ROME (Reuters) - Italy’s most famous photo reporter, Gianni Berengo Gardin, has spent more than half a century documenting a disappearing world and now recognizes that even his own profession is fading fast.
In a major retrospective of his work at Rome’s Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Berengo Gardin’s black-and-white photographs capture Italy’s shift from a largely rural economy to its rapid industrialization following World War Two.
The most recent reportage, dating from 2013-15, shows huge cruise liners docking in Venice, dwarfing the city’s delicate architecture, unleashing hoards of tourists on the lagoon city.
The pictures stand in stark contrast to Berengo Gardin’s early images of Venice, from the 1950s and 60s, where a lone girl runs through St. Mark’s Square and lovers kiss in an otherwise empty, colonnaded street.
“You can no longer do photographs like that,” 85-year-old Berengo Gardin told Reuters. “Venice is totally different to what it once was. It is full of tourists. It has all changed.”
Born near the city of Genoa in 1930, Berengo Gardin moved to Venice after the war. Photography was just a hobby until an uncle sent him books by the U.S. greats Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange, and he realized the camera’s potential.
He himself has now published more than 250 books and, despite his age, he still wanders around with a Leica camera hanging from his shoulder, ready to capture a fleeting moment.
Although he has traveled widely, his most famous images were taken in Italy — psychiatric patients imprisoned in dilapidated hospitals, youngsters dancing on a beach to music from a wind-up gramophone, workers in an Olivetti factory.
“People go round the world to photograph places like Hawaii. Then they realize there is so much more beauty here,” he said.
The exhibition, which runs until Aug. 28, is called “True Photography”, with Berengo Gardin arguing that unlike much of today’s digital photography, his work is free of artifact.
“There are a mountain of false photographs out there that pretend to be genuine, but that have in fact been manipulated in Photoshop. It is a type of fraud,” he says.
“I am an old photographer, born into an age of real photography, and I still want to defend it,” he says.
However, in a time when everyone uses their smartphones to capture every aspect of life, and with newspapers struggling to survive, Berengo Gardin fears he is defending a dying art.
“You still have fashion photographers, but photo reportage as a career is over. I have friends who used to make a living out of this, people who were famous and successful but are now dying of hunger,” he said.
Editing by Jeremy Gaunt