Celle Ligure 1905-1920: “Quietly at the seaside” with photographer Jan Neer

Jan Neer - Celle Ligure

Celle Ligure | Of Jan Neer, pseudonym of the varazzino Giovanni Maria Celesia, many have heard of him, others have appreciated his prints in postcard “real photography”, no one remembers anymore his work dedicated to part of Liguria, to the mountains of the lower Piedmont and the Valley of Aosta.

«Tranquillamente al mare» (Quietly at the seaside) – Celle Ligure 1905-1920. Jan Neer photographer, by Aldo Audisio and Angelica Natta-Soleri, although specifically dedicated to the city in the province of Savona, offers many ideas for a wider rediscovery (the book was published this year by Marco Sabatelli Editore on behalf of the Società Savonese di Storia Patria).

Celesia was born in Varazze in 1860, the city where he died in 1946 after a long and, in some ways, incredible career. His first experiences began in Eritrea in 1885, where he immortalized Fort Mankullo and the life of the military; He then devoted himself to photography as a profession, also documenting important events: the Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in Genoa in 1906; the military landing manoeuvres at Noli in 1908, which was attended by King Victor Emmanuel III; the stays in Portofino Kulm of Queen Mother Margaret of Savoy in 1908-1909; Luigi Amedeo of Savoy Duke of Abruzzi in Varazze, at the Margherita Baths, in 1908 and, again in the same year, Ruggero Leoncavallo, in the water or in a bathrobe on the beach, on the occasion of the performance at the Teatro Laetitia of his opera Pagliacci; He also made, for many years, industrial photos of boats for the Baglietto Shipyards.

Then, in addition to an impressive work in Genoa, Varazze and Portofino and other locations of the Riviera, he operated with a unique and almost unknown documentation in Celle Ligure, a place to which he was particularly attached, in fact here he wanted to buy an important villa, but the negotiation did not materialize.

The book allows to discover to enthusiasts and curious, through a wide biography – currently the most complete on the photographer – who was Jan Neer, pseudonym that would derive from a long stay in Holland, however unproven by any document, perhaps a simple invention. Then there is the relationship with Celle Ligure, with a number of important historical references.

Jan Neer - Celle Ligure

How was Celle in those years? No one remembers it anymore, it has been over a century since the photographs of Celesia. Here, unlike other locations, he did not immortalize famous people, events or moments of work, creating in postcards in “real photography” a unique and remarkable quality testimony, with animated images, characterized by an excellent cut and fresh photographic and compositional immediacy. The shots, all after 1905, until the early 1920s, also accurately document the landscape, with views from different sides of the town, coming from Savona and Varazze, before the subsequent construction development.

There are many architectural views: among them the Parish Church, the houses on the Ghiare stream, the railway station and the massive with the rails, the Crocetta, the Piani, the views of the Bottini forest – in a dozen different subjects – and the stretch of coast towards Albisola Superiore. It is also interesting to compare images before and after the construction of the imposing Villa Lagorio with the underlying progressive construction in The Plans; or the change of the Booty Plateau where, in the late 1910s, the Agricultural Society Villini of Celle built a series of residential buildings. There are also tourists on the beach with the background of the beach resorts and beachfront houses, perhaps the part of Neer’s work that we now look at with greater curiosity.

The authors Aldo Audisio and Angelica Natta-Soleri, through their texts and the work of organizing images, with a writing by Michele Manzi and the collaboration of Francesco Fazio, have packaged a work that allows to rediscover Celle, without nostalgia of the past, but with a careful and inquiring look.

The book recalls, in addition to his relationship with Celle, also his personality and his interests, especially for the mountain, where he was a partner of the Cai (Italian alpine club) di Biella, the Uoei – Italian Hiking Workers Union and the Ule – Union Ligurian Hikers of Savona, where he long held the role of president. “Giovanni Celesia, in the rare photographs that portray him, with his moustache and glasses, appears impeccably dressed – it seems that he made tailored clothes taken from the fashion magazines of the period – with the zuava trousers and socks, the long heavy fabric jacket worn on a wool knit or a cloth vest, the light shirt, the tie and on his head the coppola or the hat : a true professional of the past, still all to be rediscovered, of which only the vivid memories transmitted by precious photographs of the sea and mountains and, in particular, of Celle Ligure”.

The photo book was presented on Friday in Celle Ligure at the Municipal Open Theatre; The evening was conducted by Furio Ciciliot, president of the Società Savonese di Storia Patria, in conversation with the authors and collaborators of the project.

N. 4/2020 | 18 July 2020