INTERVIEWED BY GIOVANNI SPADACCINI FOR THE RELEASE OF "SCULPTURES".
Giovanni Spadaccini, 1980. PHD in Anthropology & Aesthetics. Rare book dealer. Italy based
G: Do you find it normal, as a photographer, to talk about photography? I bring this question up at the beginning because to me discussing about photography has always seemed strange, almost paradoxical, as I find the theoretical analyses on photography strange, somehow independent from the artistic production in the strict sense. Excluding perhaps some photographers who theorize and write on their own vision, it seems to me that the theoretical discourse on photography remains on the side as an attempt to add something that is not necessary.
A: I like to talk about photography, perhaps just because I am not a theoretician and photography theory has never interested me much, because I believe, as you say, that theory has never had a great influence on the photographic practice - a tangible influence on the photographic works, I mean. I have always been interested, instead, by relating the photographic practice to the real existence of people (myself included), to memories, to the traces from my travels.
G: Indeed, your travels. Shortly before I met you, I thought how important it is, for a photographer like you, to physically move in order to take pictures. To move your body in space in order to go and grasp the real thing. Also this project on Washington, even if different from your previous ones, is the result of a movement, as if it was a real research method.
A: It's true, although this aspect is now less pronounced than how it was in the start, when I was moved by the desire to photograph far away places, the need of knowing the world, of exploring diversity and distance. Then, things changed in time, and I felt that somehow I lost the sense of diversity in terms of aesthetics (the search of the exotic, for example) and I rather acquired a strong push to go where other lives are. I no longer search for someone or something different from me, I look at how the others live, driven by more sincere human curiosity and empathy.
G: In fact, your photographs are designed to be viewed in a series, in a sequence, and not to be hung solitary on a wall, because that "anthropological" aspect, which is a bit the hallmark of what you do, would be lost. It is no longer, to say it in Ghirri's words, a matter of renewing the wonder, because our eye is already very compromised and disenchanted, but of being guided in a narration of reality, right?
A: That's what I tried to explain to the students of a workshop I'm giving in these days. These people come to class with the idea that a "plastic" photograph (that is, a photograph which is fully completed in its own lines and movements) is still the dominant one, it's the picture that "must be done". On this point, I tried to prove them wrong, because I don't believe in this vision and it's an idea that doesn't satisfy me. You used the term “series”, but I imagine what I do as an abacus, on which moments and fractions of the world rank in a line and build up a vision, something that stays together. That's why storytelling doesn't interest me at all: in my case, it's more like a kind of accumulation, stratification of looks, experiences and memories, which over time becomes a catalog of observations on humanity.
G: This is basically an idea of experience, right?
A: Yes, of course.
G: That is, photography as documentation of experience. A fascinating thing - however obvious - is that the photographer's work grows and refines through the accumulation of experience, that is, following the chronological sequence of the photographer's life.
A: Yes, but it's not said that it grows into a climax, I think it's a curve that goes up and down depending on the moment in life, so I am not one of those who think that a photographer gives the best of himself within the age of 40. Mainly reportage photographershave such an idea, but it's essentially linked to a question of health and physical shape, which prevents them from doing certain things after a certain age. From my point of view, I do not think it's necessary to have this kind of daily energy, in my work I seek a form of power that is nestled into the look.
G: Maybe what you say has to do with your philosophical education or, better, with an understanding of philosophy as research of the concept's intensity. Philosophical practice is often described as a kind of look from a distance, while the great books ofhistory of Western philosophy are there just to prove the contrary and don't hide this research, nor the suffering that their authors felt about the things of this world and their being wounded by them to the point of seeking answers all the time.
A: What you say touches a subject that is close to my heart, so much so that the word you used, intensity, is the one I most often use to define myself and my work. I tend to think that photography can give the opportunity to penetrate the intensity of the world through the surprise – similar to an upheaval, at times - that we feel in front of it. In my work I consider very important the moments when I don't have the camera in myhand and I become a spectator, I let myself be invaded by things and it's in those moments, how Aristotle says, that astonishment and wonder lie. I say this even though I don't consider myself as a “hot photographer”, one that applies moral or ideological categories to the human beings.
G: I often think that the aspect which, above all the others, defines an artist's aesthetics is the conception of time. We talked about ideology before and, if you notice, the artists who are short of breath, those who remain glued to their time, are those who are most strongly linked to an ideology, because out of their time they become aphasic, they almost don't speak anymore. I am convinced that every great artist has an idea of time that is different from the usual, vectorial one. I think the most powerful artists, those who are able to transmit that intensity we were talking about, see human history as a perpetual contemporaneity, and they perceive themselves contemporary to artists from the past, because the human being's happiness or suffering is always actual.
A: Well, I can't avoid to think about the universality I find whenever I approach everyday and normal situations. It's a question of character, an aspect of my personality that I can't do without, and that sometimes, instead of being an expansivecondition, becomes limiting, difficult but necessary.
G: I would like you to speak about this book on Washington, if you feel like. Why did you go to document the protest for civil rights by Blacks? What did push you, a white Italian, to be a witness to such an event?
A: I'm surprised myself, I never imagined i could leave in order to document a single day of a manifestation. And I still feel this surprise, but I wanted to be present at the biggest event for the rights of Afroamericans from Martin Luther King's times. The very strong sense of brotherhood I felt towards this human and ethnic group of people was triggered in me by a love affair I had with an Afroamerican girl (born in Italy from American father): when the riots in Ferguson started, I asked myself what I could do to bear witness to the very serious events that were taking place there and, at the same time, to demonstrate my closeness to the person I loved.
G: The photographer's work is very often a lonely job that allows you to deal with abstract and universal concepts: the Masses, the Afroamericans, the Man, the Workers and in this case, abstraction into abstraction, the Human Rights. This characteristic is what can make you feel close to a cause such as the protest in Washington, which, on paper, is the farest issue from your personal history you could deal with. At the same time, because of this person you were with back then, your intimacy was strongly implicated, a part of your life was involved there.
A: Actually, there is nothing more abstract than rights. I believe that a photographer should find an intersection between the intimate and the universal spheres with great delicacy, and in this sense the love story I lived in those days helped me a lot to get to face something that is so far away from me in terms of belonging, but that is within me in terms of life experience, and I couldn't do so if I was equipped only with my own identity. That's what I hope I was able to record: not so much the protest itself, but rather the contemporary black America. The people who was there to demonstrate didn't come from the most humble social classes, the ones that are more frequently subjected to violence by the police, but from a black middle class that is not even directly affected by these issues. They were not the Blacks from Ferguson, not even those from the suburbs of Chicago or Detroit, but a bourgeoisie that stood up for the rights of their brothers, who were absent.
G: Speaking again of universal concepts: you left in order to photograph an idea of belonging and cohesion and you came back with a documentation of a deep split.
A: I didn't find the magic of a great hope, but rather the fragmentation I often see in other human groups, a complete universe that is totally fragmented, the end of the experience of social cohesion.