- Current Issue
- Featured reviews
- Art & artists
- Around the galleries
- Architecture & design
- Photography & media
Images can be secrets revealed by the photographer, asserts Italo Zannier, thus it is Giorgio Casali’s photographs that reveal the hidden essence of Italy’s architecture and design, which blossomed in the 1950s and ’60s. Over three decades, Casali’s photographs appeared in Domus magazine, helping shape its visual physiognomy. Used on its cover over 30 times, innovatively framed, cropped and assembled, they were key to the magazine’s internationally renowned graphic appearance.
The exhibition currently (until 8 September) at the Estorick presents a small part of the archive of Casali’s photographic work housed in the Archivio Progetti at the University of Venice’s faculty of Architecture (IUAV), which holds over 200,000 of his photographic images. The show contains mainly black and white images, but Casali did shoot in colour as the catalogue section on his Domus covers demonstrates. The well-illustrated catalogue enables more images to be seen but would benefit by references in the text to the images.
Favourably compared with the American architectural photographers Ezra Stoller, Julius Schulman and Bill Hedich and well known among architects and designers, Casali is still little known beyond those worlds and this exhibition is the first solo show of his work. Even the major exhibition dedicated to Domus (1928–1973) in 1973 at the Pavilion de Marsan – Palais du Louvre did not celebrate or especially comment on him, even though many of the images shown there were by him.
Casali’s first Domus assignment was in 1952, to photograph Gio Ponti’s Superleggera chair. Ponti,one of Italy’s most important architects, industrial and furniture designers, artists and publishers, also owned the magazine. Apassionate believer that photography could directly influence knowledge through the pages of his magazine he tried reorganizing how industrial products were seen in order to make them more enjoyable and readable. Casali, it is said, became Ponti’s eyes, working at the centre of a range of disciplines at the crossover of ideas, he played with, cut down and purified shapes, freeing them from external references.
His photographs are transformative. He encapsulated the Superleggera chair’s lightness – it weighed only 1.7kilos – by having his models hold it at arm’s length with only one figure. His 1956 photographs of the Snam or Anatomica handle, designed by Marcello Nizzoli and manufactured by Olivari, underlines its contrasts of simplicity and secret elegance: the handle floats, its shadow giving depth. His 1966 images of the Lesbo blown-glass lamp, designed by Angelo Mangiarotti, gives it architectural qualities by being shot from a particular angle. Dynamism is incorporated in his 1970 images of the Magic Drum transistor radio, designed by Rodolfo Bonetto and manufactured by Autovox, by having a fist beat down on it. Surreal realities were conjured in his 1971 image of the Perlota table lamp, designed by Cesare Casati and Emanuele Ponzio, by the backdrop of a huge cat watchfully towering over the lamp. His 1990 photographs of the Olpe oil cruet, designed by Angelo Mangiarotti, are likened to the Bragaglia Brothers futurist photographs.
In his architectural photographs Casali experimented ceaselessly to bring out the volumes and spaces that architectural design encompasses, giving the impression he had architectural knowledge. His interior and exterior views of two Ponti buildings, the Torre Pirelli in Milan in 1956 or his views of the cathedral in Taranto in 1971 from different angles and times of the day show Casali’s eye for startlingly transformative compositions and texture and light. Yet his 1971 view inside an apartment in Florence, designed by Gae Aulenti, the view of Brunelleschi’s Duomo through the window or his 1965 view of roofs seen from a Roman loft, reveal his nostalgia for a constantly evolving history, which he displayed through the medium of photography. Casali conditioned the world to interpret Italian architecture.
The design phase of the photo shoot, building the set, was fundamental to his practice. The sheet of glass supporting the Snam handle allowing it to float or his backdrops for shooting one of his specialties – architectural models, skies with big clouds. In the photographs these replica skyscrapers designed by Ponti or Rosselli look like full-scale buildings, not the tiny miniatures they are.
Also included in the exhibition and the catalogue are some of Casali’s personal photos. As in his architectural images his eye for texture, light, arresting angles, framing and timing are premier. Some architecture students led to buildings through his images expressed disappointment on eventually seeing those buildings, such was the allure of his images. His photography is both an historic account and an instrument for seduction.
Casali’s association with Domus ended with Ponti’s death in 1979. Ponti had used the same photographer for 30 years. Since then no other photographer has worked exclusively for Domus.
Media credit: All images Università IUAV di Venezia - Archivio Progetti, Fondo Giorgio Casalii