Éditions du Lic’s volume A Drop in the Ocean is a homage to the life of Sergio Romagnoli, a 37-year old Italian naturalist and science teacher who was murdered under mysterious circumstances in 1994 on the island of Sao Tomè and Principe (Gulf of Guinea, Western Africa), where he had moved with his wife after the premature death of their one-year old child Luigi.
Passionate explorer and hiker, Sergio took thousands photographs over the years. As the Italian curators Alessandro Calabrese, photographer, and Milo Montelli, independent publisher of Skinnerboox, encountered his vast archive, his amateurish depiction of animals, plants and friends revealed a stunning visual sensitivity and evocative power, a body of work of notable value. The photographs were all taken between the 1970s and the 1990s – up to the very last film he was recording just moments before his death.
We asked the curators to tell us more about the nature of this work.
How did you come across this story?
Milo: Sergio Romagnoli and I share a common origin, the city of Jesi, where he was renown for his committment towards environmental and social issues. He was a small-town legend and, after his murder, his fame increased up to the youngest generations.
My father was a good friend of his, thus I grew up listening to the stories of his travels and adventures. As I got more and more interested in photography in the following years, I decided to contact Sergio’s sister in order to see her brother’s photographic archive. I was amazed.
We decided to pay homage to Sergio’s work through a book, which happened to be published right twenty years after his passing.
Alessandro: Milo first told me about Sergio’s story a couple of years ago, then last winter he invited me to Jesi to share the materials he had collected from the sister. It was love at first sight and we ended up working on the archive during the entire Christmas holidays and the following months. When we met the publisher Nicholas Mc Lean, he was enthusiastic about the book project from the very beginning and we started a collaboration to finalize the publication right away.
What does the title A Drop in the Ocean refer to?
M+A: One of the postcards Sergio sent to Italy from Sao Tomè reported a writing on the back, in which Sergio described how frustrating it could be to work as a volunteer such in a harsh context. The text ended with the sentence “But a drop in the ocean is better than nothing”. It just seemed to us the perfect statement to convey his entire spirit.
Aside his intriguing – and tragic – personal story, who was Sergio Romagnoli as a photographer?
M+A: Sergio was driven by a pure passion towards photography, an amateur in its most romantic meaning, with all the advantages and limits such an attitude involves. He took pictures with his belly and heart. In the course of the years, he produced extremely powerful images that easily remind of the masters of color photography of the period, even unconsciously. His unawareness is probably the aspect that intrigued us the most, because it gave us the opportunity to trigger a reflection on authorship and intention, the themes we consider as the major break between art and amateurism.
A Drop in the Ocean was awarded the annual Premio Riccardo Prina 2014 (Varese, Italy) and selected among the finalists of Premio Marco Pesaresi – within the context of SI Fest #23 (Savignano Sul Rubicone, Italy). The book was listed among Erik Kessel’s favorite books of 2014.
Sergio Romagnoli, A Drop in the Ocean Edited by Alessandro Calabrese and Milo Montelli 106 pp., € 47.50 www.editionsdulic.com www.skinnerboox.com www.alessandrocalabrese.info