photographer / Sannicandro di Bari (Italy)
1. Can you tell me a little bit about what you do?
I am a photographer based in Sannicandro, a small town near Bari (Italy).
I found it quite difficult to work as an artist in Southern Italy. It took me around 9 years to get my first paid commissions — but now I am quite busy with work. I have recently been commissioned to do a few jobs with a couple of wineries, the most recent with Tormaresca, a well known Apulian wine producer. They’ve given me creative freedom to put together a set of photos depicting what everyday life looks in Apulian villages. They have also offered to support me to exhibit at PHest, an international photography festival in Monopoli near Bari.
This is a great opportunity. It’s not just paid work, but something I have been asked to do in my own way. Something similar happened when I worked for Belvedere Vodka and Technogym — both times I was given carte blanche.
Deciding to remain in my hometown was a conscious decision. I can’t say I don’t feel stuck here, and am often bored. But at the same time I know that if I moved somewhere else, Milan for example, being a photographer would not have made sense in the way it does for me here and now.
I have big hopes for a future here in Sannicandro. A future full of exciting things, like workshops, that attract people from all over, creating opportunities to work on amazing projects together.
2. Why do you make art? What are your main sources of motivation?
For me, being a photographer does not just mean taking photos, but rather discovering what my identity is about through images and finding my own unique way to tell my story.
I am at a point where I am beyond gaining inspiration from the work of others. Of course I am still influenced by other photographers, like Stephen Shore or William Eggleston, but I am mainly inspired by life itself and how my childhood and the often traumatic experiences of those years informed the rest of my life.
This is true on many levels: most of the colours I use for example — the reds, the blues, the yellows — derive from those early years. I am well aware that my identity as a photographer has its roots in those memories at a deep subconscious level.
3.What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of your early days as an artist?
A lot of distress. I am quite naive and was even more so when I was younger. People used to get to me a lot and tried to take advantage of me quite often. I got stronger with time and developed my own coping mechanisms — now, whenever I feel the slightest sign of abusiveness towards me, I turn into a tiger.
My approach to photography has always been very instinctive: in the way I capture images without too much thinking I am a like predator voraciously attacking its prey. At the beginning of my career I used to feel very uncomfortable with the idea of creating with a project in mind — but I am currently transitioning to a different approach.
4. What was the first opportunity you were offered in the arts? Would you have liked to have had different ones? As time went by, how did opportunities influence your practice?
The first great opportunity came in 2017 when I won a competition with Vogue Italy. I was given a smartphone and asked to take photographs of the Milan Fashion Week. Then in 2018 The Newyorker asked me to post on their Instagram profile. I remember the first photograph I posted on their feed was next to a photo of Barack Obama. Mine depicted my neighbour in Sannicandro. I thought: wow—from Sannicandro to the Newyorker...that’s f** exciting.
5. What were the first risks you had to take? Do you think the challenges you had to face gradually evolved with your practice?
This job is constantly in flux. Unless one are renowned it is very difficult to make a living from one’s work. It’s only now after several years of diligently paying my dues that I start getting enough exposure and invitations to lectures, workshops and exhibitions.
6. How do the risks you take influence your work today?
Working on what I love and getting paid for it is a dream with capital D. Getting financial support for my projects is a great incentive to get the best out of myself and given the unpredictable nature of this job, I find that the most effective way to avoid losing myself to remain honest and mindful.
7. What puts you at ease when experimenting with something unfamiliar or trying out a new approach?
I am currently interested in two subjects. One is nature. Given how much strength and pleasure I gain from working in nature I want to start a project to portray nature in a very personal way...flowers, insects, trees.
The other project I am thinking of is about a social housing estate overlooking the Mediterranean sea in San Girolamo — a very impoverished neighbourhood in Bari. I want to explore the relationship between the occupation of buildings, especially their domestic interiors, and the seascape. It will be difficult given the demographic of the neighborhood but I would really like to test myself with this.
When I try something new and I manage to get a shot right I feel an incredible energy washing over me like a wave. That is when I know that the work that will come out of it has value. It doesn’t always happen — but when it does it’s just great.
8. When overcoming challenges, what is the role of your community of peers and mentors?
I don’t really have a community of peers here and I avoid comparing myself with others — but I do use Instagram to look at what photographers from all over the world are doing. This stimulates me a lot even though their practice might be completely different from mine. When publishing my book The Rainbow is Underestimated with Skinnerboox in 2019, my editor was definitely someone who helped me a lot.
9. Are you easily able to consider your work outside of the labels of ‘failure’ or ‘success’? If so, are there tools and techniques you use in thinking beyond these labels?
It is something very difficult to do. I am constantly dissatisfied — some people may say this is a good thing. No matter how much I achieve, I always want more. This can be a positive thing but not always easy.
10. If you could go back in time and give yourself a good piece of advice what would it be, and is that the same advice you give yourself today?
Don’t listen to people’s bullshit — especially when they promise you things they will never really commit to. I currently say no to a lot of things to safeguard myself from disappointments.
11. What are you working on at the moment, and is there anything particular that excites you?
I will be shooting at the Festa di San Nicola during the Frecce Tricolore to complete my series of photographs of people with smoke coming out of their head.