Sua Cuique Persona: ‘Face as Mask’ in Photographic Portraits of Italians in 21st century Switzerland

A public talk by Francesco Arese Visconti, Webster University Geneva, part of the Creativity and Innovation Lecture Series organized by the Webster Center for Creativity and Innovation (WCCI).


Date: 29 January 2019

Time: 18:15 – 19:00 (followed by a small reception)

Place: LLC Commons Room


This event is free and open to the public, but we please ask that you register here.


The majority of the photographs taken in the 19th century were portraits. In those years, photography introduced a different approach to observe faces, how to look at your own face and that of others. Photographic portraits reproduced what in painting could be idealized or changed: the detail of the physical defects of the model could be meticulously represented. This point generated a cultural shock. In a letter to the philosopher Hippolyte Taine, Gustave Flaubert explains how a photographic portrait session is always a surprise because the results are never what was expected. French photographer Nadar stated that the first impression of the model in front of his/her portrait was of disappointment. The complex debate that started was, then, on what the sitter expects from a photographic portrait. The face had, of course, a predominant role in this discussion. What is a face? What is the role of the face in photographic portraits? According to Hans Belting, ‘when we let our face become expressionless, we allow our face to become indecipherable and stiffen into a mask.’ Do we, then, have to assume that in photographic portraiture ‘face’ overlaps with ‘mask’? Inspired by the analysis of visual arts’ works, texts and theories of psychologists, sociologists, psychoanalysts and novelists, this presentation will reflect on how creativity is necessary to produce photographic portraits with an innovative attempt to deliver the difficult concept of Italian Cultural Identity in 21st century Switzerland.


Francesco Arese Visconti is the Head of the Media Communications department and Photography Program Coordinator at Webster University Geneva. As member of the research faculty at Webster, he focuses his work on the migration processes in Switzerland and in Italy. In 2012, he published the book ‘New World – Stories of African Immigration and Integration in Switzerland.’ In 2015, Arese Visconti completed two projects on the Italian-Chinese community in Prato (Itay): ‘Hidden Identity – The Italian-Chinese community in Prato’ and ‘We, Prato.’ His current work is about Italian migration in the Swiss Confederation. Ten images from this research project were exhibited in 2015 at the EXPO in Milan and are part of his PhD research at the University of Westminster (UK). Arese Visconti is also member of the Union Suisse des Photographes Professionnels (USPP).


This event is free and open to the public, but we please ask that you register here.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Webster Geneva Campus
Route de Collex 9 1293 Bellevue, Switzerland

Event Type

Global Campuses, Geneva



Webster Geneva Campus
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