Up till November 5, Portrait Milano will feature the artwork of renowned photographer Jimmy Nelson, who has dedicated over three decades of his career to endangered indigenous cultures. Previously unseen works will complete the artist’s retrospective, which is on display at Palazzo Reale until January 21st, 2024.
Set against the grand backdrop of the Piazza del Quadrilatero, the Humanity exhibition is complemented by a spin-off project titled Portrait of Humanity. This includes 18 portraits that narrate as many riveting tales of distant people and faces – stories of life, humanity, and philanthropy, as well as the personal journey of the artist who met, learned from, and lived alongside these individuals before capturing their emotions and essence in his photographs. Beyond the magnificent halls of Palazzo Reale, these images find a second home in the open-air setting of Portrait Milano, a venue synonymous with the word “portrait” and the city that houses it, to which they are now graciously donated.
The concept of journeying is integral both to the brand ethos of Portrait hospitality and the creative process of photographer Jimmy Nelson, who constantly ponders his own identity in relation to the shared humanity that binds us all. On his extensive travels to the remote corners of our planet, Nelson sought love and beauty through the individuals he encountered, forging profound connections and meticulously capturing the distinct cultural attributes of the communities he portrays, emphasizing their uniqueness and beauty with the utmost respect and care. His compositions are visual symphonies where the human element harmonizes with nature.
In parallel, the aspiration of Portrait hospitality aims to merge the portrait of the guest with that of the city. Only by knowing, observing, and listening to the hosted individual can the host craft the perfect stay, balancing spontaneity with expertise, dedication with authenticity, and empathy with a respect for distances and cultures. This philosophy was evident in the creation of these photographs, where the portrait of the host and the hosted converge to enhance each other.
Nelson’s works, divided into two series – one depicting subjects in complete harmony with their surroundings and another of close-ups – are displayed on the sides of the square adjacent to the entrances at Corso Venezia 11 and Via Sant’Andrea 10. These locations epitomize the two souls of the city: the dynamic and inclusive spirit that flows from the outskirts straight to the heart of the city, and the more intimate essence of the Quadrilatero.
This is the first time these images have been printed in such significant dimensions (6 meters in height and 2.5 meters in width). The grand windows and sixteenth-century columns of the Loggia of the former Seminary serve as their frame, presenting a stunning blend of art and history. Here, Jimmy Nelson’s vision becomes even clearer. Shooting from a low perspective, a symbol of humility and adoration, signifies placing oneself at the feet of another, establishing a connection and nurturing it through an intimacy that can only arise from being human and vulnerable.
In a first for Piazza del Quadrilatero, its vast expanse of 2,800 square meters has now become the world’s largest open-air museum, vast yet intimate at the same time. This spirit of openness and hospitality has been at the heart of the Portrait Milano project since its inauguration in November 2022, when the historic monument of the former Seminary reopened to the city after over 30 years of closure. Portrait Milano, inspired by individuals in every aspect of its endeavors, including the artistic, aims once again to gift the city with enriching content and spaces to relish and experience.
Jimmy Nelson’s work at Portrait Milano will be available for free viewing to all visitors, whether residents of Milan or guests to the city. It promises a magical spectacle both by day and by night. Every evening at 6:30 pm, the 18 showcased images will be illuminated, adopting a fresh allure and almost assuming a more immersive three-dimensional aspect.
“Portrait of Humanity” is a spin-off project of the exhibition promoted by Comune Milano – Cultura, produced by Palazzo Reale and Skira Editore, in collaboration with the Jimmy Nelson Foundation. The exhibition finds its heart in Quadrilatero, initiated by Portrait Milano and supported by Beyond The Line (a creative consultancy and marketing agency). Skira, the oldest name in international art publishing, is also behind the exclusive book-catalog for the exhibit. The publication emphasizes that at the heart of these images isn’t a sense of discovery, but rather a profound dialogue. The photographs speak because they arise from words, stemming from Nelson’s obsession to understand, to approach discreetly and seek permission.
The exhibit at Portrait Milano thus becomes an introspective and dialogic experience, naturally raising the question: “What is a portrait, in your view?” – echoing “What does a portrait mean to you?” in the artist’s native language.