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Angel's WorldReview - Angel's World
The New York Photographs of Angelo Rizzuto
by Michael Lesy
WW Norton, 2006
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Sep 12th 2006 (Volume 10, Issue 37)

Angel's World is a book of 88 black and white photographs by Angelo Rizzuto taken between 1955 and 1964, together with the story of how Michael Lesy came to collect them.  Lesy has collected several books of photography, starting with Wisconsin Death Trip from 1973.  This most recent collection is particularly interesting because Rizzuto was a paranoid schizophrenic.  The text, originally published in Visible Light: Four Creative Biographies, is 22 pages, and goes into a great deal of detail about Lesy's investigation of Rizzuto's life, which was an unusual one.  Born in Deadwood, South Dakota in 1906, he grew up in Oklahoma.  His father, an immigrant from Sicily, created a construction business, and his sons fought over the estate when he died.  The stress contributed to Rizzuto's breakdown; Angel tried to kill himself, and became convinced that there was a conspiracy of Jews and Communists in league with his brothers trying to deprive him of his inheritance.  He ended up in Manhattan, supporting himself with various low paying jobs, living in a small hotel room.  He died in 1967 and his legacy is his collection of 60,000 photographs, held by the Library of Congress, and still uncatalogued.

The photographs in Angel's World are either of the buildings or parks of the city, people he saw in the street, or himself.  Given that this is such a small proportion of the total collection, it is bound to reflect Lesy's interests, but there is no denying the interest of these images.  The images of the buildings capture the city in a different era, as new architecture of the time clashed with the styles from earlier decades.  On the street, he takes pictures of women as they go shopping or go to work, and often they are preoccupied.  Their clothes are striking and their faces very distinctive.  They not only document the contrasts between rich and poor, but also show the fashions of the time.  Some people are caught at unguarded moments, in odd poses.  Rizzuto took some pictures in subway trains, as people minded their own business, and they give us a glimpse of a different time. 

Lesy has decided to include many of Rizzuto's self portraits, taken with the camera in his hand pointed at himself, staring at the lens.  Often he is bare-chested, looking serious or even grimacing.  Scattered through the book, they remind the reader of the presence of the photographer, and provoke speculation about the connection between his mental illness and his photography.  The images of himself are full of a sense of isolation and self-scrutiny.  Given that he thought his pictures were worth leaving to the Library of Congress, he must have believed in their value, and so he must have believed in his own talent as a photographer.  Yet there are few clues as to what these pictures meant to him. 

Angel's World is an odd and fascinating book.  In the world of outsider art, there are few photographers, and it isn't at all clear that it would make much sense to classify Rizzuto as an "outsider photographer" or include his work as an example of outsider art.  Nevertheless, the images collected here are memorable and evocative, so they are worth seeing. 

 

© 2006 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Reviews.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.


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