A gift from their late publisher was the catalyst for a beguiling new project from the photographers, one with infinite possibilities
When revered publisher Gigi Giannuzzi passed away in late 2012, he left a legacy of ground breaking photography books and a reputation as one of the most vivacious characters on London’s art scene. He also planted the seed of an idea. Back in 2003, as Ghetto, the lauded photo-book by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, was cascading through printing presses, the Trolley Books founder was busy stockpiling the book’s ‘scarti’.
‘Scarti’ translates as ‘scraps’ in Italian. ‘Scarti di avviamento’ is the technical term for paper that’s fed through a printing press twice to clean the drums of ink between print runs. These scraps are usually discarded but Gianuzzi saw something magical in the resulting layering of images: contradiction, juxtaposition, and poignancy.
“Adam cut up with Gigi in his flat in Venice at the time, then we forgot about them over the years,” says Oliver. “It was when the book about Gigi and Trolley – Trolleyology – was being made that the box made a reappearance. Before he died Gigi had said that the book should show new material, not repeat things that had been published before. Hannah Watson at Trolley remembered seeing them years before and went about trying to find them for Trolleyology, searching through hundreds of boxes. When we saw them, we immediately said, ‘Let’s do a book” – the result is Scarti.For Ghetto, the Deutsche Börse Prize-winning pair visited “12 modern ghettos”, from a maximum-security prison in South Africa, to a psychiatric hospital in Cuba. The photographs they took helped define the Trolley Books aesthetic: hard-hitting documentary photography mixed with cutting-edge design. Scarti throws these images into a giant tombola.The results, though a series of “little accidents”, appear almost purposeful in places: the laughing psychiatric patient transposed onto a row of truncheons; a patient from the same hospital draped at the feet of a cross-dressing prison inmate – they’re too good to be true. Are the scarti in the book the best of the best so to speak? Did they find themselves discarding sheets of less successful material, or were they really that lucky?
Adam: “We used the best ones, which is over half of all that were originally saved. It’s still quite an amazing number if you think about it – there are 40 in the book in total. Many people find it hard to believe that they’re all accidents, but they are.”
They insist Scarti is an “entirely separate body of work” and the original images from Ghetto are almost unrecognisable in this new context. This is partly true: the original images are far from unrecognisable, but many take on new meanings, some clash and some simply are. Some benefit from an injection of humour, such as the image showing a retired Disney publicist perched on the knee of a stern looking gentlemen, above the caption “What is your earliest memory? Sitting on daddy’s lap learning to whistle.”
The duo has produced several accompanying artworks entitled Scarti of Scarti, composed of images from the book printed over the pages of an Italian furniture catalogue. Here’s a thought then: if the possibilities of scarti are infinite, like the decimal points of pi, the temptation would be to push the method to the extremes of poignancy and absurdity. “We’re drawn to the idea that continuous reprinting could eventually lead to a black sheet off the printing press, saturated in chance, incomprehensible images,” says Adam.The book wouldn’t have happened without the foresight of Gigi Gianuzzi and in many ways the images in Scarti reflect the personality of the notoriously manic Bon Viveur who once pushed his books around Frankfurt Art Fair in a shopping trolley, hence the name. “Gigi certainly had an eye for the unexpected and beautiful,” says Oliver.