This substantial book offers a retrospective of the work of Italian photographer Gianni Berengo Gardin. Its size is representative of Gardin’s respected position in his native country, where it was first published by his agency Contrasto. It also reflects his prodigious output – 200 books and exhibitions since the 1960s. The book contains two interviews, one general, introducing the work and the photographer, the other on his publications. The majority of the book is given over to his black and white pictures arranged in chapters serving loosely to map out his interests and the essence of his imagery – Venice (the city where he was brought up), Everyday Work, Women, Paris, Empathy, Landscape with Figures, Provincial Life.
A documentary photographer in the traditional sense, Gardin describes his approach thus: “for me photography is an account” – emphasising as much as possible the objective reality of a place. His work is easily situated within modern photographic practice. His education: books by American social documentary photographers, whose work was sent to the young photography enthusiast by an American uncle friendly with Cornell Capa; his other influences – Willy Ronis, Cartier-Bresson, the Family of Man and Life. In the introductory interview, the portraits reproduced further serve to indicate Gardin’s position amongst peers – here he is alongside Bruno Barbey, Elliot Erwitt, Leonard Freed … there he is again with Roberto Koch and Ferdinando Scianna.
Yet Gardin remains relatively unknown within the UK. Ironically perhaps it is his commercial success that has stopped him from becoming so widely acclaimed. Never having to struggle to establish his chosen career, Gardin published his first book on Venice in 1960 and has never looked back, finding it seems an unending stream of collaborators – publishers, writers and editors – to work with. He has worked commercially for Olivetti, Alfa Romeo and Fiat and over a long period with the publisher Touring Club Italiano, producing portraits of destinations in Italy and beyond. Yet he also worked for Il Mundo from 1954 to 1965 and his work sits firmly within left-leaning concerned reportage of the real and everyday. Gardin’s aim is to leave a record of his epoch through his images of his native country. This book offers an interesting introduction to his photography – it won’t make waves but is important in that it forms part of a global dialogue with other documentarists of his generation.