JTF (just the facts): Published in 2014 by MACK Books (here). Paperback, 172 pages, with 121 black and white and color photographs. Includes texts by Marta Dahó and Agnès Sire. The monograph is also the catalog for a retrospective exhibit, with 2014 stops at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson (here), the Huis Marseille Museum voor Fotografie (here), and the Museo d’Arte della città di Ravenna (here). (Spread shots below.)
Comments/Context: Given the dramatic influence that urban and suburban sprawl has had on American societal development and the large number of extremely talented photographers (New Topographics branded and other) who have chronicled this massive post war expansion, we often tend to have the blindered, myopic view that ours is the only place in the world that has gone through these kinds of wrenching architectural and environmental transformations. Of course, that conclusion is patently false, and great photographers from all over the globe (particularly the UK, Germany, Japan, and more recently China) have investigated the seen and unseen consequences of rapid economic expansion, watching carefully as the old has been incrementally supplanted by the new. For many of us, we haven’t often thought about this process in a more integrated global fashion, comparing results from alternate geographies and artists to look for commonalities and differences, both in the ways the physical built environment has evolved and in the variety of artistic approaches being applied to capturing the ongoing changes.
The Italian photographer Guido Guidi has spent a forty year career observing the exurban evolution in his own native landscapes (and in other nearby European locales), and this retrospective volume provides a succinct summary of his thoughtful approach to documenting the kind of overlooked, marginal places we have become accustomed to finding here in America. His story begins in the early 1970s, with rich, squared off black and white views of vernacular suburban architecture (multi-unit concrete or stucco buildings), stylistically reminiscent of the frontal geometric formality of Lewis Baltz or Judy Fiskin. By the mid 1990s, he had transitioned to small format color, stepping back and capturing overlapped layers of open streets, vacant lots, ugly apartment blocks, and decayed infrastructure, often with an eye for new covering old or groups of people caught in some in-between space, interrupted by a telephone pole (like Lee Friedlander), a cast shadow, or a parked car. More recent images have moved on to large format color, diving deeper into the lush textures of rotting planks, faded plastic crates, stained walls, rusted oil drums, and stray dogs, with worm’s eye views of the sidewalk bringing us right down into the gutter, where every loose pebble becomes an item of interest.
Interleaved with this consistent look at Italian transitional landscapes has been an ongoing conceptual investigation of the elemental nature of photography, from experiments with light and shadow to multi-image time elapsed series. Early black and white works find him playing with sequential diptychs, pushing us into the dilated space between the turning of a newspaper page, the arrival of a wave at the beach, or the twist of perspective looking up at a ceiling light. By later in the 1970s, Guidi had colonized abandoned John Divola-like rooms, making ephemeral diptychs as the sun cast parades of ever changing angular shadows through the windows. After his transition to large format color, he reprised some of these same themes, moving outdoors to track light as it crossed a wet underpass, a muddy rooftop, and an intrepid clump of grass on a sun baked walkway. Each pairing is a meditative investigation of transient fluidity, of subtly changing mood in otherwise fixed circumstances.
Seen together, the two picture making methodologies inform each other more than we might normally expect. With Guidi’s time series works in my head, his undefined, empty suburban spaces started to look less like lucky snapshots or formally composed individual observations, and more like points in a larger continuum of broad thinking about societal transformation. Minute changes across textural surfaces show us one kind of close up evolution, while faded signs, torn posters, and cannibalized architecture tell us something similar about the molting surfaces of our cities.
While many of the New Topographics photographers easily edged into hectoring, caustic tones, Guidi never wavers from straightforward realism – a dose of quiet visual humor now and again, yes, but never outright irony or intentional lecturing. His results are less stark and more contemplative than his contemporaries, providing a look at neglected landscape spaces that encourages slow, deliberate investigation to uncover its nuances. For all their wasteland ugliness, these pictures never feel discouraging. Instead, they feel attentive and reflective, their judgments left open ended.
Collector’s POV: Guido Guidi is represented by Pedro Alfacinha in Lisbon (here), but I was unable to discover any US agent. His work has very little secondary market history here or in London/Paris, so gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.