From conflict to peace. Photographs from the John Bryan Ward-Perkins collection

The use of photography to document conflicts and atrocities committed during wars has always been a powerful means to raise public awareness and build momentum towards collective actions, either for the protection of the civilian population or for cultural heritage.

No surprise, then, that the display of photographs from the J.B. Ward-Perkins War Damage series alongside images of contemporary conflicts at the Cultural Heritage protection event recently organised at the British Embassy, triggered a series of questions relating to the urgency and importance of collecting and archiving memories during war time to build best practices for the future and preserve social and cultural legacies.

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Firenze, Ponte S. Trinità, Autunno by G. Caccini, 1944-1946, Ward-Perkins Collection, War Damage Series.

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Itri, S. Maria, campanile, 1943-1946, Ward-Perkins Collection, War Damage Series.

This invaluable photographic collection also piqued the interest of the MuseumPasseier, which has used some of these images in the exhibition Who protects Art in War?, launched in San Leonardo in Passiria in late September.

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The photographs from the War Damage Series were taken or collected by J.B. Ward-Perkins as Deputy Director of the MFA&A (Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives) Sub-Commission for Italy. Nearly 1,100 silver gelatin prints documenting damage to Italian monuments throughout Italy during World War II, spanning the period 1943-1946, are available for consultation on our Digital Collections website.

It was Ward-Perkins’ academic training and knowledge of archaeology and topography that led him to understand the potential value of the material produced during the war for scholarly research. Not only did he secure a copy of the photographs of war damage for the BSR but also over a million air photographs taken by the Royal Air Force, now on permanent loan at the Aerofototeca (ICCD), and a set of maps of Italy produced by the British military. He also left his library, his archive and a collection of over 40,000 images to the BSR.

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John Bryan Ward-Perkins, courtesy of the Ward-Perkins family.

Among these images, it is worth mentioning those that form the South Etruria Survey (1950s-1970s) collection, one of the most important archaeological surveys conducted in Italy, pivotal for our understanding of the archaeological landscape preceding the urban expansion of Rome. These images have drawn the attention of two local communities, Calcata and Castelnuovo di Porto, and led to the installation of two exhibitions.

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Formello, district, Roman road paved with blocks of tufa, the Ponte San Silvestro road, 1954-1968, Ward-Perkins Collection, South Etruria Series.

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Near Belmonte, Castelnuovo di Porto region, 1954-1968, Ward-Perkins Collection, South Etruria Series.

The Calcata exhibition was preceded by a workshop analysing the issue of continuity-discontinuity of urban forms in ancient times with a particular focus on central pre-Roman Italy and the case of Falerii and Volsinii as a consequence of the military events of 264 and 241 BC.

The continuity-discontinuity of ancient times was used as a case study to mirror the events that occurred in the same territory many centuries later, through a royal decree issued in 1935, stating that the village of Calcata should cease to exist. To document the changes (as well as what didn’t change), nearly 50 photographs were selected by the Comune di Calcata in collaboration with other Italian institutions and shown in two exhibitions, the latter of which is still on display at the Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia until 3 December.

 

Calcata exhibition at Museo nazionale Etrusco Di Villa Giulia, courtesy of Museo Nazionale Etrusco

At Castelnuovo Fotografia, an initiative curated by Elisabetta Portoghese, a selection of photographs of excavations and archaeological surveys carried out in the area of Castelnuovo di Porto as part of the South Etruria Survey project were exhibited in a three-day event at the end of September alongside other contemporary photographers.

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All in all, a year of successful initiatives and dynamism around the John Bryan Ward-Perkins photographic collection, which follows the reprinting of some early photographs from the Ashby and the Parker collections on the occasion of the exhibition Appia self-portrait. Il mito dell’Appia nella fotografia d’autore launched this year at the end of June.

 

Appia Self-portrait exhibition opening in June 2018 (photos by Alessandra Giovenco)

 

Alessandra Giovenco (Archivist)