In 1983, and within the confines of small single room of an apartment or house, Italian photographer Guido Guidi undertook what at first glance could be considered a simple exploration of light. Here, in this unfurnished room with its two windows that sit diagonally opposite each other to one corner, Guidi produced a precise body of work — titled, Preganziol 1983 — that Roberta Valtorta describes in his essay “Space, Time, Void” as a “pearl of great price in contemporary Italian photography.”
A widely undervalued photographer, Guido began to experiment with pseudo-documentary images that interrogated photography’s objectivity in the late 1960s; and influenced by neorealist film and conceptual art he investigated the man-altered landscape of his homeland through the seventies, a body of work in which he created a frequently dense sequence of images that formed a meditation on the meaning of landscape and photography.
Although Preganziol 1983 comprises just sixteen photographs, it is a complex body of work that extends far beyond that of a simple visual exercise by a photographer who is attempting to describe the physical space of the room, to a series that explores time itself; and as such, and like his work of the seventies, it requires a commitment from the viewer to slowly decipher and understand the multi-layered images.
In the first 12 images of the sequence, Guidi’s composition remains unchanged as he frames the room — which Valtorta suggests “alludes to the idea of the camera obscura” — with near architectural perfection. Facing the room square on and from its very centre, the plane of the far wall dominates the composition like an artists canvas, with its small window — shutters open — set to the right offering a glimpse of the world beyond the constraints of the four walls, whilst the second window breaks into the composition from the righthand edge of the frame.
The warm translucent hues and and pale blues of the plaster covered walls and ceilings appear like an artists preparatory washes on his newly primed canvas in this conceptual sequence, the pale floorboards proudly display the staines of age; as Guidi makes a portrait of a room marked by emptiness and abandonment. That in it Valtorta’s view, provides “a theatre where symbolic meanings congeal into a reflection both on photography and, more broadly, on the history of Western art.”
In these images with their fixed viewpoint, light streams in through windows, creating delicate geometric plays and shapes on the rooms interior. But Guidi does not simply record in his photographs the play of light on the physical space, but also the passing of time that records itself on the translucent layers. “In this delicate conceptual sequence, the images — clear, almost transparent in their extreme tenuousness of tone,” writes Valtorta, as they “lure the observer into timelessness, and this despite the fact that the act of taking a photograph coincides with the most poetic of gestures: the metering of time.”
In the first three images of the sequence, that are simply titled A1, A2 and A3, the changes in light and shadow within the room are subtle, the variations only visible to those who spend time considering each image in turn. But in A4, a darker shadow, cast by a tree branch unseen enters the void carved out by the sunlight on the wall, and slowly begins its transition across the room, with each subsequent photograph revealing a little more of its form as it passes across the room ever closer to the aperture through which the light itself enters. Before in A10, the strength of the shadow begins to fade, only to reveal itself once more in A12.
In the next image in the sequence (A13), Guidi changes his composition, (rotating his viewpoint 45 degrees to the right) so he is now facing the window that was only just visible in the earlier photographs square on. Whilst the hues of the rooms interior are now darker intone with less of the modelling that we experience in the earlier part of the sequence, the window glows bright with, pulling the viewer towards it and the world beyond, where we encounter our first real glimpse of the tree that was only visible by the shadow it cast earlier. In the next frame, Guidi once again changes his position (rotating through a further 45 degrees), this time presenting the back wall of the room, before changing again one frame on to show us the final side of the room, before in image A16 he returns to the wall and window that we encounter first in Preganziol 1983, where with the passing of time the room now feels darker as the suns change of position.
In this delicate conceptual work, Guidi skilfully lures the onlooker into a void stationary in time, a timeless place; but one where we find comfort in the knowledge that reality goes on, endlessly unfolding beyond the confines of the photographs frame.