The Presence of Absence:

Massimo Listri and the Intimacy of Architecture

Photographs by Massimo Listri
Text by Irene Panzani

The absence of any human presence enhances the slight uneasiness the viewer feels when confronted with his multiple picture planes. This infinity of depths and possibilities can only be imagined and dreamt of; a sort of empty theatrical stage ready for any type of performance; each work a portal into a different adventure.


Derrida demonstrates that it is impossible for signification to be absolutely present. In doing so, he proves that only through mediated forms like language can one access signification. Importantly, for media theory, representational absence becomes a form of presence.

—AMANDA BELL, ‘absence/presence’ via The Chicago School of Media Theory

The classroom chairs are empty; the opera stage is empty; so, too, are the palace chambers and the library desks. Yet all these spaces are soon made full by the imagination of the spectator. They represent a state of in-between: between the closing and the opening, action and the absence of action, public exposure and the retreat in the intimacy of their architecture.

Massimo Listri is not only a masterful documenter of interiors. His photographs capture a sense of presence without physical human presence, spaces that are humanized by their architectonic meaning. What is a library without readers? What is a house without its inhabitants? We might say they become pieces of art whose wholeness derives from their essential structural beauty. Still, we cannot conceive of these spaces without bodies acting in or on them.

Thus the libraries, palaces, and operas depicted by Listri all act as stages lying empty just before or just after the human show. They invoke the presence of absence, a suspended moment, a “waiting for Godot.” In the photographic hic et nunc, the images offer us not only a profound sense of interior space, but also the sense of time’s passage, so that we perceive suggestions of physical and temporal movement even where reality is by nature fixed.

My photography is an expression of tranquility and silence in this chaotic society – a sense of perspective and equilibrium. This is therapy for the soul. Every time I take a photo is like the first time a treasure is revealed, a first emotion, be it an empty room or the greatest treasures of the Vatican.


Massimo Listri, born in 1953, began his career as a photographer at a very young age. During his university years contributed numerous photographic services to publications devoted to Art, Architecture, and Interior Design. In 1981 Massimo founded the internationally renowned magazine and art books FMR, with the publisher Franco Maria Ricci and Vittorio Sgarbi. For 20 years this beautiful magazine served as the major vehicle for the expression of Massimo’s photographic essays of the most beautiful Palaces, Villas, Interior Design, and Architecture from all periods. In thirty years Massimo has published more than 60 books with the most prestigious publishers in Europe and the United States. In addition, he has exhibited his work at numerous “single artist” exhibitions throughout the world.

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