etta lisa basaldella

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aran islands

by virgilio boccardi   journalist

In September 1972 I was in Ireland to make a television movie about the Isles of Aran, three small islands of fishermen and emigrants lost in the Atlantic Ocean, which, about forty years earlier, the film director Robert J. Flaherty, American by adoption but Irish by birth, had made famous with his film ”Man of Aran“. I had a small crew with me which included Etta Lisa Basaldella who was at the beginning of her television career and was acting as interpreter and continuity person.
I already knew the Aran Isles, having been there a few years before as a curious tourist and been fascinated by the desolate landscape with its hundreds of dry stone walls bounding minute plots of green; by the thatched-roof cottages; by the curraghs, boats made from wicker and tarred canvas; by the remains of small monasteries and abandoned cemeteries and by the Dun Aengus a massive fortress, built perhaps by the Fir Bolg, an Irish people dating back to 3.200 B.C..
I had promised myself I would return to record on film the slow flow of days, the toil and the struggles of the inhabitants of these forgotten tiny islands with the sea and the wind. I wished to document what had changed after forty years, after Flaherty. I told Etta Lisa what I was hoping to do while we made our way across Ireland to Galway, where the “Naom Eanna”, a sort of cart, was waiting to ferry us to Inishmore, the largest island.
Etta Lisa had a camera with two lenses. I distinctly remember her energy; there was not one Celtic cross, or church, or cemetery unworthy of being immortalised by her camera. I would see her perched on a wall or lying on the grass, or on her knees; she seemed an inveterate professional right from the start. It was above all during our stay on these islands that I began to appreciate her profound sensibility, how she enthused over various subjects, how she would frame the object to be photographed so as not to leave out any detail. It was on the Aran Isles that Etta Lisa confessed to me that this was her first foray into the world of photography and how she was only beginning to realise how much this art form fascinated her.
The camera was about to become her most important means of expression. And so it did.
In her wanderings over the world - in Africa, Oceania, Europe and the Americas - her photographs are not subordinate to a particular event, it is their evocative potential which brings them alive and, through their intrinsic power, we see the significance which lies beyond the moment in which they were taken. For, more than this actual moment, Etta Lisa is above all interested in the person as a part of his/her environment: faces, hands, eyes.
On the Aran Isles too Etta Lisa embraced the synthesis of this desolate land, transferring its atmosphere onto rolls film. Through her photographs she tells a me
aningful, never banal, story, steeped in a poetic aura. She even manages to portray the fundamental truth of a great event rendering it perceptible to all.
Instinctively Etta Lisa has learnt the lesson put forward by the great Maestro Henri Cartier-Bresson: ”In order that a photograph is able to convey its significance in all its intensity, formal relationships must be strictly established. Photography implies the recognition of rhythm in a tangible world. The composition is not an element added later...
rather it is endowed with its own essentials and is impossible to separate the contents from the style“.     <back