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Realism before beauty

Jan-Carlos Kucharek

Rather than the beauty of yesterday in Bologna’s medieval streets, desolation in post-industrial east London frames a view of the future for photographer Luca Piffaretti

Aberfeldy Vision, 2021
Aberfeldy Vision, 2021 Credit: Luca Piffaretti

Speaking from his dad’s home overlooking Lake Como, Luca Piffaretti confirms it’s a fine view. But for a photographer, beauty can be as problematic as ugliness, as he found while at university in Bologna, wandering its medieval streets as a keen amateur. ‘It’s a lovely city but every time you point your lens, you’re just photographing the past,’ he muses. That frustration with looking back drew him to London for a photojournalism Masters, and he’s been here ever since.

His London wanders are less picturesque. In lockdown, he passed vacant hours on a pilgrimage along the River Lea from Stratford photographing its derelict landscape; warehouses, post-industrial and scrub land – and the new residential developments threatening to engulf them all. This view he took in Aberfeldy Village in Poplar no longer exists; hoardings up, the site is being built on. The shot was taken on a February afternoon as the sun set behind Canary Wharf, giving the sky ‘a burned-out, dreamy look’. He used film to make himself choose wisely and commit to the exposure.

Piffaretti wishes he’d been here before the towers arrived and his image bears the trace of melancholy, but there’s solace in its title: ‘I called it ‘vision’ because London is ever-changing and it’s possible to frame what is yet to come; here, you can capture the future.’

Fuji GW680 (medium format) on Kodak Portra 400 film