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February 24, 2023


Photography by Alessandro Giugni
Interview by Karen Ghostlaw Pomarico

Alessandro Giugni is a reportage photographer living and working in Milan, with a strong connection to the culture and traditions that make Italy his home. He believes that one must understand where they come from, and who they are, before they can translate authentic visual stories about others. Alessandro makes real connections by engaging the people around him on a daily basis in many different ways. He balances running his grandfather's coffee business, roasting and distributing one of the finest coffees in Italy, while as a lawyer with a law degree, Alessandro performs legal services for his community. These connections have become the foundation for inspiration for his reportage photography. For Alessandro they are all interconnected, and are the basis for his visual storytelling, finding the extraordinary in the ordinary in everyday life around him. Alessandro has a true respect for the people he engages, finding genuine interest in their traditions, and feeling true joy in sharing them. He shares in his own words:

“For over 10 years I have been assiduously engaged in the study and deepening of every single aspect of photography in general. In recent years, I have found my genre of reference in reportage, resulting in some works that have been both published and exhibited in some important museum exhibitions.

I love photography as I consider this art form as much a means of expressing myself as the main vehicle through which to narrate our time. If I had to give a definition of my way of photographing, I would answer that I feel the need to tell the story of human beings contextualized in the time in which we live, without hiding their strengths and weaknesses. My photographic works are never children of chance: I love observing society, its evolutions, the behavior and expressions of the people around me.”

In December 2022, Alessandro had the honor of being awarded the ‘Fiorino d’Argento’, by the Municipality of Florence, in the presence of the highest Florentine authorities, with prestigious recognition of this international calibre. This recognition was bestowed upon Alessandro, during the renowned award ceremony of the XXXIX Edition of the Florence Prize in the spectacular setting of the Salone dei Cinquecento in Palazzo Vecchio.

Today we have the pleasure of sharing Alessandro's colorful expressions and visual depictions of Burano with his brilliant series from his project ‘Colori Sospesi nel Tempo. Geometrie di un’Isola’. We are delighted to share his insightful views and process for visual storytelling.

“The work ‘Colori Sospesi nel Tempo. Geometrie di un’Isola (Colours suspended in time. Geometries of an Island)’ stems from an intuition I had in July 2020 during a trip I made to the Island of Burano after many years of absence from that place.

What had changed in me on that occasion compared to the last time I had visited that place was the critical approach with which, after specializing in reportage, I began to look at the reality around me. Today, I am no longer a mere spectator of the world and the events that take place in it, but a careful observer and curious seeker of the innermost reasons behind all the facets, even the most apparently trivial, of everyday life. This approach allows me not only to discover singular aspects of the lives of the people I frequent and the history of the places I visit, but at the same time ensures that I can create wide-ranging photographic projects.

With reference to the Island of Burano, I discovered that the bright colours of the houses that adorn it were the result of the inhabitants' desire to allow those who were engaged in fishing for moeche (small crabs typical of the Venetian lagoon) to find their homes after long night fishing sessions, even in the thick fog that frequently grips these places during the long winter months. Each family, therefore, has been assigned a unique shade of colour.”

“Since this is an island that, despite its small size, attracts an average of one and a half million tourists every year, I wanted to essentialise the presence of human beings as much as possible, focusing on the interconnection between natives and their pastel-coloured homes. So, I searched around me for everyday objects (such as bicycles, slippers, chairs, shoes, clotheslines, clothes hanging in the wind, brooms) and, playing on the contrast between the colours of the houses and the presence of the aforementioned objects, I created a story that transcends the boundaries of the physical world and rises to a dimension that I would call metaphysical, in a succession of photographs of places that seem suspended in time.”


THE PICTORIAL LIST: Hello Alessandro, it is wonderful to share your photography with our community. Please tell us all a little about what first drew you to photography, and what inspired your interest and devotion to reportage photography?

ALESSANDRO GIUGNI: Hi Karen, first of all I would like to express my enthusiasm and gratitude to you and the whole team at The Pictorial List for the opportunity you have given me by showing interest in my photography and for the amazing work you do!

