In this article, I want to made a tribute to one of my favorite Italian photographers: Gianni Berengo Gardin and his early work, dedicated to the city of Venice. All these photos were taken last summer with my small rangefinder, the Olympus 35 RC.
Berengo Gardin is one of the greatest Italian photographers. He prefers the narrative method with respect to searching the “decisive moment.” His reportage, often of high ethical and social elements, admirably documented the political, social, and lifestyle changes in Italy in the last 50 years, as well as the moments of everyday life in the streets. He belongs to the family of great street photographers such as Edouard Boubat, Robert Doisneau, Brassai, Ronis, Izis, and Henri Cartier-Bresson.
This tribute is dedicated to one of his early works, a series of street photos taken in Venice. As with my previous tributes to great photographers, I won’t show here the works of the masters (for this, you can refer to a series called Icon in Focus), but instead, I use my images.
Berengo Gardin always uses black and white and film. He believes that color tends to distract you, because you tend to notice the colors more than the content of the photo.
He declared, “The color distracts. A brilliant blue sky fixes many things. The book that I dedicated to Venice in 1962, was in black and white, and now, it seems like an unreal Venice. Black and white produces deviation from the natural vision that forces you to look at things better.”
He continues to prefer film over digital photography. “Today, with the digital photography, there is a possibility of falsification that is terrible; you do not know if what you see is real or built artificially,” he said. “I’m not interested in the digital. It is a new technology, contemporary, current, but for me it’s all too good to shoot in analog.”
Berengo Gardin likes to photograph what people generally don’t see or don’t observe. For this reason, I avoided including in this article pictures showing gondolas, which are the most common symbol of Venice. I also did not include the most photographed monuments of Venice: Rialto Bridge and St. Mark’s Basilica.
In this series of photos, I wanted to represent scenes of everyday life: children playing, exploring a well, vendors that offer their services on the street, people reading sitting on the steps of a church, and so on.
One of the most important social reportage done by Berengo Gardin was made in in the 1970s. It documents the situation of mentally ill people locked up in asylums. He made a fundamental contribution to the birth of the movement of opinion which would have led to their closure in 1978, replaced by a more humane health care system.
Another important reportage was made in Florence, and was dedicated to the world of the Gypsies, This is an important contribution to dispel many prejudices about the communities of nomads.
A great selection of his photos are now exhibited in Verona, in the North of Italy (after two exhibits in Venice and Milan). Check out the link to the official website. If you love street photography, hurry and do not miss this exhibit!
Salute to the Masters is a series dedicated to great photographers that I like. Before this regular contributor series I posted other tributes for Walker Evans, Lee Friedlander, Stephen Shore, Gabriele Basilico, J.H. Lartigue and Gianni Berengo Gardin. I especially love street photography and urban architectural photography.