H. Said He Loved Us, by Tommaso Tanini

4 Jul 2014

After a trip to the U.S.S.R., in 1938, Italian anti-Fascist journalist and writer Corrado Alvaro wrote his fundamental novel Man Is Strong [L’uomo è forte], a ferocious critique of totalitarianism and its abuses of paranoia and instilled fear to control the masses. Fascist censors imposed Alvaro to change the original title Fear Over The World and to specify in the forward that the story took place in Russia. In a world where ‘to have a secret is a crime’, the protagonist Nicholas Dirck, after returning to his homeland to offer his service to a new regime, has to repress his love for a woman whose parents are enemies of the state. In a sinister conversation with a government investigator, Nicholas experiences the most accomplished manifestation of surveillance and privacy annihilation: “Every serious crime committed by the human race in the last few centuries – says the investigator – can be traced to this personal feeling, this sense of individuality. All this must be destroyed from the ground up. Ruthlessly uprooted and obliterated.” [1]

After three years of travels and investigations in Germany, Tanini’s project H. Said He Loved Us explores the story of GDR and the German Ministry for State Security (STASI) and the feelings of oppression and dread caused by living in a state of constant suspicion and diffidence. Mingling archival and documentary research, collected documents and interviews with people jailed by the STASI, his personal photographic study is an elegantly oppressive allegory of authoritarianism and domination.

In the same vein as Alvaro’s story, immersed in a world devoid of names and references, the images of H. Said He Loved Us lose their identity. Their timeless and spaceless nature reveals instead more subtle and psychological qualities. Anonymous corners and small, somewhat tyrannical, details of urban landscape become enigmatic monuments that echo the feelings of the people Tanini encountered during his research. There is a sinister quietness in the meticulously crafted spaces of his photographs that invokes contemplation.

Far from any documentary intent, these stories of the victims of the STASI are offered as a patchwork of collected documents, autobiographical notes, found images and portraits. Together they acquire a new fragmented spirit, and become loose, anonymous and interactive accounts. Almost an intricate mosaic of traces and suggestions, H. Said He Loved Us refreshingly warns us about the cyclical and evil nature of any form of totalitarianism, without imposing any unilateral vision and avoiding clichés.

The Photocaptionist asked Tanini to revisit Corrado Alvaro’s novel Man Is Strong and send us a photo-literary exercise, where he combined his photographs with Alvaro’s passages that most strikingly provoked his imagination.

[1] Corrado Alvaro, Man Is Strong, translated by Frances Frenaye, Alfred A. Knopf Inc., New York, 1948.

Tommaso Tanini is an artist based in Florence. Together with Mfg Paltrinieri and Mirko Smerdel he founded Discipulaa collaborative research platform operating in the fields of visual culture and art, particularly exploring the interaction between image and text, fact and fiction. H. Said He Loved Us was selected to be part of the collective exhibition Truths, Facts, Fictions, Lies, at PhotoIreland Festival in Dublin (July, 2014). On the 28th of November 2014, Tanini will open the first solo show of the project, a photo-literary installation curated by the Photocaptionist and Discipula at the Kunsthalle Budapest. H. Said He Loved Us is also a book published by Discipula Editions.