It began like most Saturdays did.
Carlotta di Lenardo was having lunch at her grandparents’ house in Udine, a city in northeastern Italy, when her grandfather took her up to his library. Behind the books was a doorway that opened up to a secret attic room, like a portal into another world.
In a sense, it was: stashed away in the space were more than 8,000 stunning photographs that the man, Alberto di Lenardo, took throughout his life, still perfectly preserved in all their hyper-saturated Kodachrome glory.
“During lunch, he told me the story of how he was ‘making my dad fly’ using just a pillow so he wanted to show me some photos of it,” Carlotta tells Artnet News. “As he was going through them to find it, I immediately fell in love with those images. By the end of that first folder I became his art dealer.”
For the young woman, the photographs told the story of her young grandfather, a “courtly” man, as she describes him, with a love of travel and adventure and a wry sense of humor.
For anyone else, they read like a Douglas Sirk-ian trip through mid-century Mediterranean life, filled with hunking cars and tin-can trains, sun-basking women and quiff-haired men.
A selection di Lenardo’s photos make up An Attic Full of Trains, a new book edited by Carlotta. It’s out this August through MACK, marking the first time the pictures will be published.
“With my edit, I tried to show [my grandfather’s] inner serenity and how ironic—but also really romantic—most of the images are,” Carlotta di Lenardo explains.
“He was always on the road with my grandmother and their friends, so I just wanted to give this sense of journey and freedom that I get every time I go through his archive.”
Carlotta, now in her mid-20s, says the book took her half a decade to complete. Sadly, Alberto didn’t make it that long.
“The moment I found out he was getting really sick had also been the moment when I decided to finalize the project,” she says, noting that she put together a draft of the book shortly thereafter. “I then gave that copy to my dad in Italy, who took the book with him in one of his last visits he made to see my grandfather, together with my aunt and my grandmother.
“All three of them remember that as one of the last carefree moments they had with him, looking together through the book, bringing up memories and hearing him telling them stories about each image. We decided to leave with him that first copy before he passed away.”
Alberto had it with him when he died in the summer of 2018.
See more of Alberto di Lenardo’s photographs below.