It is surely a photographer’s job to find beauty where laypeople see none, but goodness, Specker has a talent for it. She once published a whole book on concrete, and rarely can the formal, grey-toned loveliness of that prosaic substance be so celebrated. It is probably this strange predilection for powdered stone, rather than her German heritage, that drew her towards fascism’s architectural remains during a residency in Italy. Even the exhibition name comes from Rome’s railway station, the rebuilding of which began under Mussolini.
There are dangers in beautifying the relics of repulsive regimes, but Specker mostly avoids them by a focus so myopic and intense that history fades to a vicious murmur. She is interested in what remains: conflicting clock faces in Sabaudia, a Mussolini reclamation project; the beautiful Art Deco lamposts in Turino Piazza CLN, once a Gestapo hang-out (were any Nazis hanged from them?).
Elemental unease does surface when you stare at pictures of Rome’s EUR (Esposizione Universale Roma) district – can it really be right to glorify such uniformity? Specker’s retort is a series of very un-uniform images from surrealist Giorgio de Chirico’s apartment and another from the home of madcap architect Carlo Mollino. An ashtray dissolves into shining chiaroscuro; a pair of false eyelashes wittily accentuate the soft umber beauty of the surrounding room.
There are books reimagining manuscripts Mollino probably never got round to writing, featuring photos of the Eygyptiana that obsessed him. In other words, there is both wit and humanity, and the very contrasts between geometrical rigour and crazed loveliness make you think – an occupation never much encouraged by the fascists.
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