Taipei 2007


10th of December. Monday.

The underground is taking me to the tallest skyscraper of the world, the Taipei 101. I am on an assignment for a new magazine for IlSole24Ore.

My life is photography! I am still amazed by it.

The sun is warm and I thought this meeting at noon was going to mess up my schedule; the Leica is hanging from my neck, walking fast towards the underground. The area where I live is very crowded during the day, but gets almost deserted at night.

At the entrance of the underground, I am on top of some steps, on a higher ground. I turn around and three strangers are making up perfect layers… I am about to take the first shot when a beautiful little girl comes running in all her glory, like a colourful paper in the midst of the asphalt. She is dressed in red, her long hair flowing in the wind, then she backs up a meter or two to hug her father that was about to arrive. I shoot! What marvellous things instants are. I take a shower and prepare the cameras. Colour for the photos at night. I think I am going to use the 6x7 Makina and my 6x12 with the German lens.


Notes 2008


I have always thought that talking about photography was not going to be a topic of great interest for those around me. Maybe being worried about the different degree of importance that photography has in my life, compared to that of those who work directly with images and pictures, I have talked more often about photographic techniques and sometimes of photographers. I have always preferred to look at pictures and images, searching for inspiration and looking for a comparison in books and book shops, but only so often I actually ended up talking about what Photography means to me. It is not about what I rationally think, but more about the emotional relationship that I have developed with Photography. At the end you will realise mine is a talk about a relationship and the practical necessities that this work comes with.

Photography is the subject and the art that more than any other has changed our perception of the world and, to some extent, of ourselves as well. Just think about the earliest representations of the distant geographies or the identity game of looking at ourselves bi-dimensionally pictured, on paper first and then in the movies. Apparently so diverse, these two means of knowledge and experience have found in photography the trigger, the fuse, the starting point from which all the shapes of Desire start moving forward.

What is Photography behind the camera? What is Photography for those that make it? For me it’s a lot of things, but first and foremost it’s a search for freedom and a sought-after privilege, therefore relished.

Up to now (2008) I have visited around 40 countries and lived for short period of times in all the biggest cities of the world, going from the wars and the dead of earthquakes first, to street and documentary photography after, through a path of fundamental personal and civil analysis of who I am and what I am looking for. The freedom I talk about comes from the curiosity of someone on a quest, someone that is foreseeing and dreaming, taking the dream and transforming it into reality, into time that glides on the skin and experience that runs on the streets of the world. This path has sometimes been walked alone, rarely with someone else and, in some difficult places, with my girlfriend, in the cold China. The feet hurt and the nights are timeless, like those of the youngsters in summer. Elena told me once “You cannot take a picture of the world if you don’t feel the world itself deep inside you. Otherwise you would be making other genres, taking other pictures…”

Making photography requires a huge passion for the world.


Thoughts about photography


Some weeks ago I have been asked to teach a class in Italy coming back from Beirut. I would have been free to select paths and topics to discuss and I was actually already thinking to talk about Narrative Photography and how it represents the inexhaustible fuel for the love that photography requires. I thought it was a great topic to divert the attention from the obsession for the technique that often powers the curiosity of aficionados. Then, I was walking in Beirut and I started thinking about time: the time for projects and the time for experiences.

Beirut made me think about it, because of how hard it is to describe this place.

There are cities-theatre where portraying life happens every day in the chaos of the flow of thousands of people; your eye and your personal sensitivity choose which scene to tell and where to get lost. I think about New York or Shanghai or to our Napoli.

Beirut is not at all like that. All the layers that have been created in the fabric of history and the resulting emotional vertigo and building diversity make of the city a broken place, where even on the most immediate visual tier, the images of an archaic life are swirled with more contemporary buildings and perceptions.

Beirut is an excuse to talk about the time of photography.

In New York or Napoli the use of images comes from an iconography that is renewable and renewed, but still expected, present, there to grasp. The time of your own adapting is the only limit that separates us from the representation of the city.

In places like Beirut, in opposition to this, there is no theatricality in the street, no performances en plein air.


I had seen Beirut in 1999 when I was 25 year old: it was hard and though, but now it is a full-on city, even in its gigantic contradictions. 

I have been in this café for the first time with Lina. The wind of the Mediterranean and the perfumes of the young girls blend together and talk about this new Middle-East that I had not visited in years. The loud families are waiting for the hotter hours to pass by in order take possession of the black and grey rocks, on top of which they settle down almost like they knew all the shapes, crevices and flowing of the reef. The humanity here is so multi-coloured that I can’t recognise anymore all the somatic traits merged from thousands of different influences

Smell of Turkish coffee and freshly baked bread to eat the hummus that I love.

Sometimes I feel like I had a thousand lives in the places where I have been, sliding through the streets, in the boroughs and in the houses, in a never-ending movement, balancing the solitude that photography requires and the need of blending-in, sharing, knowing new worlds, different upbringings, someone else’s limits, all to know my own limits.

While I ask myself about this, I am reading Etel Adnan.

A new love has blossomed in between the pages of her letters and novels. A linguistic tenderness is opening my eyes and spreading my wings. This amazing poet is a friend of friends: we will dine together tomorrow at Serge’s place.

The need of writing is overwhelming me while I read her, as much as the desire of not losing anything I am experiencing, of not losing the chance of saying and communicating with all the means that we can use…

Isn’t this one of the most intimate and strong reasons for making photography? Can photography be this usual and familiar?

Probably not, even more because of its selective and exclusive nature, that touches very different strings. The need of being present and ready with ourselves makes photography a mean of self-consciousness, a mean of the thinking look.

For the moment I will leave to “Letter to Fawazz” the beauty of being able to talk to me of women and life, in the beautiful analysis made by Adnan. While I write, a piece of the paper that I have here on the table, bought yesterday in Damascus, flies away in front of me, towards the sea. I just grab the camera: blessed be photography!


Beirut. Etel Adnan 2010