“Golden days Before the End” at the Cortona on the Move

From August 13th until the 17th I attended the Cortona On the Move Photography Festival in Cortona, Italy. Here are some of the photography exhibits and workshops that interested me the most.

Klaus Pichler’s “Golden Days Before they End” is one of the purely fun photography projects that just makes you smile and think, “Yeah I’ve been there.” Documenting and exploring “those little inns and bars in Vienna, Austria, where time seems to have stopped. They are the last ‘dens’ for a dying drinking generation. The project is a swan song for these bars that have shaped their customers’ existences for decades, places that are soon to disappear forever.” Too bad, because the bars look like a damn good time.

I didn’t actually come to the project through the photography exhibition initially, rather, I stumbled upon his book at the Cortona Book Shop while killing time and trying not to seem like I was completely and awkwardly alone during the first couple days of the festival. I, like most photographers, am a ravenous fan of photo books and Pichler’s book for “Golden Days Before they End” had me giggling like an idiot in the middle of a prestigious photography festival and nostalgically looking back on my days in Eastern Kentucky when I would occasionally drink at the smoky VFW bar with the ‘old timers,’ as we called them — good, salt of the earth, kind of people that you wouldn’t want to go head to head with in a fight.

But far from caricaturing these places and people, Pichler’s project is humanizing and understanding. It is understandable that in many ways, these hole-in-the-wall bars can be absurd places, but at the same time, anyone who has been to one of these places regularly knows that there is a kind of familial closeness within their walls. Regulars know each other and the bartenders; they ask how life is; they spend holidays together; they commiserate and forget together, and they have a good time. The world on the outside it tough, but within these walls we can have fun and forget.

The exhibition for “Golden Days Before they End” was housed in the Fortezza Del Girifalco along with such prestigious photographers and projects as Matt Black with his project, The Geography of Poverty,” Andrea Frazzeta’s project Danakil — Land of Salt and Fire,” and Donna Ferrato’s retrospective American Woman: 40 Years (1970s-2010s).” Compared to the heavy subject matter of the rest of the exhibition space, “Golden Days Before they End” was a refreshing break. Indeed, a major theme of the project, hiding from the rough and tumble outside world, was reflected in its placement in the Fortezza.

The only problem I had with the exhibition was that it was not big enough. After having seen the larger edit for the project in Pichler’s book I craved more of the images in the photography exhibition. I wanted to burry myself in that world just a little while longer; just a few more images; just a few more drinks; just a little more time to relax. I wanted more images of old men loosing their teeth in their drinks, having fake dicks jokingly thrust at them, women beating off the drunks who got a little too friendly with shabby brooms, and men grabbing for their beer as they dragged themselves across the floor. I wanted more images of underground people finding comradely in a world that has left them behind.

This place is like the first stop to a madhouse. (Maria Uitz, Schmauswaberl) You’ve got to treat your patients well. (Hans, Salzamt) People don’t just come here to have fun; they come to drown their sorrows too. (Jara, Espresso Jara) The jukebox stood over there. One day, somebody yelled, “What’s that racket?!” — shot it, then… silence. (Toni, Hühnerstall)

“Golden Days Before they End” is a simple, straightforward and fun series of images that help an audience forget their troubles and have a little fun, if only for a little while. If you get a chance to visit Cortona, make that trek up the hill and give the project a look.