Balthazar Korab was one of the most sought-after professional photographers of architecture in the United States during the 1960s. Korab will often claim that his life and career have been shaped more by coincidences than any premeditated plan. Most pale in comparison, however, to the momentous events of November 4, 1966, when the Arno River - inundated with two weeks of rain and several dam breaches - rose to the highest levels since 1333 and created one of the most damaging natural disasters in the history of Florence.
In the fall of 1966 Korab decided to take a hiatus and rejuvenate during a one-year sabbatical in Italy with his wife and his children.
The Korabs had just settled into a small apartment in the hills of Settignano when they woke early in the morning to word of the raging floods in Florence’s city center. Equipped with his Hasselblad medium-format camera and five rolls of film, Korab made his way into Florence to document the dramatic events. At times submerged up to his chest, Korab moved through the frigid waters to capture some of the most extraordinary images of the flood and its immediate aftermath. The next morning he drove to Rome to process the film. Once the water subsided, Korab continued to roam the streets, documenting. During the days and weeks following the flood, Korab spent much of his time moving throughout the city documenting the damage to the city’s buildings, monuments, and works of art, and the enormous efforts by professionals and volunteers helping to salvage the most precious materials from the Uffizi Gallery, the Institute and Museum of the History of Science, and the National Central Library.
Text by John Comazzi
Associate Professor of Architecture, Affiliate Faculty in Landscape Architecture College of Design - University of Minnesota