Gabrielle Basilico

Fifty-two-year-old Milanese artist Gabriele Basilico is considered by many to be one of the most significant Italian photographers working today. In his photographs of cities, factories, and peripheral urban areas—ports, for example—the absence of people is so palpable that it translates into an unavoidable presence. Basilico’s investigations of place are always directed to the urban landscape, to man’s production, to the places where people live rather than to the experience of living. While the images could be viewed as nostalgic, or as a critique of the urban condition, behind every click of Basilico’s shutter is a certain measured acceptance of the conditions of modern existence.

As suggested by its title, “Milano, lavori in torso” (Milan, works in progress), this show consisted of images of the city of Milan. In fact, all of the photographs in the show had been commissioned by the municipal government. The photographs depict areas similar to those favored by Edward Hopper, places where urban life is at its most isolated and raw. The gap between utopian ideals and the real lives of city dwellers, as witnessed by Basilico, manifests itself as thwarted growth. Basilico’s photographs depict a no-man’s-land of nebulous, intermediate territories, areas that have been only half-planned or are reconceived on a day-to-day basis. Often in this work the modernity of the International Style seems to have been reduced to a mere stereotype that clashes with a preexisting, perhaps more vital urban fabric.

Within this scenario, which at times recalls the work of Atget, the presence of machines—cars, ships, and motorscooters—and the absence of the humans who control them, suggests a certain alienation. Whether Basilico’s work is devoid of figures or reveals traces of a human presence, his focus on the urban landscape never precludes an awareness of the life it harbors within. Ultimately, the bloodlessness of the images’ framing suggests a certain degree of acceptance of the conditions of modern existence. The photographs attribute to city dwellers a surprising capacity for resistance and adaptation, an ability to metamorphose that parallels the resistance of the urban landscape to rigid organization.

Marco Meneguzzo

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.