the various river scenes painted over the last few centuries. When I was making panoramic images along the river I tried to capture something of twentieth century life against this historical backdrop.
One aspect of the city that can not be easily controlled is the climate and the constantly changing river environment. Towards the end of my stay and partly because of the cloudy weather I decided to make images of the river from the centre of the numerous bridges that span the River Arno. Making views in a formal way, looking up and down stream - where the water is the most dominant feature. For me this is a more conceptual approach to documenting the river, which I hope to continue in the future.
As urban development has continued to grow from the waterfront, this expanse of river and open space has taken on a new importance in offering us relief and relaxation from the enclosed streets and structures of city life. The river itself has been a potent symbol with a range of meanings to different people. These emotional responses stem from the ambiguous physical attraction we have to water - not only as a symbol for life but also its ability to threaten life.
I have become fascinated by the sense of the theatrical which can be applied to these images made from the perspective of the river. The buildings that surround the river appear as static backdrops to the subtle drama that is taking place on the river. I am interested in playing on the mixed emotions and symbolism that the river represents and its changing significance to our industrialised society.
John Davies - June 1995
The series of photographs "The River and the City - Florence" were first exhibited at the Zelda Cheatle Gallery, London in 1996 and then at the Pompidou Centre, Paris in 2000. The photographs are selenium toned and slightly sepia toned - they are available in an edition of 3.
Images may not be reproduced in any form or by any means without the permission of John Davies
Photo and material Copyright © John Davies 1976 - 2011