The towering diving board of the Ugolino Golf Club (1934) in Florence, umbrella pines in the distance, appears at the Estorick Collection, Framing Modernism. The exhibition consists of photographs documenting Italian rationalist and modern architecture. Many pictures of hot sun and strong shadow, shadows of people in Homberg hats thrown onto blank concrete and strangely dark skies make a history of seemingly impartial documentation at the same time the optimism of the age. Old cars and taxis remind us how long ago this was, the empty spaces remind us of the respect for machinery and concrete in general.
The more anonymous industrial and agricultural buildings, the station, fish market, taxi garage, salt warehouse seem to do better out of the black and white photography. In Nervi’s government salt warehouse the triangular pile of salt reaches up towards the curves of the massive concrete structure. Here is a picture of his aircraft hangar in Orvieto
Nearly all the photographs are empty of people except for their shadows. An empty day bed against a tall glass-concrete wall suggests the (female) nude has just got up and left.
Connected in the exhibition with Rationalism’s love of farm buildings, there appear pages from Pagano and Daniel’s a typological account of rural architecture, bounded in stylish black borders. Was this contacts sheet look was to emphasise the rigorous nature of the photographer’s task of recording facts.
All galleries encourage their own particular ambience and the one at Estorick collection was on of intense interest and concentration. The visitors looked as if they could eat the photos of light and shade, peering, leaning forward screwing up their eyes. There was the sharp click of heels on floorboards as they entered the dream world of swimming pools, stadiums, TB clinic its show of optimism.
I did of course wish I’d paid more attention when I visited Como, Florence and Turin in the past. I’m sure I just hurried through the station Santa Maria Novella in Florence. Who would have thought it would be so famous.