As for your question, I must confess that I cannot tell you exactly when my interest in photography generally blossomed. As happens with the greatest loves in life, the one for photography grew day after day, experience after experience, it slowly matured until it became disruptive: at that point, it was no longer possible to restrict it to a simple hobby and I felt the need to translate photography into a real job, finally dedicating to it the time I felt it deserved.

The predilection for reportage, on the other hand, has a well-defined genesis. I realized that this would become my genre of reference after reading two books specifically: The Americans by Robert Frank and Morire di Classe by Gianni Berengo Gardin. The photographs contained in those works contributed to bringing about very strong changes in society. Just think that Berengo's work was instrumental in bringing to light the condition of the mentally ill detained in real prison facilities and was also fundamental to the promulgation of Law 180/1978, the so-called Basaglia Law, which led to the closure of asylum institutions in Italy.

I have always paid particular attention to society, to its evolutions, to understanding the roots of customs and traditions. So how could I have preferred any other genre than reportage?

TPL: Could you tell us what living in Milan has inspired in your work? What special qualities unique to Milan influence your street and the way you portray your community?

AG: Living in Milan you certainly have endless opportunities in terms of everyday situations that can happen on the streets. What this city has given me most of all, however, is the ability to untangle the thin thread that connects the indifference and mistrust of the people who live there. In a place like Milan, where everything on the surface seems to be so close, human beings actually seem to be very distant from each other, inattentive to the needs of their neighbors and reluctant to open themselves up and share their time with other people.

TPL: What importance does storytelling or key themes hold for you?

AG: I find that defining a narrative line that acts as a thread between one's photographs is of vital importance. This is the case both when one is working on a specific theme and when one is photographing for pure pleasure.

Having a precise awareness of one's archive means that, often and willingly, by going back and looking at photographs that are apparently unconnected, one is able to find a lowest common denominator and thus give rise to unexpected works.

TPL: What are you trying to achieve artistically? What do you want your photographs to inspire, what would you like the viewer to take away with them from your work?

AG: I will answer this question by allowing myself to slightly twist the initial part of it. More than an 'artistic' purpose, I pursue a 'social' purpose with my photography. Let me explain myself better.

People nowadays pay less and less attention to the world around them, crushed as they are by the weight, which I would erroneously define as relative and autonomously often exaggerated, of responsibilities, of commitments that are more often than not superfluous. Most people live by projecting onto objects, onto often superfluous things, a misinterpreted need for inner searching, missing out in the process all that life and the world around them really have to offer.

Here, in a context such as the one I have just described, I believe that photography, especially reportage photography, has a duty to operate in order to awaken consciences, unveiling those small, great realities that are often so close to us, but at the same time, because of our lifestyle, so distant.

When I think of my country, Italy, I realize how much beauty it contains that is so little known. We have some of the most unique folk festivals, some small municipalities preserve traditional customs, we have beautiful places of worship, and almost forgotten rituals. If reportage photography has a task, I believe it is to shed light on this hidden world.

TPL: What was the first camera you ever held in your hand, brought to eye, and released a shutter on? What is the camera you use now and your preferred focal length? Does the equipment you use help you in achieving your vision in your photography? What is on your wishlist?

AG: My first camera was given to me by my paternal grandfather, to whom I was very close. I can't tell you the exact model name, it was one of those small Canon cameras from the early 2000s that were offered by petrol stations as a prize following the collection of almost endless loyalty points and that allowed, in addition to recording videos, to take photographs. I distinctly remember that the files had a maximum size of 1 megabyte! Thinking about it today, one can only smile.

Today, after years of long experimentation and almost 10 years at Canon, I have found my perfect medium in Leica's M-system. I mainly work with film, although the practicality of digital, especially when traveling abroad, is unavoidable, which is why I always carry both my faithful M3 and an M-P 240 with me. I have chosen to stick with this system for a very simple reason: the intuitiveness of the rangefinder, which often leads me to be faster than the autofocus, the compact size of the M and the practicality of use make these cameras a natural extension of my eye and the most natural medium with which I have ever photographed. In addition, after years of practice, I have learnt never to close my left eye, which helps me to maintain eye contact with my subjects and to eliminate the shyness that people often put between themselves and the photographer, feeling strongly separated from them by the presence of the camera.

