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Theoretical Papers

Vol. 2 No. 1 (2017): Crossing Borders, Shifting Boundaries: Photography and Architecture

Re-interpreting Kidder Smith’s Italy Builds: crossovers between photography and architecture




George Everard Kidder Smith (1913-1997) was an American architect and photographer. Photo historian Robert Elwall (1953-2012) considered him as an “architectural photographer on the run” because he travelled widely and “seldom taking more than fifteen minutes over a shot, never using lights and relying on local labs to process his films, yet still producing consistently impressive, richly textured prints”[1]. Trained also as an architectural writer and, like many of his generation, using the camera as a tool of analysis and memory, Kidder Smith knew a certain amount of history but by no means considered himself an historian. His book Italy Builds: Its modern architecture and native inheritance (1955) is a collection of astonishing architectural photographs, data and critical comment upon the traditional and modern architecture. The many forms of visual narratives adopted by the author became a valuable index to the kind of building the young mid-twentieth-century architect was prepared to see when he travelled Italy. He thus simply records what has interested him in the architecture of the past and present, and the photographs and explanatory text directly reveal how he has seen it. His eyes goes first toward the primitive: the solid, earth-heavy shapes of masonry, the panels of brickwork, the skeletons of wood, the directly functional types, the solemn personi cation of human qualities in the landscape. When Kidder Smith turns to contemporary Italian architecture he consequently develops new standards of judgments. He encapsulates in his photographs the great range of Italy’s modernist experience, always elegant, and usually with an intelligent touch.