The Real-Fake Photographs of Olivo Barbieri
It is eye-opening to compare his earliest works with his most recent ones and to realize that his vision has remained remarkably consistent. As his photographs from the early ’80s attest, Barbieri has always had an exquisite and mischievous sense of the power of the camera’s frame and the effects of light on film. With his deft cropping and focusing, he makes the ordinary seem strange.
Among his best known series, one in which he makes the real look fake, is “Site Specific,” which he began in 2003. Consisting of photographs and related films, this epic project takes viewers on a romp around the world’s major cities—including New York, Rome, London, Tel Aviv, and Bangkok—all of which appear miniaturized, filled with dollhouse buildings and minuscule pedestrians.
Barbieri achieves this effect with the help of a helicopter, which allows him to hover like a bird over each city. From this vantage, he chooses a single building, monument, or other distinctive urban feature, upon which he selectively focuses, leaving the rest of its surroundings blurred. This effectively throws off perspective and largely eliminates a sense of depth, making these otherwise unaltered photographs look entirely unreal. This is just as the artist would have it. As he has claimed: “I’ve never been interested in photography, but rather images. I believe my work begins where photography ends.”
He achieves this effect with the help of a helicopter, which allows him to hover like a bird over each city. From this vantage, he chooses a single building, monument, or other distinctive urban feature, upon which he selectively focuses, leaving the rest of its surroundings blurred. This effectively throws off perspective and largely eliminates a sense of depth, making these otherwise unaltered photographs look entirely unreal. This is just as the artist would have it. As he claims: “I’ve never been interested in photography, but rather images. I believe my work begins where photography ends.”
Karen Kedmey