1st Edition

Photography, Architecture, and the Modern Italian Landscape Primitivism and Progress

By Lindsay Harris Copyright 2025
    230 Pages 81 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Photography, Architecture, and the Modern Italian Landscape explores the impact of photography at a pivotal moment in Italian architecture and culture, focusing on the period between 1910 and the mid-1970s.

    The book analyzes architectural photographs taken by Italian cultural figures who helped transform the Italian landscape into what we know today. This study charts the oscillation of Italians’ ideas about what progress signified. For example, the book demonstrates that for writers and artists familiar with ancient ideas about civilization in 1910, the Roman countryside exemplified the contradictions inherent in primitivism. On the one hand, their photographs praised the region’s primordial beauty, yet their images condemned the crudeness of local living conditions. More broadly, it traces the history of primitivism and photography in Italy to show how cultural leaders’ alarm at the nation’s pre-modern living conditions, their aspiration to modernize them, and their grasp of photography to catalyze the process helped forge the modern Italian landscape—its monuments, housing, infrastructure, and natural environments.  At the same time, it explores a vibrant period in photographic history when the advent of photographic reproduction as a commercial process developed into a medium with its own visual style capable of shaping ideas about modernity. This new image-making and reproduction technology empowered Italy’s cultural leaders not simply to represent the Italian landscape through photography, but to determine how it developed.

    Of interest to researchers and students from a range of disciplines, modern architecture, photography, and Italian studies, this book demonstrates the power of art to transform society and to reformulate our ideas of progress.

    List of illustrations


    Introduction: On Primitivism and Progress

    Chapter 1: “Fortified” Images of a Primitive Landscape: Arnaldo Cervesato’s Latina Tellus, 1910

    Chapter 2: A Photographic Survey of the Associazione Artistica fra i Cultori di Architettura, c. 1905–1935

    Chapter 3: A Modernist Vision of Rural Italian Architecture

    Chapter 4: “Unconventional Progress”: Photography in Matera, 1945–1980





    Lindsay Harris is a scholar of modern and contemporary art and architecture, with an emphasis on the history of photography. Her research investigates the ways photographs both document and shape the course of modernity. She has contributed to exhibitions at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, the Joan Miro Foundation, Barcelona, and the American Academy in Rome, where she was awarded a postdoctoral fellowship and served as the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities and the Andrew Heiskell Arts Director. She presently heads the Research and Scholars Center at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.