Among the very first visitors to the newly constructed ICP Library in 2001 was a new student named Giovanni del Brenna, who spoke most of the languages of his classmates [Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and French], and offered to help out in the library as a work-study student while earning his certificate in Photojournalism and Documentary Studies. He was the library’s very first Work-Study student.
The library was, at that time, 100% un-cataloged, shelved alphabetically by photographer, and the books looked as if they had passed through many hands and many classes…because they had.
Giovanni, an ardent bibliophile, advised his peers as to the proper tender care and handling for the photobooks, as if they were incunabula in a great research institution, a perspective that demanded a bit of a suspension of disbelief, and a lot of idealism…two qualities I now know define Giovanni as a photographer, father and friend.
In 2011, I reached out to that inaugural class in this ICP School, asking for submissions of book dummies that I could display in the window of the library in concert with a show of their work, and Giovanni sent one from France, where he was then living.
It was called Place No Place, with Fred Ritchin as Consulting Editor and texts by Carole Naggar and Marc Augé. It went into the library window, and afterwards I squirreled it away in the treasury of the library office for safe keeping. If you know me, you know that I am a fanatic for book dummies!
This year its companion arrived, a book…not a book dummy…called Ibidem. It looks very different from the dummy, but starts the same way, declaring, “Nowadays you can find anything anywhere.”
If you can judge anything about a book by its cover, this book’s cover recalls the cover of the great Italo Calvino’s book Invisible Cities, which promises much.
While not Giovanni’s first book,* it is a work that looks so much like his world-view, with witty design elements and cinematic glimpses of places all over the world that are all strung together like some universal borderless cosmopolis, and includes multiple languages of the text. It is also very beautifully designed and printed, which I would expect from someone who is as in love with books as Giovanni.
Mostly, though, it has his voice in it. I can hear him, filled with wonder and irony and snapping away.
* His first book, l’Aria di Firenze, was commissioned by Hermes in 2006. I surmise that they embraced his distinctive eye for cities, and so asked him to turn his lens on Firenze/Florence in Italy.