This essay addresses the role of images in shaping the public knowledge of a controversial event: the terrorist attack, which took place at the Bologna railway station on 2nd August 1980 in Italy. It aims at elucidating how and to what extent the visual becomes a mode of relay about the past. How do we construct the public meaning of controversial events? A consolidated tradition of studies (Nora 1984; Wagner-Pacifici and Schwartz 1991; Assmann 1992; Wagner-Pacifici 1996; Zolberg 1998; Schwarzt and Bayma 1999; Olick, Vinitzky-Seroussi and Levy 2010) have documented that different codes of memory offer different opportunities of making sense of the past. In particular, Barbie Zelizer (2000) has argued how the visual contributed to shape the public knowledge of the Holocaust, affecting and influencing the process of making sense of the atrocities committed in the concentration camps. Following this tradition of studies and researches, this essay analyzes a special set of photos: the photos of a clock placed on the front of the Bologna railway station. Nearly three decades later the railway station clock with its hands fixed at the exact time of the massacre has become a symbol of the terrorist attack. For the people of Bologna it has become an object of memory. The story of this clock is very interesting. In August 2001 the National Railway Company, after receiving a number of complaints from passengers who had been misled by the immobile clock at Bologna railway station, decided to have it put back in working order. This decision provoked an immediate controversy: was the initiative a simple piece of maintenance work or was it instead an attempt to erase the memory of the past? In what follows we present testimony to the effect that the Bologna railway station clock had been out of action not, as commonly believed, since the day of the terrorist attack in 1980 but rather only since 1996, when quite by chance it stopped working and funds to repair it were not immediately available. In other words, this clock functioned perfectly well for many years after the date on which most people suppose it to have stopped working. The story of this “stopped” clock then represents a clear and intriguing case of what has been termed «invented tradition» (Hobsbawm and Ranger, 1983), offering an insight into how cultural symbols are constructed and the extent to which communicative processes render them practicable and visible
Tota, A.L. (2013). A Photo that Matter: The Memorial Clock in Bologna and its Invented Tradition. In Olga Shevchenko (a cura di), Double Exposure: Memory and Photography (pp. 41-64). Rutgers N.J : Transactions.