Francesca Mora

Marilyn Bridges, Chrisler Building, N.Y., 1988, Galleria civica di Modena

“Our eyes are made to see shapes in light: light and shade reveal these shapes: cubes, cones, spheres and cylinders or pyramids are the great primary shapes that the light reveals best of all. Their image lies within us, distinct and tangible, bereft of ambiguity. It is for this reason that they are such beautiful shapes, perhaps the most beautiful shapes of all.”

Placed in relation to photography, the words of Le Corbusier are charged with new meaning. It is indeed ‘shapes in light’ that emerge from the more than 40 shots from the collection of the Galleria Civica di Modena, brought together in the exhibition Macchine per abitare, in which glimpses of cities and details of individual buildings constitute a study on architectural photography, linked in particular to the theme of living spaces. In actual fact, not all the selected artists belong to that group of artists who have dedicated their exclusive or predominant attention to architecture. Along with the ‘specialists’, there are also photographers in the exhibition who simply look upon architecture as an ‘everyday dimension’, and then go about establishing a dialogue with it, interpreting it from new stances.

On the Italian side, along with representatives of the Emilian school, like Franco Fontana, Luigi Ghirri and Olivo Barbieri, we also find Mimmo Jodice and the younger artists (born around 1960) such as Marco Zanta and the Andreoni_ Fortugno duo.

Hence, Fontana’s “transformations of reality” are also represented, in which the abstraction process reduces the architectural details to pure chromatic backgrounds, as well as Ghirri’s disarmingly central perspectives, which give an eternal sense to the architecture of Paolo Portoghesi and Aldo Rossi. It was not by chance that the latter declared: “Ghirri’s photos, both of my works and my studio, have that something new about them that only a true artist can capture. And I see something in them that I had searched for without luck.”

The images by Olivo Barbieri include a citation of his digital elaborations of site specific_Modena 08, the famous nocturnal Modenese images, and the ‘artificial illumination’ of Asian metropolises like Tokyo, Osaka and Hong Kong taken in the 1990s.

Instead, the façades of the historical palazzos shot by Mimmo Jodice are those of Modena, displayed alongside two recent acquisitions: shots of the University of Calabria, designed by Vittorio Gregotti. In the cycle Tracce 2 (2000/2001) the words of Luca Andreoni and Antonio Fortugno may be heard: “It is not the extreme, diverse, curious or magical places that interest us: it’s the places that are never seen. The places that everyone recognises, where we all feel at home.”

These words contrast with those of Marco Zanta, on the other hand, who considers photography “ extraordinary means by which to impose order onto architecture and on the urban landscape as a whole.”

On the international scale, New York icons like the Empire State Building are featured here, reinterpreted by the ‘unforeseeable’ gaze of André Kertész and the aerial photography of Marilyn Bridges, whose spectacular image turns the Chrysler Building into a myth; from Japan we have the special effects of Naoya Hatakeyama and the more intimate research of Jun Shiraoka.

The relationship between photography and architecture is not only a matter for photographers alone. The point of view of architects is also expressed through the lenses of Ico Parisi and Paolo Portoghesi: of the former we may admire an image of his own residence in Como, and a shot from the work commissioned by Giuseppe Terragni (his master), for the single issue of ‘Quadrante’ dedicated to the Casa del Fascio (1937); of the latter we have the images of his own Roman constructions as well as a number of scale model projects.

Projected inside the exhibition, the photographic study on the old town of Modena produced by Paolo Monti in 1973 (heritage of the Biblioteca civica d’arte e architettura ‘Luigi Poletti’ in Modena) now appears as a ‘classic’ of architectural photography, along with the screening of Eric Bricker’s documentary Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman, dedicated to the great American photographer of modern architecture and narrated by Dustin Hoffman.