Released in February 2019, The Rainbow is Underestimated by Italian Piero Percoco, now out of print, still brightened up the Skinnerboox stand at Paris Photo. This unpresuming publication has met with great success, bringing us close enough to the rainbow to see it in all of its nuances, more Italian than ever.
This little blue square makes for a curious object: an iridescent pane illuminates the cover, and one is almost surprised to lift it and find a book. But as soon as you open it, images come spilling out like from a treasure chest. The Rainbow is Underestimated, Piero Percoco’s second publication with the Italian publisher Skinnerboox, is among those (all too rare) books which provide an inexhaustible source of pleasure, and which the reader discovers with satisfaction and never ceases to savor.
The images produce an unsettling effect, like Proust’s madeleine and or your childhood Cracker Jacks. Part sunny, snappy photo frame, part multifaceted plaything, Percoco’s book is a nugget, one of those that sparkles in many colors when held up to light.
Somewhere over the rainbow
This unusual, iridescent rainbow cover sets off a many-colored treasure hunt in The Rainbow is Underestimated. As light falls across it, like magic, it unfurls the full light spectrum. This first dip into the rainbow is quite simple and signals the content of the volume, patiently composed by Piero Percoco and published in the most modest format. The journey through the photographer’s world begins in earnest with page one, with a view of an empty street flooded by sunlight, and holds the reader captive through 240 images, till the very last, to a chaotic jumble of colored rubber bands.
Piero Percoco painstakingly selected every image among the body of photographs he had made over the course of five years in his native Puglia, the heel of Italy’s “boot.” While the Italian identity of the photographer and his work is undeniable, the visual, aesthetic force of the photographs is transcendent. The reader is instantly and intensely propelled into Percoco’s rainbow universe: landscapes and portraits, close-ups and wide shots are strung up together without any break, linked by the lively presence of color. But this is obvious. This super-concentrated color is contained, vividly, in every single thing. It radiates and by itself tells a saturated, slightly tangy, and therefore delightful narrative. Like the countless pieces of fruit, syrups, and flowers that succeed one another in the photographs, Percoco’s colors must be gathered and savored to make the rainbow last even after it has stopped raining.
Puglia in color
It is impossible, however, to completely set aside the regional aspect of the book, since its colors come to life above all in vignettes from the Italian South. In framing, the irony of the detail, and the emphasis on the landscape, one detects traces of the history of photography which influenced every generation, starting with Luigi Ghirri. Like many of his predecessors, Percoco seems obsessed by space, emptiness, and shadows: the specks of light that enhance colors or, on the contrary, obscure them.
This “Kodachrome” vision of Italy is felt at every level, justifying the sequencing of the images throughout the book. The Rainbow is Underestimated is delectable in its chromatic and visual juxtapositions as much as in its semantic and metaphoric associations, which propel the reader from image to image. In one picture, the grid of a tomato-red fly swat replicated in its own shadow falling across a green tabletop prefigures the grid of an insect screen netting the infinity of the sky. In another image, dentures suspended in blue liquid lead up, caustically, to the portrait of a retiree. This associative method, just like its color themes, makes the book in turns poetic, wry, touching, and goofy. From the green, white, and red flag to blue, yellow, and red rubber bands, The Rainbow is Understimated is without a doubt one of the most beautiful photobook journeys of the year.
By Anne Laurens
Piero Percoco, The Rainbow is Underestimated
Skinnerboox, February 2019, 240pp
Edition of 600