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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
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
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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