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photo-eye Book Reviews: Tennis Courts

Tennis Courts, Photographs by Giasco Bertoli.
Published by Nieves, 2009.
Tennis Courts
Reviewed by Nicholas Chiarella
Giasco Bertoli Tennis Courts
Photographs by Giasco Bertoli
Nieves, 2009. Softcover. 60 pp., Illustrated throughout, 7-1/2x10-1/4".

Giasco Bertoli's Tennis Courts is a slim, sleek collection of images designed with a smooth precision fitting to its subject matter. The premise of the photographs is simple: depict tennis courts without tennis - no players, no equipment, no spectators, no advertisements. The courts themselves are always outdoors, depicted in various conditions, season, and time of play. Neither introduction, descriptive essay, nor caption intrude to sell the images, comment on the play. The result is a book simultaneously minimal and lush, both in presentation and feeling.

The color images float centered on the page, sinking smoothly into the matte surface of the paper. This smooth appearance accents the meshing and softening of the strict, rectilinear courts that have settled or been manicured into their surroundings. Removed from use, either for an evening, a season, or permanent abandonment, the tennis courts are easier to consider in their role as landscape and architecture. The courts are presented from a variety of angles, positions at a distance or just outside the lines of play. Through this variety, Bertoli's images suggest that the courts do not interrupt their surrounding environment, but instead merge with the landscape in tone and composition. Asphalt, clay, cement, and grass surfaces lie in urban, suburban, park, and rural settings. The courts become integral functions of landscape. If any aspect of the courts seems to stand out, it would be the high chain-link fences and fabric barriers that - in the disuse of the courts - become ironic dividers between one bit of land and another.

Tennis Courts, by Giasco Bertoli. Published by Nieves, 2009.
Tennis Courts, by Giasco Bertoli. Published by Nieves, 2009.
 The book creates a subtle, lasting impression of the observer, as well, who so carefully chooses position and angle to shape these wonderfully mute images. The repetitions of form and color, coupled with the uniformity of subject matter, provide to the series a slightly ironic sense of pilgrimage or reverential collection - of someone absurdly outside the lines, defying expected relationships of meaning and representation that come from tennis and photography: competitive play, fast-action shots, grimaces of victory and defeat, trophies and world-repute. Still, innocent, and calm, Bertoli's images are on the brink of irony, but remain uncommitted to any particular satire, choosing instead a watchful silence.—Nicholas Chiarella

Nicholas Chiarella is the imaging specialist at the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His poems and photographs have appeared in Santa Fe Trend, BathHouse, Slideluck Potshow Santa Fe, and other venues. He is a member of Meow Wolf artist collective, contributing technical and design skills to performance and art installations. Chiarella graduated from the St. John's College GI program in 2007. He can be reached at