I recently bought a Leica Q2 because of both the practicality it shares with the M-System and the impressive quality of the 28mm Summilux it carries. Having now defined my photographic vision around a focal length between 28mm and 21mm, I couldn't have made a better choice. I prefer this type of focal length for a very simple reason: thanks to it, I am obliged to immerse myself in the situations I want to tell, I have to establish a dialogue - which comes extremely naturally to me - with my subjects, I have to become part of the story myself in order to make my narrative true.

Over the years, I have dedicated myself almost exclusively to black and white and have started to use film more and more frequently, eventually becoming my main medium. This choice depended on several factors: the non-immediate visualization of the shots, the pleasure of confronting chemistry, the desire to master every stage of the creative process, and learning how to also manage the development phase as required. Through film, moreover, I can build a material archive, which is impossible to achieve through the digital medium.

TPL: Do you have any favourite artists or photographers you would like to share with us. If you could just choose one photographer to shoot alongside for a day...who would you choose? And why?

AG: As I said at the beginning, two of my absolute favourite photographers are Gianni Berengo Gardin and Robert Frank. My photography, however, has been influenced by the work of many others. The suspended atmospheres of Luigi Ghirri, the harshness of Don McCullin's stories, the aesthetic and content perfection of Sebastiao Salgado, the order of the industrial architecture photographed by Gabriele Basilico, the surrealism of Ikko Narahara, the poignant simplicity of Deanna Dikeman, the indefinable perfection of Fan Ho's photographs, the symbolism of Shomei Tomatsu, the eroticism of Nobuyoshi Araki, the three-dimensionality of Hiroji Kubota's stories.

Which one would I choose? I could not have any doubt about that. Definitely Gianni Berengo Gardin. A photographer who has explored the innermost realities of my country, the one who, in my opinion, more than any other compatriot has been able to build, with an immense photographic archive, a true historical memory of Italian tradition and culture. A photographic day with him is certainly worth more than decades of studies on our reality. And, as far as I am concerned, his photographic vision and the power of his photographs are and will be difficult to equal in the future.

I have always paid particular attention to society, to its evolutions, to understanding the roots of customs and traditions. So how could I have preferred any other genre than reportage?

TPL: What have been some of your most favorite places you find inspiration to explore through your photography, and what draws you there?

AG: Without a shadow of a doubt, the two places that have been, and still are, able to inspire me the most are Venice and the entire hinterland of Tuscany.

I say Venice, on the one hand, because of the incredible wealth of situations and happenings that take place along the city's narrow streets, and on the other hand because of the inexhaustible compositional opportunities offered by the mixture of canals, bridges, arches and historical monuments. It is no coincidence that one of my absolute favourite photographs was taken on a rainy day in Fondamenta Nove, one of Venice's Sestieri.

On the other hand, I say the hinterland of Tuscany because of the unparalleled beauty of the villages and views that adorn the Chianti Valley and the Val d'Orcia. Places that seem suspended in time, constantly waiting to see their beauty and richness captured by the eye of an attentive photographer.

TPL: When you photograph, do you usually have a concept in mind of what you want to achieve, or do you let the images just "come to you", or is it both? Please describe your process.

AG: Let's say that even in this case, I think there is no universally valid answer. It depends on the situation.
I'll give you an example to make it clearer what I mean when I say that it depends on the situation.

If the work I am doing is the child of a long and painstaking planning, if it has been preceded by a long study of the subject matter of the reportage, then I certainly start off by moving from a narrative scheme that I have already devised beforehand and to which I want the photographs to conform. Beware, however, because this does not mean that I will remain bound to the aforementioned narrative scheme. For me, it operates as a guideline to steer the project in the right direction and without crossing boundaries that would make the narrative confusing. Since I am aware that reality and the situations one is faced with are almost never predictable, I have developed a strong sense of adaptation to what I am faced with and have learnt to rely on instinct. If, at the moment I go to take a photograph, I feel that something is right, I trust my photographic instinct and follow it without qualms. It is intuition, the child of years of experience, of acquired photographic culture and of all the images of the great masters that have been studied, that gives rise to truly good work.

