John Urbano surpasses himself in his new large-format fine-art photography book Sicilia. His many journeys to visit his Italian family in Sicily and to explore the countryside there have culminated in a loving and penetrating portrait of a culture and land that is otherwise shrouded in myth and mystery. His camera has found its way deep into the hearts of Sicilians, both those he knows and those he just met, and into a landscape that ranges from cracked earth to what Homer described as the "wine dark sea." Urbano's deft, intimate treatment gives us old and new, past and present, young and old, personal and impersonal, interior and exterior, night and day—and in both black and white and color.
Sicilia takes us into secluded communities of town and village, beneath harsh sun and in the cool of night, and givesus images of people at work and play—in the kitchen, at the shop, at a bar, in church, at a wedding, in the fields and orchards of the damuso (a family's arable land outside town), in the streets and in the square, and on the beach. We wonder what history has passed before the eyes in the old faces and what future the eyes of the young might see ina country where jobs are likely to take them abroad. We see Sicilians as they are, in their element, from the work- and weather-wizened faces of the old to the plump young faces of their grandchildren. Without as much as a word we flow through pictures of both relatives and strangers, all assembled in a wonderful parade of pastoral colors, Mediterranean sunlight, and blind shadows. The straight-faced antics of a favorite uncle liven the centerfold while shots of old photos, postcards, and passports from another era add a personal touch to the opening and closing pages.
Urbano's passion for his subjects shows in the range of his subjects, in his intimacy with his subjects, in the care he takes in his composition, and in the artistic choices he's made in the ordering of images, collage construction, and covver design. His style and aesthetics balance with the rangeand contrast of his subjects. One can't help but see how the shadows in the wrinkles of the elderly complement the shadows in the lanes of a village viewed from above.Urbano neatly circles inward toward his subjects, into the interior realms of Sicilian culture (as Sicilian life is hard to penetrate or to box up into chapters and categories). His work is not limited to a romantic backward look at a past mostly gone but includes images reflecting the present as well as the past, thus showing us how much Sicily is indeed changing. The range of Urbano's work, in subject, aesthetic, and style, attests to John's passion and skill and point to howthis new gallery of fine-art photography will be loved by many for years to come.