Diego Ferrari

Photography has become the most significant medium for sociological record, scientific and geographic documentation as well as visual memory of private lives. Reportage forces us to confront the shock of atrocity, as well as humanising conflicts and the lives they affect, of which we would be otherwise unaware. Photography documents the microscopic elements of existence, to mapping the vast space of our galaxy. In all these senses, photography is a medium and a tool, which explores and represents the personal, social, scientific and philosophical exploration of human constructions.

As an artist, I have focused on a diversity of projects, a form of visual research in which I explore the interaction between the social and the architectural environment. The scrutiny is to reflect upon the spatial practice of the body and the individual subjective responses to an increasingly built social environment in a period of social globalisation.

In 1994 I began my first photographic project using a customised camera which I built myself. This camera allowed me to explore the interrelation ship between the individual subjective responses to the new public cultural buildings developed in European cities at the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21 first century. In 2004, as part of a British Council artist residency in China, Yunan Province, I deve

loped during a period of two months a photographic project on China’s rapid economic and dramatic urban growth. These images witness the legendary alliance of the forces of capital, the architectonic imagination, modern technology and the capacity of the individual to adjust to modern innovation and social change.

In October 2007, I was invited to Israel by Iftach Alony, editor and founder of Block magazine, to develop a new photographic project exploring the social dynamics and urban infrastructures of contemporary Israel. Rather than approaching Israel from the perspective of political conflict, a well-trodden terrain photographically, I examined the private lives and interaction among a group of adolescents living in the exclusive suburbs of Tel Aviv, and also the landscape of the Judean Desert.


1. Adolescence

A series of images of young people, intimately interacting and undergoing extreme basic training in the first phase of their adulthood. While the political context of Israel and the militarisation of its young people is a backdrop to these photos, my focus is on adolescence. These sixteen, seventeen and eighteen year-olds are living the last days of their adolescence in a highly militarised state; compulsory military service hastens adulthood. These images capture the transformation from the tactile, dreamy rituals and vulnerability of teenagers, into a landscape of extreme physical endurance as they train for the very real possibility of future confrontation. Their rites of passage, rituals and concerns are still firmly rooted in adolescence even while they transit from innocence to experience, from play to livelihood, from being the centre of attention to one who has to pay attention. There is a naivete, they are fixated on pursuing their own freedom, even as they are deprived of it for three years while they serve their country. I am interested in the tension between this political reality and the autonomy of being an adolescent. The adolescents depicted share the concerns of teenagers everywhere – belonging, friendship, attractivenss, the forging of an identity – but these are shaped by the reality of military service. The extreme sport and fitness training they undertake has a Spartan element; at first glance there is very little in these photographs to suggest that this is a first step into an extreme military training exercise, or that the participants might question the social contract that requires young Israelis to perform military service. There is an implicit reality, but it is barely expressed. These images pass no judgement, for or against, on Israel, its position in the Middle East, or military service.

2. Judean Desert

A desert is never exactly what it seems – as empty, barren as dead. The Judean desert, with its stark taupe hills, is a venue for tourism, for army exercises, or for salvage and prospecting forays young people who turn up rockets from the Gulf War, or even rusted armaments from the Israeli-Egypt war in the early 1970s. In these images we see the Army putting its recruits through an exercise in rock climbing, the punishing heat as a young boy covers his head with his shirt, the mute and positionless outcropping of stones. Abandoned structures lie in the desert, as the sand consumes them. Rusting, purposeless, they look as if they may have once served a military purpose, but are now no more then empty architectonic structures that remain us of the fait of a historic landscape. This is one of the oldest and most recorded landscapes on earth, the biblical desert of the old and new testaments. With its rough, corroded exterior, it expresses the tension between life and death, as much as a place of tourist interest as the dead sea lies just over the horizon as a natural resource that extends into an unify landscape between Israel and Jordan.

3. Outskirts

These photographs document the outskirts of Tel Aviv, zones of blue transformation from city to desert. There is an anonymity to these spaces; they could be anywhere, but the Western construction of the buildings stand against clear desert skies, the irrigation pipes in the fields which define the boundary between the city and the periphery suggest a landscape starved of rainwater. In one, an Arab mosque stands sentinel above a grove of palms; the mosque has been reconstructed by the local Arab population in a largely Israeli area. In Israeli society engagement with the contrast between local and global values in terms of the urban environment is the focus of critical analysis. An insight into this debate is offered by Tali Hatuka’s essay, “Challenging the Repression of Utopian Discourse” published in the 2006 edition of the Israeli journal Block. Hatuka commented on the apparent distance between architectural practice and radical, utopian discourses, and identified architecture as focusing on what may be termed as the global value of spectacle, as opposed to utopian discourses that would seek to interact with local values. The images create a spatial confusion between day and night, they are trapped in a perpetual twilight. There is quiet vulnerability to these landscapes: providing a framework to think and reflect, both conceptually and photographically, on the cultural dynamics of local and global values that define contemporary Israeli society.