The proof of what I am saying can be found in many of my works, which were born on paper in one way and then evolved in my mind, as a consequence of cogent situations, almost by chance, by instinct precisely, in a totally different way.

TPL: What are some challenges that you have faced as a photographer, how did you meet them and overcome them? Do you have any advice you would share from your personal experiences?

AG: I believe that the most important challenges I have faced in my photographic journey are basically two.

Firstly, the need to create for myself a cultural and technical background so vast that I can face any adversity and, at the same time, so solid that I can develop a real awareness of how to make meaningful work from start to finish. Although many people claim to have enough culture to face any challenge and to live in serenity, I personally believe that one never stops studying.

Secondly, I believe that the greatest challenge for a reportage photographer is to overcome people's distrust. When you have to relate to other human beings, you have to take into account that not everyone has the same sensitivity. Not everyone, for instance, might like to be photographed. I often see self-proclaimed photographers in the streets pointing their lens in the faces of people going about their daily lives and photographing them without any respect. That, to my way of seeing things, is the best way to receive a lot of insults and to cause harm even to those who, like me and many other photographers I have met along the way, are aware of what it means to have ethics.

The first rule should be one and simple: respect. Respect for privacy, respect for the state of mind of others, respect for the dignity of others, respect for the history, life and experience of those who become the subject of one of our photographs. We cannot know what the people on the other side of the lens are going through or experiencing. Asking permission or even simply smiling, being willing to explain our work, to invest our time in giving something of ourselves in return to those who have given us a moment of their lives, can be a great way to almost never have problems in a reportage or a simple street photography session.

TPL: With the diversity in your work, how do you manage a work/photography balance?

AG: This is definitely the most difficult question to answer.

I must say that it is not at all easy to disentangle myself between running the coffee company originally founded by my grandfather, working in my father's law firm and reporting. I believe there is no universally valid answer other than having learnt to distribute the time of my day in a way that does not negatively affect any of the above activities. I generally dedicate the mornings to running the business and the afternoons to working in the law firm, while the evenings are devoted as much to training and meditation as to developing and filing photographic work. In order to be able to carry out my reportages fully, I set dates well in advance for trips or simple travels and, at that point, I organize my other work commitments so that I can have whole days available for the realization of the photographic work.

TPL: Are there any special projects that you are currently working on that you would like to let everyone know about? What are some of your photography goals? Where do you hope to see yourself in five years?

AG: I am currently working on what I consider to be my most ambitious project to date.

For the past few months, in fact, I have been pursuing a photographic investigation of the esotericism of the Catholic Church, a story I am telling by periodically staying for a few days in ancient monasteries and taking part in the life of the monastic communities there. I have also already found the title for the work, namely In Silentio et In Spe Erit Fortitudo Vestra, a title I have taken from a passage in the Bible, more precisely from the Book of Isaiah (30:15). We will have the opportunity to talk more about this work in the future.

I do not, however, make predictions about where I might be in five years' time. I prefer the course of events to set the course. I firmly believe that commitment and dedication always pay off and that results, if you really believe in what you do, will come.

TPL: "When I’m not out photographing (I like) to...

AG: My time is almost entirely devoted to running my coffee company and working with my father in his law firm.

The rest of my time is spent with my family and my partner, components of my life that, although listed last, are always at the top of my priority list."

Thank you Alessandro for your bright and colorful reportage of Burano, and for sharing the secrets behind the colors. We are delighted to share his insightful views and process for visual storytelling. Please check out the rest of his work he has shared with us on our website, you will see some of his influences in reportage in black and white, where light and shadow become his visual aids.

Follow his links and learn more about our artist, and share his love of Italy.

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