Carlo Valsecchi

Studio Calsoli

When people leave the places where they live and work, it sometimes seems that those urban and industrial landscapes, no longer “disturbed” by human presence, finally begin to lead a secret life, their true life, invisible to the human eye. This is an ancient sensation—a sort of animism but it may also be found in full-blown Romanticism (one can’t help but think, for example, of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker) , which in our own time has been anything but sated. Indeed one could say that today, when one can speak, for instance, of the “soul of a new machine,” this form of animism is in its prime. Its contemporary embodiments include the large-scale photographs of Carlo Valsecchi, a thirty-six-year-old photographer who works in Milan. His color images of industrial sites, warehouses, rooms adapted for special production, and enlarged details of machinery have their clear progenitors: from the American Precisionism of Charles Sheeler to the Central European photography of the ’30s. In other words, they emerged from a feeling of amazement at the new industrial landscape that so radically and rapidly took form within the span of a few decades.

But if in the early twentieth century this awareness of the transformation of the landscape and the environment conveyed a sense of discovery, a sort of admiration for man’s capacities, contemporary attitudes are decidedly different. Valsecchi’s photography is descended not only from Precisionism and Neue Sachlichkeit but also from the cool, cataloging approach of Bernd and Hilla Becher. And yet the overall impression one gleans from this exhibition is of a certain metaphysics of the photographic image: The more precise and cleat the image, the more alienating it appears. This has always been a significant current in photography, beginning with Eugène Atget, who isolated objects of daily life, seeing them with a different eye and granting them a different life. But Valsecchi is not simply a follower; he has not only extraordinary technical ability, but also an autonomous spirit. He captures the industrial environment with an alien eye, as if things were functioning and living beyond human presence and control. His images recall some postapocalyptic science-fiction film in which machinery continues to work automatically, indifferent to the disappearance of human beings. There is no sense that these environments are still the work of man (as there was when comparable subjects were photographed by artists like Sheeler or the Bechers); indeed, one has the impression that not only are the photographed sites devoid of life but that the photographer “himself” is not a living being, but rather a sort of robotic probe recording the appearance of a strange planet. The only visible “warning,” the overt indication of this alterity—almost a sign stating that the depicted world is extraneous to the world of men—lies in the exposure or printing of the photos (paradoxically, all done “by hand,” without digital manipulation): They are always slightly overexposed, so as to make the image more luminous and ghostly, as if the eye behind the camera belonged to Kubrick’s HAL 9000.

Marco Meneguzzo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.