Diego Ferrari

Biographical information and condensed CV

My interest in architecture and public space began during my youth in Argentina, at a time of military dictatorship and social repression when an authoritarian regime turned space into a political issue. I moved to Barcelona in 1976 at the end of Franco’s dictatorship, when a new progressive sensibility was beginning to take shape. In the framework of that transition, public space was one of the first things to become democratic, being taken up as a key element in the recovery of power on the part of the people.

I have lived in London since 1987, when I came here to do a BA in Fine Art at Goldsmith’s University. During my years in London I have witnessed a similar transformation of public space in the city with the evolution from Thatcherism to a more plural form of government. It was in London that I began to concentrate on the representation of urban space and the architectonic space of art, a project, which continues to explore the relationship between artistic practice architecture and public space.


Diego Ferrari (1965) is an artist and photographer. He studied at the Escola Llotja in Barcelona, BA at Goldsmith’s College University of London and MA at Kent Institute of Art & Design. He works in London and teaches on the master’s degree course on Public Space at the Escola Elisava in Barcelona and on the Metropolis Masters and Graduate Program in Architecture and Urban Culture, Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona and the University Politecnica de Cataluya. Also he teach in London on the short course on “Photography, Art and Architecture” at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and Camberwell College of Art. His recent work and exhibitions include:

Work in progress, 2008: Artist-lead work shop as part of programme Signs of the City, Berlin 2008, in collaboration with urban dialogues and House of World Cultures. 2009: Forthcoming exhibition UH Galleries, University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, UK.

Group exhibition “Nederland 1″ curator Tiong Ang, Museum Giuda Nederland, 2006. Solo exhibition organised by Architecture review in collaboration with the Union of Romanian Architects, Bucharest, 2005. Artist-in-residence in China, Arts Council England’s International Fellowship Programme & Triangle Arts Trust, 2004. Photographers Gallery artist-in-residence, in collaboration with Creative Partnerships London East, 2003-04. Photographic artwork commission by Enric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue Architects, Building: “the Scottish Parliament Building, Edinburgh 2004, InIVA (Institute of International Visual Art) Commissioned artist’s project as part of Soft project, curator Melanie Keen, 2002. Artist-in-residence at Herbert Smith at the Exchange House, programmed by the Whitechapel art gallery and funded by Art & Business, 2001-02. Photographic artwork commissioned by The Whitechapel Art Gallery as part of the centenary celebration, 2001. Solo exhibition, Fundacio- Espais d’Art Contemporani, Girona – España. Solo exhibition, Holton Lee, Dorset, 2000, a joint project with Tony Fretton Architects for Faith House at Holton Lee Dorset, which received the RSA Award for Art & Architecture. Solo exhibition, Hungarian month of photography 2000, Studio Gallery, Budapest. Funded by The British Council, 2000.


2008 CQDCiudades que danzan – Danza en paisajes urbanos, Barcelona. 2007 A History of Herbert Smith by Tom Phillips, Published by International Financial Law Review. 2006 “Two Minds” Artist and Architects in Collaboration, Black Dog Publishing, London. 2005 Architecture review, Union of architects of Romania. 2003-2004 RSA, Journal, August 2003, in collaboration with Tony Fretton Architect on the design of the Faith House in Holton Lee, Dorset. 2002 “Used City 1″, Quaderns, the Barcelona School of Architects Barcelona, Project in collaboration with Nikos Papastergiadis and the editors – “Mizien”. Review in Architecture Today, no. 131. Project in collaboration with Tony Fretton Architects, Holton Lee, Dorset. 2001, Book to Recent Architecture from Barcelona, Ellipsis Publishers, London. 2001 Book on innovative office spaces in London Commissioned by the Design Council in collaboration with The Farm Graphic Design Company. Catalogue “Space at the Centre” as part of a solo exhibition at Espais gallery, Girona.

Leave a Reply