FINAL REPORT FOR THE GORDON RICKETTS MEMORIAL FUND by Valeria Carullo

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1 FINAL REPORT FOR THE GORDON RICKETTS MEMORIAL FUND 2008 by Valeria Carullo June 2009

2 I applied for the 2008 RIBA Gordon Ricketts Fund in relation to the exhibition Framing Modernism: Architecture and photography in Italy that I had started curating with the BAL s Assistant Director Robert Elwall at the beginning of the year. This project was intended as part of a wider programme strategically formulated to bring architecture and the riches of the BAL Photographs Collection to different audiences while also analysing the symbiotic and ever-shifting relationship between photography and architecture. It had therefore been set up as a collaboration between the BAL Photographs Collection and the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, which was to be the venue of the exhibition. Funding was requested to undertake a research period of one week to ten days in Italy in support of the project. The aim of the research was to investigate the relationship between photography and modernist architecture in Italy from the end of the 1920s to the beginning of the 1960s, a subject that has been little explored so far. The wealth of resources in the British Architectural Library supplied us with a remarkable amount of information. However, not all the necessary research could be done in the UK so it became essential to visit a number of key archives in Italy with the main purpose of gathering information on a number of photographers represented in the exhibition that was impossible to find elsewhere. The research would also allow the RIBA to establish working relationships with overseas institutions on which we can build in the future. While conducting our studies here in the UK we identified the archives that could help us explore our subject further: the Archivio Piero Bottoni, the Triennale archives, the Civico Archivio Fotografico and the Ugo Mulas Archive in Milan; the IUAV archives in Venice; the Alinari Archives and the Fondazione Giovanni Michelucci in Florence; the CRDAV and the MAXXI in Rome. I was also hoping I would succeed in gaining access to the archives of the seminal architectural magazine Domus, which were at the time (and still are) closed to public consultation. The archives of the other major architectural publication of the time, Casabella, are unfortunately lost. Archivio Piero Bottoni This archive is part of the Politecnico di Milano. Piero Bottoni was one of the key figures of Italian Rationalism and Italian delegate from 1929 to 1949 to the Modern Architecture International Congress (CIAM). His archive consists of over 90,000 items, including drawings, photographs, written documents, magazines, press cuttings, films, tapes and models. Bottoni was very interested in both photography and film and, apart from taking his own photos, he collected images of the architecture of his contemporaries, including Giuseppe Terragni, often recognised as the most important architect of the Italian Modern Movement. 2

3 Since the RIBA Photographs Collection does not include any vintage photograph of buildings designed by Terragni, the main purpose of my visit to the archive was to possibly identify one or two that we could borrow for the exhibition. I chose a worm s eye view of the Novocomum, the 1929 apartment building in Como which represents one of the first built examples of Rationalist architecture. This specific shot, taken by local photographer Mazzoletti, was also of interest from the photographic point of view as it represented a good example of how the techniques introduced by the New Photography filtered down into mainstream architectural photography. As we had decided to also include audio-visual material in the exhibition, if at all possible, I looked at the films included in the archive and found a very interesting document, Una giornata nella casa popolare, directed by Bottoni in Performed by improvised actors, the film shows a typical day in the life of a working class family living in a subsidized housing block designed by the architect with E.A. Griffini for the 1933 Milan Triennale. It features documentary footage of working class life in Milan and at the same time shows Modern Movement planning principles applied to living spaces. Civico Archivio Fotografico, Comune di Milano This public archive, housed in the Castello Sforzesco, has a very comprehensive collection of photographs (around 600,000) mostly related to the city of Milan, dating from the 1840s to the present. Amongst them are a considerable number of images by Mario Crimella, founder of one of the most active firms of the 1930s in the field of architectural photography. Several of his images were published in Casabella but I was interested in discovering, by looking through a much wider selection, to which extent his style had been influenced by the New Photography. However, I found out that the archive did not hold enough of his images of architectural subjects to allow me to draw any conclusions, nor did it hold any documents related to the photographer. A further source was fortunately offered by the Triennale archives. Biblioteca del Progetto, Triennale di Milano Since the beginning of the 1930s the Triennale has been a showcase for Italian architecture, particularly in regard to its relation with the other arts and with industrial design. Their design library, the Biblioteca del Progetto, is open to the public and it also includes the Triennale historical archive, comprising mostly photographic, audio-visual and graphic material. I was particularly interested in going through their albums of photographs related to all the Triennales held in Milan from 1933 to the beginning of the 1960s. This allowed me first of all to confirm that Crimella had been the official photographer of the Triennale in the 3

