"Paesaggio, Post-War Italian Landscape Photography" Exhibition

Keith de Lellis Gallery

poster for "Paesaggio, Post-War Italian Landscape Photography" Exhibition

This event has ended.

If you’ve been even halfway around the block you will undoubtedly be familiar with the following names: Michelangelo Antonioni, Vittorio De Sica, Federico Fellini, Roberto Rossellini, Luchino Visconti --- all giants of post-war Italian cinema. But chances are you have never heard of Giuseppe Bruno, Augusto Cantamessa, Mario Finocchiaro, Mario Giacomelli, or Stefano Robino --- artists of comparable accomplishment and stature in Italian still photography from the same period. If you’re feeling left out, a visit to the new exhibition at Keith de Lellis gallery will set you straight.

“Paesaggio: Vintage Italian Landscape Photography” features forty-two photographs from twenty-one photographers and covering the 1950s through the 80s. Many of these artists are well known in Italian photography but virtually unknown in the US, a testimony to the unfortunate fact that, aside from those from a handful of countries (Britain, France, Germany), photographs have typically not traveled well to this side of the Atlantic.

Post-war Italian photography, like all the arts, benefited from the new cultural environment that emerged after World War II. Despite the fact of defeat and difficult economic times, Italians welcomed the post-war years, as the country was now free from two decades of stultifying fascist rule. Artists, and Italians generally, embraced the newly-found freedom with optimism and a sense of new beginnings.

All of the images selected for this exhibition are black and white, a situation no different from the state of photography generally in those years. But what is different about the photographs in this exhibition is the strong sense of a shared aesthetic that holds this work together and in fact can be said to constitute an Italian photographic style during this period. Contrast is generally high, with ample blacks and whites and very little middle grays; many images are noticeably grainy. Also characteristic is a strong compositional sense that borders on abstraction, though never to the point that the subject matter is unreadable. “Inverno” (Winter), a 1965 photo by Romeo Casadei, illustrates this perfectly: the foreground contains abstract swirls of line formed by a cut-over field left fallow for the winter, while in the background are shapes of several buildings, hardly more than silhouettes. While everything in the image is readily interpretable, the result is a moody study of form; not too different, in fact, from the effect achieved in a Seurat conté crayon drawing.

One striking difference between American and Italian landscape photography from this period is the absence of the dramatic depiction of the spectacular beauty in nature that forms the basis of American landscape photography. The Italian version places more emphasis on the interaction between man and the environment, as the evidence of man’s altering of the landscape is noticeable in these photos of farmland, roads, etc.

“Breve orrizonte” (Brief Horizon), a 1955 image by Augusto Cantamessa, is one of the most remarkable photographs in the exposition. Two bicyclists appear as miniscule figures on the horizon, just barely above the lower edge of the picture. The picture frame is dominated by thin, gracefully curved vertical lines, which we initially read as tall saplings stripped of leaves and limbs. In fact the vertical forms are new shoots of vegetation measuring only a few inches high. The artist has created this intriguing image by placing the camera at or near the ground and photographing the cyclists through the new shoots. Once again the old adage ‘the camera never lies’ is disproved, in this case much to our delight.

The exhibition will be on view through May 26th. This is our 10th gallery exhibition dedicated to mid-century Italian photography.

[Image: Augusto Cantamessa "Breve orrizonte" (1955)]


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