The Tomba Brion Cemetery
Inside Carlo Scarpa’s Last Great Concrete Masterpiece
It’s impossible not to be swept up by Carlo Scarpa’s designs. One of the most famous 20th Century Italian architects. Whether standing in the shadow of Scarpa’s final concrete masterpiece, the Tomba Brion Cemetery in San Vitelo d’Altivole, Treviso, Italy, or even scrolling through photographs of his evocative monument on a tiny phone screen, it is easy to see Scarpa as a magician. He transformed solid concrete into serenity, pulled on references like the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, Mark Rothko, Josef Hoffman and channelled solemnity without morbidity. Scarpa deeply understood how to weave together and celebrate, the ancient and modern. It’s a design which Scarpa, with great modesty, noted, ‘will get better over time’.
Paris-based fashion and architecture photographer Clément Vayssieres has documented the tomb and sanctuary, which was commissioned by Ororina Tomasi Brion. He described his visit as a pilgrimage. “When I become obsessed with something I have to go take photographs of it.” He said, “And I have become obsessed with Carlo Scarpa’s architecture and furniture. I had planned a trip to Venice during the Carnival but the real goal was to go visit the Scarpa buildings in the area, (the Olivetti Showroom, Venezuela Biennale Pavillion, Querini Stampalia Foundation). The cemetery was the cherry on the top. It seemed to me that Onorina Tomasi Brion had given a ‘carte blanche’ to Scarpa who decided to let his imagination run wild.
San Vito d’Altivole is not easy to access if you don’t have a car, and after two small trains, one bus and getting lost in the Italian countryside in the cold winter, I arrived at the cemetery. The modernism, pure shapes, almost ancient Egyptian hints, touches of colours, and an overwhelming sense of the serenity of the location really struck me. There is almost a Zen feeling to the space. It really doesn’t feel like you’re in the middle of an Italian village in the Veneto region. It feels out of time and place.I spent all of the afternoon there and when the sun started to go down, I had the surprise of witnessing an actual funeral procession from the village to the cemetery. The village still uses it as their cemetery. It felt very surreal to see this line of people holding a coffin and statues of the Virgin Mary with these architectural shapes in the background.
We asked Clémant;
What camera do you use?
I use a lot of different cameras, film and digital, but I’d say my go-to is a Mamiya 7 II with a simple 80mm.
What is your creative process?
I can’t say I really have one. It’s mostly about the story you’re trying to convey and the connection you have to the subject. Basically, what are you trying to say?
Do you have a favourite photo?
Hard to pick just one but I always come back to the work of Philip Lorca di Corcia. I really love his way of mixing landscape and portrait, the atmosphere, the colours, the lighting. Everything is just perfect.
There is also this very simple photograph by Robert Doisneau where a Parisian policeman walks in front of an old cabaret: L’Enfer, ‘hell’ in French. I’ve always loved this picture. The purity of street photography.
Is there a stand out location you have shot?
The Tomba Brion is definitely amongst them. I would add Angkor Thom in Cambodia, Baalbek in Lebanon and the Spanish sculptor Xavier Corbero’s house near Barcelona. I also used to assist photographers for years and there was this shoot where we spent 10 days sleeping and working inside the Vatican. Very memorable.
How do you choose what goes on Instagram and what doesn’t?
That is a tough question. First, it definitely needs to stand out as a picture, to be rather immediate. There a lot of pictures I love that have never been posted because they don’t have that « in your face » quality.
Unfortunately also, since they will be looked at on a small screen, they cannot have too much detail. I’m afraid master photographers like Jeff Wall would have had a hard time dealing with Instagram.
What sparked your interest to become a photographer?
Definitely movies. I’m obsessed with cinema.
When you are looking at your shots what details stand out for you?
First, what are you trying to say? Did you tell this right?
But more and more I see that I’m quite obsessive with texture and colours. If they’re not right, it’s not a picture.
The evolution of photography; what’s coming next?
I feel like there are very exciting things coming from 3D imaging and all these technologies. We’re not there yet but it’s coming.
Also, phones are in everybody’ pockets now. You see amazing images being created every day by people who don’t even realize they’re doing a great shot. I really think the next biggest documentary photographer will just be a kid with a phone.
At the same time, there are very unexciting things coming like automatic depth of field and facelift filters.
Clément Vayssières is a photographer based in Paris. His work revolves around architecture and portrait.
All images the copyright of Clément Vayssieres ©
Carlo Scarpa 1906 – 1978