Ugo La Pietra – Viaggio sul Reno 1974

Review by Gerhard Clausing

In these pandemic times, when some consider cruises and cruise ships risky leisure activities because of the sequestered environment participants are subject to (which, by the way, can also be an asset if viruses are absent because nothing new is introduced during the trip), it is heartening to see a project such as this that celebrates a former, more carefree way of spending such a vacation. At the same time this might also give us hope that such a time will soon return.

Ugo La Pietra takes us to the past, 1974 to be exact, when he and some friends shared a cruise vacation on the Rhine River. The mythology involving the Rhine goes back many centuries, with one of the key stories involving the infamous Lorelei, sitting on her rock, a figure so captivating that the boatsmen dashed their boats into the rocks below. I have written about another approach to surveying the Rhine in my review of RheinRevue by Christiane Haid.

La Pietra’s project is different. As a photographer who is also a designer and a filmmaker, he has an excellent sense of visual variation and cinematic sequencing for storytelling purposes. Thus the photographs are supplemented by drawings and observations in the form of texts as we progress through the journey along with him and his friends. We participate in the experience, and the shoreline sights can be observed from the perspective of being on the boat along with them. The emphasis is always on interaction or lack of it, on communication and discovery. It is almost like an experiment in time travel and transverse culture, to see a river cruise in Germany through the eyes of young Italians, now, some 40 years later.

And, of course, there are valuable insights. The external space is often at odds with one’s internal processes. Even if Lorelei sat on that rock and sang some enchanting songs, would we be able to hear her, since the exterior landscape rushes by silently, seen only at eye level through the windows … There is also a feeling of sameness, tedium perhaps, which the passengers must overcome. Getting in touch with yourself is part of the process. Getting to know the other passengers may be necessary, but not always exciting. And alas, not all that whizzed by in those big ship windows was so romantic, not even in 1974 … we see some commercial areas among the folklore-laden hills and valleys around the Rhine River.

A welcome glimpse into the past, from our current perspective, almost like being there yourself … a most enjoyable project to contemplate.

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Gerhard Clausing, PBJ Associate Editor, is a photographer and author from Southern California.

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Ugo La Pietra – Viaggio sul Reno 1974

Photographer:  Ugo La Pietra (born in Bussi sul Tirino, Pescara, Italy; lives in Milan, Italy)

Publisher:  Artphilein Editions SA, Lugano, Switzerland; © 2020

Texts and Drawings:  Ugo La Pietra

Languages:  Italian and English

Stiff cover, open sewn binding; 80 pages, unpaginated; 16 x 22 cm / 6.25 x 8.75 inches; printed and bound in Italy by Fontegrafica, Cinesello Balsamo. Edition of 500. ISBN 9788894375978

Photobook Designers:  Ugo La Pietra and Giulia Brivio

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Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).

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