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Exhibition preview: Looking back at the photography of Isabella Pitisci

Dont look back 2
Dont look back 2
From the series Don’t Look Back by Isabella Pitischi.
Written by
Sarah McLean
Published date
05 November 2015

Isabella Pitisci was a 2007 graduate of BA Photography at Camberwell College of Arts, who sadly passed away in 2013. Opening this month, Camberwell Space Projects will host an exhibition remembering and celebrating her photographic work.

Organised with the assistance of Pitisci’s estate, her friends and staff at Camberwell, it will be accompanied by a display of works by current photography students responding to the collection of books that Isabella donated to Camberwell College of Arts’ library.

Mervyn Arthur, a senior lecturer on BA Photography at Camberwell and artist whose work is regularly exhibited in the UK and internationally, spoke to us about Isabella’s time at college and how her peers and colleagues worked together to reflect on her practice and how it might inspire current students.

From the series Don't Look Back by Isabella Pitischi.

From the series Don’t Look Back by Isabella Pitisci.

How did you come to be involved in this exhibition of Isabella’s work?
I was approached by Sally Radcliffe who is overseeing Isabella’s estate and was asked if Camberwell would be prepared to host an exhibition to commemorate her life and work. As Isabella graduated from the BA Photography course in 2007 and was latterly an artist in residence at Camberwell on the AA2A scheme it seemed very fitting that we should celebrate her work and life at a place she had great affection for.

I, along with other members of staff, worked closely with Isabella whilst she was a student at the college. For all of us, putting on this exhibition has been a way of making sure her memory endures.

Can you give me some background about Isabella and her photographs/practice?
Isabella arrived at Camberwell as a mature student and as someone who had a very clear sense of what she wanted from the course and how she could contribute to the academic community. She made an extremely positive contribution to the photography department which was in its infancy at that time, with the degree programme having been running only a few years. She was terrific to teach – inquisitive, questioning, always up for a good argument about art and related topics. You knew if you were teaching Isabella that day the session was going to be lively, informative and asking questions of you as a teacher. Her practice evolved quickly on the course and was informed by her voracious reading and eagerness to experiment with a range of media. Video, installation, light sensitive emulsion painted on to objects, were some of the processes that she tried out, usually very productively.

From the series Don't Look Back by Isabella Pitischi.

From the series Don’t Look Back by Isabella Pitisci.

What do you particularly like and appreciate about her work? Is there a piece in the exhibition that you are particularly fond of?
Quite early on Isabella developed an interest in working with archive material. She became fascinated in how the re-contextualising of found photographs could generate something new. One piece that stands out in my mind is a series of works she made using travel slides she rescued from a skip. Titled Don’t look back these photographs, mostly scratched and covered in dust, depict tourist destinations and a reticent protagonist standing with their back turned to the camera, often looking at a distant landscape. Whilst the gesture in the photograph is compelling enough, these images seem in their understated way, to address the act of looking and indeed, photography itself.

Another work that encapsulates her social conscience and emerging confidence with a range of media and visual strategies is Missing. Here she appropriated photographs of missing persons collected by Amnesty International and re-distributed them in a public park using the fallen leaves from the surrounding woodland. A simple but highly effective intervention that both found an audience and communicated a compelling message.

Can you tell us a bit about the books Isabella left to Camberwell College of Arts library?
The generous gift she left the library at Camberwell is a collection of around 200 books. It reflects her curiosity and the breadth of her reading – from the structuralist theory of Roland Barthes to the wry observation of George Orwell.

We are yet to see the work that has been made in response to these by current students, but the hope is that students currently on the photography course will respond in some way to these texts. A reading, a performance, a new photographic work perhaps… Everything and anything is possible. Isabella would have liked this idea I think.

I have been teaching at Camberwell since 1997 – and have been fortunate enough in that time to work with countless fantastic students. Isabella was certainly one of those.


Isabella Pitisci: a commemorative exhibition celebrating her life and work runs for UAL students to view at Camberwell Space Projects from 2 – 18 December, and can be visited by the public during the private view on Tuesday 1 December, 5.30 – 8pm. For more information, visit the event page.

For more information about studying BA Photography at Camberwell College of Arts, please visit the course page.