The origins of the relationship between imagery and text can be traced back well before the existence of photography. Sketches, paintings and illustrations were used to illuminate endless, streaming blocks of letters, telling us stories, recording history and disseminating news for thousands of years, so that by the time photography was invented, the role of the image in textual storytelling was a given. The medium was immediately harnessed as a way to illustrate the words of authors, and readers could now dart their eyes back and forth between a written description and concrete, visual example, manifesting a solid perception of the written word in their minds.

The main problem with this timeless relationship is that images are always secondary to the text—they are in service to a writer’s words, rather than possessing a life of their own. This imbalance of power is exactly what drove writer Maria Teresa Salvati and photographer Diambra Mariani to collaborate on their series THIS IS THE ONLY WAY OF LOVE I KNOW. After writing a poetic text, Salvati decided that she wanted to illustrate her words with visuals. The writer soon came across Mariani’s photo archive, and together the artists worked together to create a dialogue between the word and image, developing a unified piece of art. “This project’s purpose is to answer the question: What happens if instead of producing more images, we try to give new meaning to existing ones?” they explain.

While the text and images have different energies on their own, THIS IS THE ONLY WAY OF LOVE I KNOW brings to light the duality that exists within creative expressions, as well as within the individuals who manifest them. While Salvati’s words might sound aggressive, Mariani’s images round out their edges to surface the softer side of Salvati’s voice and perspective. Rather than the photographs matching the words exactly, the duo’s viewers build connections throughout their own ingestion of the work, creating a richer narrative of nuance and storytelling that upends the traditional relationship of photography operating in service of pre-existing text.

Aside from this collaboration, the work speaks about a greater existential conundrum: accepting one’s past. Salvati’s words dig into experiences desired to be forgotten, and Mariani’s photographs act as relics of memories and fleeting moments. They invite us to see the evolution that comes from our past actions, re-contextualizing our scars as something more akin to beauty marks. “The work invites you to accept the most vulnerable side of ourselves, acknowledging our flaws and learning how to see beauty in the fragility of life.”

You can read excerpts from Salvati’s text below, interlaced with Mariani’s images, to browse and build your own connections. If you would like to see the artists’ work in person, it will be featured this summer at Cortona On The Move, an excellent photo festival in Italy that runs from 11 July - 29 September 2019. LensCulture is proud to be a partner with the festival for the special New Visions exhibitionsdon’t miss it!


THIS IS THE ONLY WAY OF LOVE I KNOW

“I want to tell you something E.,
you know what my favourite past time was when I was a child?

Dismantle dolls.

THIS IS THE ONLY WAY OF LOVE I KNOW © Diambra Mariani

Yes, E., I think I love you but I need to understand more about this
sense of emptiness I feel most of the time.

THIS IS THE ONLY WAY OF LOVE I KNOW © Diambra Mariani
THIS IS THE ONLY WAY OF LOVE I KNOW © Diambra Mariani

I’m not even sure if I love you or I hate you.

THIS IS THE ONLY WAY OF LOVE I KNOW © Diambra Mariani

All this back and forth it’s so exquisitely painful,
yet it feels so addictive, I need it.

THIS IS THE ONLY WAY OF LOVE I KNOW © Diambra Mariani
THIS IS THE ONLY WAY OF LOVE I KNOW © Diambra Mariani

I’m so used to be pushed away and pulled in again like a
rubber band. This is the only way of love I know.

You and your sick way to love me feels so familiar that I feel
I need it.

I need you.

And, I don’t want to need you.