“Perhaps it’s that what I think I know about photography is really a simple cancer in which I pretend to understand what it offers by the speed in which I believe its delivery system acts as a conduit for its understanding. Perhaps, I want things to slow down as I get older and my patience or tolerance is a bit better conditioned for works that take time to unlock”.
I want to discuss the work of Guido Guidi as in as much as that he, up until now, had remained a complete enigma for me personally. I remember picking up one of his recent MACK titles and paging through it trying desperately to understand what the appeal of Guidi was to his legion. Almost without exception, every single photographer that I know and admire in terms of their professional ability rate Guidi in the highest of ranking and yet when I first began looking at his books, I was at a total loss as to why they felt that way. It reminded me of how I felt when I first began looking at Jem Southam’s work. I knew there was something to it, but I could not decipher the reason as to why it was appreciated and without the key to unlock the work, the platitudes distributed by my colleagues often failed to impress me-head scratching and muttering cloud yelling ensued.
With Jem and now Guidi, what I realize about myself, not their work, is that I am somewhat pre-programmed towards impatience when I look at work that is not “automatic”. This is largely due to my interest in images that unfold quickly-some that bear the hallmarks or the equivalent acknowledgement of a jackhammer pounding at the base of my skull-the cerebral finitude lost largely within the constant reverberations shaking duramater and sense alike. Sure, this is a bit of an extreme gesture, but it is with the same paradox of language that also sees my attentions pre-programmed and set towards “fast”.
Perhaps this is due to the age I live in, the way I am asked to perform the rapidity of image distribution through networks, acquisition, Internet etc. Perhaps it’s that what I think I know about photography is really a simple cancer in which I pretend to understand what it offers by the speed in which I believe its delivery system acts as a conduit for its understanding. Perhaps, I want things to slow down as I get older and my patience or tolerance is a bit better conditioned for works that takes time to unlock. I have no problems placing the blame on myself. My defences for instant gratification are only now slowly being built-the brickwork and stone following an uncharacteristically long gestation period of my own development, which is now just beginning to open the draw gates to the possibility of works like Guidi’s In Veneto, 1984-1989 or Southam’s The Moth.
I have excluded Lunario by Guidi in the above line simply because I believe that this book functions completely differently than most of Guidi’s publications. It is a quasi-conceptual rabbit hole of a book that is more about Guidi and the things he loves-namely astronomy and the moon than it is about his overall methodology of slow looking.
Lunario, 1968-1999 (MACK, 2020), to start the books in anachronistic order of their publication date, is an intense and playful journey through the mind and photographic skillset of Guido Guidi. It shows his playful childlike interests in the moon and also his interests to break with his routines to consider his photographic toolbox, his joys of photography that extend over a 30 year period. You can see that he is absolutely delighted to have made this book. It feels like one of those bodies of work that one slowly pines away at for decades, a bit unsure as to whether anybody will care to publish it or whether it is a proverbial game changer. It is made from the honest condition of joyful fascination. Now, perhaps that sounds a bit reductive in my intention to discuss two opposing books by one author in one article and I would not disagree that there could be more at stake with Lunario, but I will also defend this hill on the grounds that these projects as niche as they can be, are able offer up a wider and more sincere honesty in their approach.
Lunario is the proverbial “don’t care, I love it” project and when you find those kind of bodies of work, you should be clear that it is not about you, it might be a bit about the medium, but ultimately and presciently what is it is about is the author and his or her own obsessions or desires that he or she is willing to divulge. They are letting you into their world and process, which is exceedingly rare in the day when artists are more concerned with “getting there first” or keeping the key to their mystery locked to their chest and hidden from sight so as not to have their conceptual framework disassembled before they are part of the establishment.
“you should be clear that it is not about you, it might be a bit about the medium, but ultimately and presciently what is it is about is the author and his or her own obsessions or desires that he or she is willing to divulge”.
Instead, artists like Guidi are consumed with a strange game of show and tell in which by the very process employed, through its natural urgency of obsession, can often illuminate a wider swathe of knowledge about the production of images and their functions. When the freedom to work on a passion project materializes, the outcomes even if misunderstood or de-valued in their difference to previous bodies of work, can often reflect almost directly the inner state of how that artist functions and how that artist, without the oblique tendencies to perform their own images for gallerists, public etc. can be found as creating a pure energy in their work and can be found to reflect the beautiful childlike sweetness of naivety that they embody a condition reminding them of when the medium first held their attentions. This is important. This is honest.
