Cool + Sublime
In a super-sized world, Olivo Barbieri's photographs are refreshing miniature marvels.
By Carlon Morgan
It’s hard to believe that we live in Olivo Barbieri’s world. One portrayed through photographs that reverberate a unique and unimaginable calm. They force us to stop, and stay a while. A peaceful, protective layer envelops his people and places; effortlessly glorified, void of crime, poverty and chaos. Each frame is a moment, frozen in a quieting stir. Barbieri makes our overwhelmingly large, frantic world look and feel oh so small.
Holding that world in his hands, through the use of a tilt-frame camera, Barbieri shifts the plane of focus so that it is out of alignment with the film. Ordinarily, this allows wide-angle aerial views to be captured in proper perspective, though used incorrectly, as he does intentionally, an optical illusion occurs.
Aside from creating visually dynamite images, Barbieri’s photography utilizes complete control over the way our society is projected. The artist often captures images of scenes that are very familiar to us, like Rome, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, yet, through his lens, these normally monolithic structures become toy-like and innocent. His technique does not capture true shallow depth of field, based on the distance of the subject from the lens. Instead, it merely simulates the effect by tilting the lens’ angle to the back plane of the camera, creating a gradual blurring at the edges. The loss of detail makes objects appear even more model-like; even more ideal and imaginative than could be expected.
Olivo Barbieri now divides his time between Rome, Capri, and Modena, Italy, where he was born. Inspired by a photographer uncle, he began taking photographs as a child, going on to study photography at the University of Bologna. And though there’s no question that he has mastered the technical aspects of photography—expertly using the view camera to “destroy” perspective, as he describes it—a keen sense of imagination is elemental to his work. All too often do we see photography that is overexposed, overworked or overdone. Barbieri’s work is a refreshing revival of the very essence of good photography—playful and engaging imagery with an intelligent message.
Each frame is a moment, frozen in a quieting stir. Barbieri makes our overwhelmingly large, frantic world look and feel oh so small.
When they were built, the preponderance of places Barbieri has photographed were intended to be the biggest and most spectacular, but in his photographs, they are merely small pieces of this imaginatively grand puzzle. His style aims to give a sense of the proportions of a building to their surrounding environments, and to highlight, dispassionately, its design. His work not only destroys a sense of scaled perspective, but it destroys our preconceptions—about how cities look and how they feel, as well. Barbieri’s photographs are deliciously smooth and accessible. For the audience, it’s a deconstruction of the regular way of seeing. And it’s about time that an artist gave us that kind of perspective on our very large world.