photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Book review: Spazio Greina

At last, a photography book from Ticino worthy of the name.

in Book Reviews , Wednesday, October 07, 2009

in the ten years which I. have been living in Ticino, I have tried to make sense of it photographically. it shouldn’t be all that difficult, after all there is no lack of source material, all year round. Ticino is a land defined by its steep, twisting alpine valleys, each liberally sprinkled with fascinating traces of a not so distant tough rural past, and an endless sequence of spectacular and inspiring scenery. And that’s just the valleys: higher up are the alpine meadows, lakes of all shapes and sizes, glaciers and towering peaks. And let’s not forget the whole other world of Italianate culture and architecture nestling around Lakes Maggiore and Lugano. Add to this a literate, well-off population and a healthy tourist trade, and you might expect that bookshops would be spilling over with gorgeous coffee table photo books.

But in fact, with a few honourable exceptions, all you find is are endless series of formulaic books about different regions, which work ok as documentary and guide books, but are usually full of bland, poorly executed and (especially) dreadfully printed photographs. The whole market seems to be tied up by a small clique of so-so photographers and publishers. Clearly actually getting to the locations of some of the photos in these books was an epic in itself, but unfortunately, this does not automatically translate to good photography. Good landscape photography requires some attention to light, to composition, and technique, not to mention good printing. And this is hard to get right in Ticino: the light is often harsh, contrast is a big problem, and getting to a lot of locations at the right time (which might only exist a few times a year) require a lot of planning, a lot of hard work and effort, and a degree of luck. Not to mention talent.

All this serves to explain why I was so surprised and delighted to discover the book “Spazio Greina” (Desertina Verlag, Chur) last weekend, especially as it is an area I’ve recently started exploring.


Spazio Greina is a book about 5 photographers’ personal visions of the Greina plateau, a region of upper Ticino bordering on Canton Graubunden and classified by Switzerland as a natural monument of national importance. It’s a fascinating blend of wide open stony valley, jagged peaks, glaciers and lakes. The photographers - Roberto Buzzini, Sergio Luban, Tamara Lanfranchini, Giosanna Crivelli, and Marco Volken each have a distinct take on this “space”, but what they all share is that they have taken the time to absorb the landscape and to find their own way to express it. They’ve come up with quite different approaches: Buzzini contributes a beautiful selection of wide-screen panoramics. Crivelli takes a abstractionist approach, finding surprising contrasts in the detail of the land. Lafranchini’s perspective as a film maker clearly shows through in her subtle use of flat light and discrete forms. Sergio Luban shows a wonderful eye for composition with elements of the landscape and capturing beautiful contrasts of light and shadow. Marco Volken has chosen to use black and white, a departure from his usual practice of colour photography, to great effect. It really is impossible for me to say that any of these are my favourite: it is the overall effect that dominates. You can see a nice slide show of some of the featured photos on the swissinfo site.

Although there are 5 distinct visions, the editing and layout by Roberto Grizzi brings them together for a coherent narrative. And speaking of narrative, the text by Leo Tuor (only in Italian, German and Rumantsch, I’m afraid) contrasting the “touristic” ideal of Greina with the lives of shepherds and hunters who call it home is the icing on the cake.

The print quality is excellent, and altogether this is a must-have photography book - perhaps the only one so far from this corner of the world.

NOTE: unfortunately I cannot find a link for ordering the book. If I do, I’ll update this post. It does appear to available from Amazon Germany.