4 1930s; secondly, it gave me a much clearer idea of his style and made me realize that he was keen to vary his approach and experiment with viewpoints. In some cases the same subject was photographed both with the standard technique of architectural photography, using camera movements, and without it, allowing the verticals of the building to converge in a very deliberate manner. The use of worm s eye views produced some of his most dramatic compositions. The photographer who emerged from my visual exploration of the Triennale material was one of excellent technique and undoubtedly aware of the developments in his field introduced by the New Photography. Unfortunately, and in spite of his role as official photographer of the Triennale, the Biblioteca del Progetto could not provide me with any information on Crimella as they do not hold any documents related to this collaboration. They did however have in their archives three short films that the Triennale had commissioned for the 1954 edition and which represented the other reason for my visit. This trilogy, Cronache dell urbanistica italiana, La citta degli uomini and Una lezione di urbanistica, had been produced for the Town Planning exhibition of that year on subjects by the exhibition curators, Giancarlo de Carlo, Ludovico Quaroni and Carlo Doglio. By including the audio-visual material from the Triennale and the Archivio Bottoni in the exhibition we intended to show some examples of how modernist architecture was represented in a medium complementary to photography. Archivio Ugo Mulas, Milan Ugo Mulas is one of the great Italian 20 th century photographers. His images of architecture and the urban environment alternate a traditional approach with a photojournalistic one and I was interested in finding out more about his work in this field. This part of his archive is however not yet catalogued so I spent some time browsing through boxes and folders with the aim of identifying one or two images that could be included in our exhibition to show the change of direction in early 1960s architectural photography. One in particular, showing suburban housing in Milan, was to become the closing image of our show. Domus archives Based in Milan, Domus is one of the two leading Italian architectural magazines and still preserves its archives, parts of which have unfortunately been lost. They are at the moment being organized for the first time and therefore not open to public consultation but thanks to Domus contributor Luigi Spinelli, who is especially interested in the magazine archive material and is indeed writing regular articles on this subject, I managed to gain access to folders related to specific architects who were at that point scarcely represented in our exhibition. I 4

5 discovered various gems and obtained permission to borrow a couple taken by two of the most prominent architectural photographers of the 1950s, Paolo Monti and Giorgio Casali. The latter was regularly commissioned by the magazine but, once again, no correspondence or documents of this collaboration have been preserved. Fortunately I knew that the IUAV in Venice had acquired Casali s archive and this was to be the next stop of my Italian research trip. IUAV Archivio Progetti The IUAV is the architecture department of the University of Venice. The extensive Casali archive covers a career spanning almost 50 years and consists mainly of photographic material (especially negatives). I consulted the lists put together by the archive staff and focused my attention on a series of projects that were of particular interest from an architectural point of view in order to gain a better knowledge of this photographer, whose work was already well represented in the exhibition. As I expected, the figure that emerged was that of an excellent professional with a very distinctive style which tends to emphasize the most photogenic aspects of the buildings photographed. The archive also includes letters and cards sent in various occasions by the architects he worked for, in particular by Gio Ponti, editor of Domus. These letters show a relationship of reciprocal respect and admiration between the photographer and the architect and also shed light on Ponti s input with regards to the photography of his building. I made a copy of some of these letters for possible inclusion in the complementary material we intended to show in the exhibition alongside photographs. Alinari Archives Fratelli Alinari is one of the oldest photographic firms in Italy and certainly the largest and most important of the second half of the 19 th century. Based in Florence, they were active for many decades and have an enormous collection, which now also includes archives from other photographers. My visit to Alinari had two main purposes: the first one was to look at the work of Venice-based photographer Ferruccio Leiss, who had photographed some of the works by Carlo Scarpa, another important architect that we thought under-represented in the exhibition. Unfortunately virtually all the material held by the archive was related to historical architecture. The other purpose of my visit was to look at images of 1930s architecture photographed by Alinari, in order to establish whether the firm changed their style (the documentary approach employed to capture Italian historical architecture) when dealing with contemporary buildings. My conclusion was that they did not embrace nor were they particularly responsive to the changes introduced by the New Photography. 5

6 Fondazione Giovanni Michelucci Michelucci was one of the protagonists of Italian modernism. His career as an architect was longer than those of many of his colleagues and he was also a keen photographer, using the camera mainly to take notes on both historical architecture and that of his contemporaries. His house in Fiesole, on the outskirts of Florence, now houses the Michelucci Foundation, which promotes architectural research and organizes events and seminars. His archive includes a considerable number of photographs of his projects as well as negatives of his own photographs, which were the main focus of my interest. No original print exists of these images but the Foundation had already digitized the negatives and I could therefore obtain digital files of a few images that would represent the photographer Michelucci in the exhibition. CRDAV Photo-library The CRDAV (Centre for Research and Documentation of Visual Arts) is part of the municipality of the city of Rome. Their photo-library, open to public consultation, consists of more than 30,000 items and includes the archive of photographer Oscar Savio, who specialized in both art and architecture. I gained access to his material from the 1950s and early 1960s but unfortunately there were no documents in the archive which could provide any information on this very interesting figure. MAXXI The final stop of my trip was a visit to the director of MAXXI Architettura in Rome. MAXXI (Museum of the Arts of the 21st Century), which was set up by the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage, is a cultural institution which promotes contemporary art and architecture. We had been in touch with the architecture department as we hoped to borrow material from the Carlo Scarpa archive, which they had recently acquired. Unfortunately the archive needs sorting and is at the moment completely inaccessible but my visit confirmed the interest that MAXXI Architettura had expressed towards the RIBA cultural activities and consolidated our relationship in view of possible future collaborations. It also brought to the proposal of showing our exhibition at MAXXI, a project that is now taking shape and will see Framing Modernism travel to Rome in the Autumn. 6

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