Model World

It’s often hard to convince people that Olivo Barbieri’s aerial photographs are real. They look uncannily like hyperdetailed models, absent the imperfections of reality. Streets are strangely clean, trees look plastic, and odd distortions of scale create the opposite effect of what we expect from aerial photography—a complete overview, like military surveillance. “I was a little bit tired of the idea of photography allowing you to see everything,” Barbieri says. “After 9/11 the world had become a little bit blurred because things that seemed impossible happened. My desire was to look at the city again.”

He began the Site Specific project in Rome, before moving on to Amman, Jordan; Las Vegas; Los Angeles; and Shanghai, China. He achieves the distinctive look by photographing from a helicopter using a tilt-shift lens—a method, he says, that “allows me to choose what I really like in focus: like in a written page, we don’t read [it as an] image but one line at a time.” Along with the still photographs, which are exhibited as enormous prints, Barbieri has been making short 35mm films. New York—not surprisingly—is next on his list of cities to tackle.

But so far it’s the Las Vegas photographs in which an innate sense of unreality collides most strikingly with Barbieri’s projected vision. The city’s simulated monuments are made to look artificial, in total defiance of their reality. For Barbieri it is “the city as an avatar of itself.”

Update: Additional images of Olivo Barbieri’s Las Vegas project are included in the publication, “site specific_Las Vegas 05” (Produced by Jason Halter and his Toronto-based design firm, Wonder inc., in collaboration with Brancolini Grimaldi Arte in Florence and Rome).

The Yancey Richardson Gallery in New York, Barbieri’s US representative, is having an exhibition of Barbieri’s photographs relating to Rome, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Montreal, and Amman. It runs from March 31, 2006 to May 13, 2006.

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