Lunario however, should not be seen as just a project about Guidi, his honesty or his obsession with the moon, but when you look through the work, you can clearly see that even during his bouts of severe obsession, what he is trying to accomplish is to join both his fascination of the extraterrestrial with the obsession of the semi-mystical act of analogue photography and its relation to time and his terrestrial position.
Pierre Molinier was also an artist who did this. Molinier’s hyper-sexual fantasies that he played out in fetish formulas were designed to be produced as a gender-bending collage experience and were allegedly printed by their components in his home via window moonlight so that he would not overexpose his photographic paper. This myth of Moliner and the moon concretizes both the fascination that he and Guidi share with lunar cycles and activities, but also directly correlates silver (also moon-oriented) and analogue alchemy. The images however, could not be more different.
Guidi is looking for the correlation between photographic thought, observation and the processes by which he observes the moon as his muse and finally delineates his response to it with his camera. Lunario, for all the funhouse photographic parlour tricks and Baldessarian motivations of a child’s ball bounced against a garden wall becomes something bigger. There are strange oblique references to the moon in object form such as the scythe, a woman’s Kertesz-like distorted face and one of my favorites-a simple hole in the wall. We are also reminded of gravity, apples and Newton. A series of orbital studies approximate a lunar surface and printed as a contact sheet become something of a conceptual fetish object.
The book ends with an incredible sequence that functions like its own chapter in which Guidi has photographed an eclipse’s effect on his garden wall. You can see his various diagrams and drawings paying homage to the quasi-scientific adventures that he is embarking on. It is as if you can imagine Guidi looking over Galileo’s notebooks in a local museum, getting excited and then running home to bust out the huge leather notebook that he had made specifically for this project just to scribble something in the tome to become part of the history of the moon- intellectual lunar flares. I bet he even has a particular pencil that he likes for the ocassion. Lead is heavy.
“Lunario, for all the funhouse photographic parlour tricks and Baldessarian motivations of a child’s ball bounced against a garden wall becomes something bigger. It suggests wonderment, passion and a deeply sensational ode to Guidi whom I can only images as shrieking in delight while making this book”.
This is an interesting idea because as artists, we are consumed with fighting back the wall of death with our creations. We desire to leave our proverbial mark here on earth-to be remembered on this spinning rock for our accomplishments to thought, but perhaps and with great mirth, Guidi has left our orbit to leave his mark on something more distant, more stellar in a wider astronomical history. The history of the moon belongs to Hasselblad, Rutherford, Whipple, Draper, Molinier, Michael Light and the mercurial Guidi.
I think on the outside of it, Lunario is a gateway book. It was for me. I was able to understand, through the observations that Guidi made of the eclipse on the garden wall, how his other images function and how they function for others. It was the key I needed-call it a celestial unlocking. The rest of the more playful interludes found within were pure icing on the cake for me and I fully applaud a man in his late 70s for getting his bucket list project orchestrated and in obliquely doing so, opening the eyes of the non-believers to his superior efforts. This book is really everything that I miss about photography and its ridiculously over-politicized, over-identified state that it resides in presently.
Moving forward or backward in terms of publication dates, I want to explore the second MACK title In Veneto, 1984-1989 (2019) by Guido Guidi. This is the title that confirmed my understanding of Guidi’s work in a vastly different context to the former Lunario title. This book or the work within is still certainly about photographic fascination and certain mode of making images in which some speed must turned down in order to fully appreciate it. There are many photographers who work in large format and who make images that have a certain “pop” to them in terms of their pictorial composition or content. I can think of the Americans in particular with the work of Joel Sternfeld and Stephen Shore whose work I highly suspect Guidi was a fan of, though their aims differ. The unifying theme there would be color and the post-Egglestonian suggestion of red or yellow. In the case of Guidi and Shore, red seems to be their thread, but whereas images by his American counterpart also employ this sense of color scale and balance, what changes the motivation ostensibly for Guidi is in fact his status as a European of a post-War generation society in Italy in which the haunting specter of WWII still looms today. Guidi’s work is slow and considerate and pays less attention to spectacle than it does to the motivation to ruminate through images slowly.
