Gabriele Basilico (1944 – 2013) was an Italian photographer.
Born in Milan, Basilico trained as an architect and graduated from Milan Polytechnic in 1973. Architecture informed his work throughout his life but with the recent exception of a book on (and sponsored by) Scavolini kitchens, the interior world did not feature any more than the residents of the apartment blocks and factories he documented. On the rare occasions when people did figure in his photographs, it was not to inhabit, still less to belong there, but to exaggerate the monumental scale of the apparently empty buildings.
Italy inspired his portfolio throughout his life. His first major exhibition, held in Milan, presented factory portraits – not of the workers but of the buildings. It represented three years of work undertaken between 1978 and 1980. He then undertook a project documenting modernist architecture in Milan, seeking to give the impression in the photographs that time had been suspended. This was achieved, he explained, through lighting and the absence of traffic.
In 1990 Basilico went to Berlin to document the aftermath of the fall of the wall: the largely untouched, decaying grand avenues of the eastern zone were perfectly suited to his eye for the relics of abandon. In 1991, he accepted a commission to document Beirut in the wake of the 15-year-long Lebanese civil war. The bleak formality of the bullet-riddled, empty arcades was captured only with available light. Basilico’s sense of scale and absence was unique in this group project, sponsored by the foundation belonging to Rafik Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister assassinated in 2005, and including work by Josef Koudelka, René Burri, Raymond Depardon, Robert Frank and Fouad Elkoury.
Basilico, who later returned to Beirut, wrote on his first visit: “There were almost no street lamps and buildings looked like ghosts. The only noise was that of electricity generators. Space was perceptible but not matter. The atmosphere was heavy and intriguing.” He later concluded: “It seemed to me some people had just left and others were about to return. All in all, the situation seemed almost normal – the city had just entered a long period of waiting.”