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Book of the Week: Selected by Blake Andrews

Book Of The Week Per Strada Photographs by Guido Guidi Reviewed by Blake Andrews Per Strada brings together photographs made by Guido Guidi from 1980 to 1994, along the Via Emilia — an ancient Italian road connecting Milan with the Adriatic Sea, which passes close to Guidi's home. To this day, the Via Emilia is the territorial backbone of the Southern tier of the Po Valley, running through mid-size cities such as Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna, Forlì, and Rimini.
Per Strada. By Guido Guidi.
Per Strada
Photographs by Guido Guidi

Mack, London, United Kingdom, 2018.
464 pp., color illustrations, 11¾x9½".

Exoticism has long been a siren song for photographers. Whether it’s a foreign culture, a magnificent vista, or just a rare moment, photographers are drawn to the special and spectacular.

But there’s also something to be said for documenting the familiar, the stuff right outside the front door. This was the method of Eugene Atget, who photographed his home city, Paris, over the course of decades. Or the Portland Grid Project, closely focused on the local environs, or Paul Strand and Josef Sudek, each of whom in later years made subjects of their backyards.

The Italian photographer Guido Guidi falls into this second camp. A lifetime resident of Cesena (born there in 1941), he has been photographing his immediate environs for more than half a century. “Biography and geography are bound together,” affirms Guidi. His photos are tangible proof.

Cesena is in Italy’s northeast region, transected by a major road called Via Emilia, along which he has focused. His photos have appeared in various journals and shows, but, until now, have not been published as a cohesive project. Mack has corrected the oversight with a bang, collecting 285 photos into the recent three-volume set titled Per Strada (“On The Road”).

At roughly 12 x 10 inches, the book’s size nicely accommodates Guidi’s photos. They’re printed one per page at 8 x 10, the same size as his original negatives. Most are vintage photos from the 1980s and 90s, replete with the color casts and technical foibles typical of old C-prints. Whereas most publishers would’ve been tempted to “improve” them, Mack has wisely reproduced Guidi’s prints as is, providing a direct lineage to the originals. The effect is like browsing a sheaf of contact prints, a very large one at that. The photos fill the books in Warholian flurries, a few here, a dozen more there, often depicting the same scene multiple times. In all there are 28 sections organized by location and date, filling 464 pages. Thankfully there’s a slipcased box to contain them.

Guidi has a penchant for nondescript locales, and an intuition for bewitching perspectives. This is not the Italy of grand statues and ancient fountains found on postcards. Instead, he favors blank facades, arches, alleys, and the utilitarian vernacular. The overlooked stuff, in other words. Helped along by big dollops of syrupy Italian light, his photographs drape the frames of their quotidian subjects. The effect is of reverence, “a way of bowing down before things,” as he describes it in Per Strada’s accompanying booklet.

Guidi is also idiosyncratically repetitious. Over and over again he shoots the same scenes, sometimes from slightly different vantage points or at different times of day. Some sequences show seasonal change over months. His goal isn’t any decisive moment — “the decisive moment does not exist; time and transformation exist” — but to bump heads with the world and come to grips with its essence. “I look and I photograph and I’m not satisfied,” he writes. “I tell myself it could be better, it could be done differently again, and through this procedure I don’t reach a definitive result, but some semblance of a result.”

With three books chock-full of photos, Per Strada is difficult to absorb in one sitting. There’s simply too much, and the series tend to whip past, each one supplanted by the next. This is a minor tragedy, for amid the flood are some absolute gems. A man tucks just the right spot above a zigzag fence. Snow carries another scene through the foreground to the horizon, the scene centered on an odd boulder. Repeat readings aren’t just advisable but necessary, perhaps over the course of few seasons or from slightly different vantage points.

Guido is something of a photographer’s photographer, widely respected by those in the know. And the influence goes both ways. A yellow dump truck foregrounding an orchard seems like colorized Friedlander, while a boy planted at the base of a utility pole recalls Shore (whose photos convinced Guidi to adopt the 8 x 10 view camera). A figure moving behind a glass door (Teatro Bonci, Cesena, 1984) seems a direct reference to Atget’s Au Tamour, 63 Quai de la Tournelle, 1908). Walker Evans’ spirit also lurks throughout, as do the New Topographics, and early Italian Renaissance paintings.

Guidi pays homage to all, but his approach is singular, distinguished by an intimate feel for old-world color and an architectural (his initial profession) sense of space. He has an innate sense for where to place his viewfinder so that the elements before him might march in precision into the lens. “Accidental perspective,” Guidi calls his method. But to me, it seems quite planned. “All photographs are monuments,” he told the Guardian recently. “If you photograph this cup on the table, for example, it gives it importance. And over time, photographs become more and more like monuments.”

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Blake Andrews is a photographer based in Eugene, OR. He writes about photography at