Perhaps more importantly Guidi’s work tendered in the 80’s was positioned heavily on the rural landscape and Guidi has used his large format camera to suggest monuments to the everyday within his frames. In historical precedents, many of Guidi’s silent and people-less photographs remind me of Eugene Atget. There is something monumental, slow and behemoth-like in the work of these two artists. Atget, reflecting on the changes of modernity, was positioned at a perfect point of change in historical/photographic time, whereas Guidi making work particular to the Italian 80s, has been positioned in a time 70 years later where accelerated change is more than palpable and we have reached a hyper-modern technological and economic rush that is paving over the social and physical landscapes in ways that ensure that Guidi’s In Veneto cannot be re-traced the same way twice. I suspect that if I were to go to Cesena where Guidi lives and still works, I could observe the same coat of brown paint crumbling from the same wooden door and yet, this book does feel like a time capsule to a certain extent, but I would argue that many of the changes we have endured over the past 40 years will have changed parts of his local landscape.
Further considerations to the differences to the trans-Atlantic contemporaries of Guidi persist. Instead of making what I consider to be strong formal compositions like his American counterparts, what Guidi manages to do is to think as a small camera using large format. The point is that the images bear the hallmarks of large format photography in the way that they are sharp, deep, and calibrated towards the use of having to move around a huge tripod like the luddite at the local fairground. However, the images themselves have what we might consider as a “snapshot” aesthetic to their surface. I suggest that images of cars, and the road itself lend heavily to our understanding of what we perceive a “snapshot” to look like based on their historical continuation in popular culture. There should be little confusion here as you can name several other “scenes” such as the local pool, the town center monument, the tourist pullover etc. in which, depending on pose and poise, these categories of images are deeply embedded into how we consider what the snapshot aesthetic is and how the category’s motifs play out.
“The point is that the images bear the hallmarks of large format photography in the way that they are sharp, deep, and calibrated towards the use of having to move around a huge tripod like the luddite at the local fairground. However, the images themselves have what we might consider as a “snapshot” aesthetic to their surface”.
Nan Goldin also helped to fabricate a similar aesthetic on an inter-personal level but her brand of snapshot derives from the sensational community that she photographed and the use of low available light and flash. We also photograph people doing things extreme or other that lend to that aesthetic, but with Guidi and his use of roads and the “village vernacular”, we can observe the employment of “scene” as a tripwire for nostalgia, memory or our understanding of a particular category of photography and the application of the particulars to its technological pursuits via small, medium and large format cameras. We can begin to make the distinctions between the uses of camera and how we respond to their employ, even when they stealthily subvert our perceived intentions or limitations. Jeff Wall was also playing with this in an enforced decoding of the camera and the Real at the same time, the authenticity by comparisson the trigger for a larger discussion.
With this consideration of the road, one other thing to mention here is that there are a number of images that feel as though they are almost made out of the car window as it is careening up the small village roads, paused for a brief moment for a quick snap. This manner of making images or the insinuation of making these types of images is not new. However with Guidi and his focus on the everyday, what becomes interesting from my perspective is that I can relate a few of the images within In Veneto, 1984-1989 to images found on Google street view. The blurred vignetting of Google Street does not occur in the work, but the camera positions, the odd focus of street intersections and the awkward placement of people feels as though the environment has been “captured” instead of photographed. It would be hard to build a longer defence of this hypothesis, but if you take some time to consider that Guidi’s rural images are a resistance to the urban hyper-sensational image, then you can add a layer to this idea by suggesting that his photographs (now) feel like the last mapping of the rural by analogue technological means at street level.
Guidi repeats an image of people on these roads that he considers. They indicate a marker, a time monument (clothing, style etc.) and a scale. My favorite “portraits” are the images of mustached man who is either looking off in the distance or pointing to something further down the road. He is clearly one of the few accomplices in the book as most of the portraits are a product of the environment and their subjects do not repeat.
“The blurred vignetting of Google Street does not occur, but the camera positions, the odd focus of street intersections and the awkward placement of people feels as though the environment has been “captured” instead of photographed”.
The color red is also very much present in the book, from the cover lettering to the use of its focus within frame, which offsets Guidi’s naturally subdued (morning?) and sometimes muddy brown palette. The unifying suggestions about how Guidi wants you to see what he is doing are very subtle and in their subtlety lies the answer for the how’s and why that he is has invested in photography, community and his passion for photography. Guidi is a true master of the medium whose relevancy I can finally understand. The contemplative, mature and intrinsically concerned work reminds me at its core of what photography best offers those who seek its embrace-namely, that slow and meaningful ways of looking and making images that are an anathema to a world spinning faster on its access with no brake and that by imbibing in the images such as Guidi produces, we are given the change to at least take a moment to rest before plundering on to our next epochal shift. Highest Recommendation for both Titles.