Most of the streets in central Rome are made of sampietrini: rough-edged broken stones named for St. Peter, the first Pope. In Hall’s pictures, the sampietrini show up like place-stamps. An overhead shot of a burned-out car might suggest any European city, but for the presence of the stones and of a weirdly unscathed graffito on the body, reading “R O M A,” perhaps in reference to the Serie A soccer club, or to the Roma people, whose presence in Rome has stirred nativist anger, or to the city itself.
A comparison of two of Hall’s photographs suggests how hard it can be to see Rome afresh. One was taken in Piazza Navona, which is typically thronged at all hours by tourists taking pictures. The camera is focussed on Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers, with the stone hands of four gods thrusting baroquely into space. In the foreground, a young woman stands with a palm outthrust, as if saying, “Stop, don’t take a picture,” such that her hand mingles with those of Bernini’s gods in the frame. The image’s low contrast and lack of sharpness suggest that it was snapped from the hurly-burly of the piazza. The second photograph, taken at an intersection, shows two “Senso Unico” (“One Way”) signs pointing in different directions while a protruding forefinger points in a third. Maybe this hand gesture was spontaneous, but it looks premeditated, perhaps because the signs serve as a kind of embedded caption, so that the verbal sense overwhelms the visual.