The tiny figures that dot Olivo Barbieri’s site-specific aerial photographs seem to be placed there by an invisible, looming architect. Whether photographing a swimming pool in Las Vegas or a waterfall in Brazil, Barbieri’s work, on display at Yancey Richardson Gallery in New York City through December 22, reminds us of the very thin line between authentic object and reproduction.

Barbieri was born in Italy in 1954 and began exhibiting his work in 1978. He has taken part in the 1993, 1995, and 1997 Venice Biennales, and in numerous other international events devoted to contemporary visual arts. In 1996, he had a retrospective exhibit of his work at the Folkwang Museum in Essen, Germany. In 2003 he exhibited in “Strangers” the first Triennial of photography and video organized by the International Center of Photography, in New York. He started the “Site Specific” project in 2003. That project includes Rome, Montreal, Amman, Las Vegas, Shanghai, and Seville, among others. Barbieri’s images can be seen in museums, universities and art collections around Europe and the U.S.

All images courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery. All images © Olivo Barbieri, all rights reserved.

* * *

First, the question you’ve probably answered a million times: How do you make it look as though you’ve photographed a model rather than an actual city?

With a technique called selected focus.

Why have you photographed national monuments, cityscapes, and natural landmarks to look like models or reproductions?

The concept is to see the cities like a model. [To see them] like an architect who decides if they work or if it is better to change something.

What led you to represent locations this way?

In the beginning I was interested in producing images that were only partially out of focus. Soon, I discovered that in this way everything looked like a model.

How do you choose which cities to shoot?

I chose Rome because it is an open sky museum of the history of architecture. After Rome, [I shot] Las Vegas because it is an open-sky museum of life-size reconstructions of all the main buildings in the world, from pyramids to the skyscrapers.

Do you have a favorite location to shoot?

China is very interesting. I have shot Shanghai. I am looking to shoot Beijing and Sao Paulo in Brazil.

What attracts you to a certain building or monument?

There are not rules—maybe the light.

It’s interesting to see that you’ve photographed a painting to look like one of your aerial photographs. Is that what you’re looking for in these aerial views? An image of a city that resembles a paintings or miniature?

The works called “Paintings” are different. If the “real” in the series “Site Specific” looks like a model, the paintings of the old masters like Canaletto or Caravaggio can lose a bio-dimensional shape and look “real.”

What are you working on now?

My last works are “Site Specific New York” and “The Waterfall Project.” I am exhibiting them [now].


TMN Editor Nicole Pasulka believes she could beat a lie detector. When she sits in a chair she almost never puts her feet on the floor. Even though she likes the internet a lot, she is convinced that people will always read magazines and she is secretly building one in her basement. More by Nicole Pasulka