Back in June 2016 me and a friend, Pietro Consolandi, decided to consider making a joint photo exposition – focusing on the pictures we took during our respective trips to Japan in that same year: I went with a friend for new year’s eve holidays while he went later in spring by himself.
We both had also previously been to Japan – my first trip was by myself, his in a group – and we shared the belief that a certain degree of knowledge of a country is required to enjoy it. I don’t mean that one has to have a complete understanding of the place one is travelling to, but the aim of the trip should not be just discovering it: it should not be solely history and social matters, but even just the everyday dimension of how the inhabitants live their own streets and country.
Speaking for myself, I tend to try being invisible – not to catch what they wouldn’t want to show a tourist, but just to be perceived as one of its own by the country itself, the shops, the streets and the poles, being given the chance to experience the same calmness and silence one feels when at home.
Those very streets were the primary focus in our pictures, and we decided to make them the common theme linking our productions for the exhibition – other than having been taken in Japan. We luckily both had rather prolific trips, on a photography-related point of view. I came back with 10 rolls of film shot on a 15-day span – which is a pretty impressive rate for someone as myself, who does not take a picture of everything, or neither a tightwad about his shots.
Giuditta Fullone joined the project as the sole curator of the exhibition – another person was involved at the beginning, but eventually ended up leaving the project following the printing of the promo material and before her tasks were due. Many early drafts guided us towards the final title and graphics for the exhibition: 道 ROAD, that which we portrayed during our trips – stuffed with people (my pictures) and colors (Pietro’s).
We made a first 10-pictures-each selection at the beginning, followed by a 15-pictures-each later in early 2017. Both times I had a really hard time choosing the pictures: I sure had 4-5 pictures I really liked – or, to be more clear, I felt confident were good enough – but also had some restrains in considering other pictures that still were fine, but maybe not ‘perfect’ to my eye. Being so self-critical sure is part of a positive attitude towards what I might – or might not – consider as ‘my artistic production’, and helped me develop a more keen eye when judging my pictures, but it also inhibits me from ever considering a project complete: to me there’s always more to add and refine.
Luckily that’s only an impulse I have, while I can count on the help from lucid reasoning to find a balance between considering all of my pictures either a sign of genius or of ineptitude. During the process of choosing 15 pictures for the exhibition, I ‘gave another chance’ to a picture portraying a deer-food seller, surrounded by fallow deers: once I got it printed, I appreciated much more the sense of isolation that it transmitted. I needed some time in order to see it with a renewed eye and notice more and more how it fits among a series of pictures with that same common element of isolation.
All the pictures shot during this trip were shot on a Konica Hexar RF camera that now abandoned me – Error 11 requiring shutter motor replacement, which is not available or inconvenient. I used to shoot with a 15mm lens, taking advantage of how I wanted to fill the frame with people and action, without turning the scene too chaotic.
Pietro instead tried out a Rolleiflex that he inherited, and approached framing by always having a central subject. His pictures are colorful and bring along this other aspect of Japan: a country where the eye can always meet the green of trees, the orange of torii and the flashy colour of manga-themed ads. Whereas I aim trying to catch how an individual is reflected in his/her surrounding, he dwells on the opposite: the person reflecting the world he lives in.
The artistic lead in the project was made of those people that we captured in the streets. Despite all the stylistic differences there might be between Pietro’s production and mine, we both attempted to capture life as it is when the camera goes unnoticed. Our curator divided the pictures from each production between those that were closer to the exhibition topic, and those that – without getting too far from it – were indeed closer to a thematic core belonging to the artist itself: for me it was how people can be caught in a picture that reflects their own isolation in a wide world, for Pietro was the interpretation of art pieces seen in an uncommon way.
I was very pleased to see that most people that came at the exhibition opening and closing – when we had a chance to exchange words with them – foresaw our words and managed to catch a glimpse of that core that we were trying to transmit. Nonetheless, we told many times the tales behind some of the picture, and the sight of people nodding back as if we were confirming what they saw in the pictures is a heart-warming feeling. I believe I still have a long path ahead, and no reward has to be considered as a reason to stop trying to master an art form. Yet it sure gives one a push forward. As a token of gratitude, I decided to print some pictures on very thin paper, as a gift to all those that participated to the events related to our small exhibition – some sort of memento of how pleased I was to have some feedback from them.
Not all feedback was blindly positive, just for the sake of flattering us – also considering that most of the people invited would not act overly kindly, as both me and Pietro have pretty blunt groups of friends. All the critics advanced luckily were well-composed and constructive, highlighting what they believed to be issues or weak spots in the pictures – thus helping us get better.
Having some strangers walking in and commenting the pictures between themselves was a very pleasent surprise. They saw the event going on from outside the gallery, got curious and came inside. To me, that was a major win: having someone that wasn’t invited, but just fascinated by the pictures while walking by.
I personally had fun talking about my pictures to the people asking me about them. I think I had to repeat the general idea behind each picture five to ten times, but it was slightly different every once I spoke (i.e. mostly depending on the person’s interest in what I portrayed). It even helped me clarify myself about what in the scene had me take the picture in the first place: being spontaneous in taking pictures, I seldom put into words what fascinated me about it. Instead, having an audience to talk to gave me a chance to understand the meanings and feelings behind my pictures even more.
The disposition of the pictures sure helped: along with the curator, we decided to go for a one-size-fits-all model, and have all the pictures in 50cm x 50cm frames despite what might be the single image’s aspect ratio. This repeated element – along with the neat white-walled gallery – played a major role in guiding the viewer through the exhibition. Mine were close to the entrance, while Pietro’s were close to the big window facing the street. As previously mentioned, pictures were further separated between those that purely were street photography and those that portrayed something more specific (i.e. individuals for me, and art pieces for Pietro).
“The attention to details, even for japanese sakè and sweets in the refreshment, helps the viewer get into the ‘far east’ impressions, leaving nothing for granted.”
Chiara Verga on Afterclap.it [ITA]
Despite my initial skepticism about having anything worthy enough being displayed in an exhibition, I am happy to have trusted the opinions of those that pushed me towards fulfilling this joint project – mostly Giuditta. I am also happy of having kept the passion for photography alive in my mother’s family. My great-uncle came to the exhibition, and was really happy to see this passion being shared in the family: from what I know, at a certain point all generations had at least one person being involved in photography. Now that person is me.
He is the one that gave the Rollei 35 to his father, Mario Farina – about whom I wrote an article [ITA] few years ago, when I found pictures taken by him during his trips to the lake. I scanned and restored the pictures at the time, but only printed the book as a family gift only recently. It was an experiment to understand whether self-printing could be a nice way to give to the people in my life memories as a gift.
So I experimented with the layout and printed a small catalogue of the exhibition – using a good online service. I opted for a clean layout with some breathing for every image, while Giuditta suggested me to go for full-page images on the cover and on the section openings. It is small and pocket size (i.e. A5 format), but mostly is a memento of how we managed to make our first exhibition. To us was a great success, as the audience felt and understood what we were trying to say.
In the end we managed to sell most of the prints from the exhibition, and I decided to keep three pictures for myself. And hung them on my hallway, so that I can look at them every day.