November 19, 2021
WHERE LIFE LEADS
Photography by Mattia Bullo
Interview by Melanie Meggs
Croatia is a country of great contrasts. It is a land of captivating beauty, blessed with stunning coastlines, majestic mountains, and a rich cultural heritage. But it's also a country that is in the process of transforming its international image to EU standards in the hopes that it will gain admittance to the Union. It's this fascinating contradictions between past and present that Italian street photographer Mattia Bullo sought to explore in an ambitious camping trip through Croatia's most iconic destinations.
Using a unique approach to his craft, Mattia looked to capture the chaotic energy of centuries of Balkan traditions while also conveying the evident desire for modernity. Shooting close and imposing his presence on his subjects, he waited to see what evolved, all whilst maintaining a humoristic look. He was determined to cause a reaction in his subjects rather than just being a passive witness of a scene.
In this series, Mattia takes us on an adventure through Croatia, exploring the fascinating intersection of modernity and tradition. From dazzling vistas of serene beaches to intimate portraits of the people of Croatia, Mattia both captures and celebrates the country's complex and multifaceted identity.
“This series is a documentary series of Croatia. I am very tied to the Balkans, half of my family is Slovenian. I spent three years of my childhood in Skopje, Macedonia. I grew up watching Emir Kusturica’s films. I am deeply in love with these beautiful countries and their amazing people: such a unique mixture of Slavic, Turkish, Greek and Roman cultures and languages. However, when I see how these countries are portrayed internationally, I often find that there is so much attention to where they come from and very little to where they are trying to go.
This series, which is very likely over, was shot with one question in mind: what comes next for this country?”
IN CONVERSATION WITH MATTIA BULLO
THE PICTORIAL LIST: Mattia please tell us about yourself. How did you become interested in photography?
MATTIA BULLO: I was born in Udine, Italy, and I currently live here as well. As a child I’ve lived in numerous places around Europe such as Berlin, Skopje and Venice. I initially started studying photography through cinema, where I always saw light behave in such interesting, variable and unexpected ways, often being not only a legitimate character but the protagonist of a scene. My interest for the phenomenon kept growing up to the point where I eventually had to start experimenting on my own. Slowly, ideas began to grow, knowledge started to pile up and I learned to love the photographic practice. Also, the book “Creative Photography” by legendary Italian photographer Franco Fontana really helped me find my way into photography as a beginner, suggesting very fun and effective exercises that I quickly became passionate about.
TPL: What does street photography mean to you? Describe your style. Where or how do you find inspiration?
MB: At this point, street photography has become necessary to me and to my well-being. It acts as medicine against sloth and apathy. It is a constant reminder that the world is such an amazing place if you know where to look. My personal style evolves around high contrast black and white photography, in which I like to introduce humorous and sometimes surreal elements. I like to photograph in a very proactive way, often hunting for subjects and scenes. When I see a picture I immediately start running towards it. As far as inspiration goes, I really don’t enjoy waiting around for it to magically strike me, often times I simply start taking the pictures with a very clear idea in mind, which serves as foundation, slowly letting the streets guide me wherever they want. I’m very careful for anything that might surprise me. I have always thought that inspiration only arrives once you are very, very deep into the work.
TPL: What have been some of your favourite memories or moments in your photography journey? What have you personally gained from your experiences?
MB: There have been many amazing moments: hilarious conversations with hilarious people; playing with strangers through the camera, both adults and children; exploring the wildlife of the mediterranean shore; swimming in the darkest waters under the full moon and waking up to the noise of squirrels playing on the trees above me. However, at the end of the day, doing photography is what has driven me to this adventure and what I have enjoyed the most about it. Hopefully photography will drive me to many more amazing places in the future.
TPL: What are some tips or advice you would give yourself if you started street photography all over again?
MB: My personal opinion is that to improve in photography the only way is to actually take the pictures, as many as necessary. Thus, my first advice would simply be to take more pictures. Taking a look at great photographers helps very much as well: studying their photographs, reading their books. There is also tons of instructional material on the internet: interviews, lectures, conferences, etc...
Something useful that I would tell myself would be to start making use of this stuff as early and as much as possible. In other words: study, study, study.
TPL: When you are out photographing - how much of it is instinctual versus planned?
MB: In general, my work method is the following: I plan everything about the photos with precision, I schedule where, when and how I will photograph, sometimes I will force myself to adopting some limitations as an exercise, and I always decide it in advance. However, I never decide in advance what to photograph for the following reason: while I study photography, I use photography to study myself. It is always very fascinating for me to scroll through the pictures that I have taken and try to figure out why I chose a certain subject and a certain angle, and it teaches me about myself arguably more than anything.
At this point, street photography has become necessary to me and to my well-being. It acts as medicine against sloth and apathy. It is a constant reminder that the world is such an amazing place if you know where to look.
TPL: Do you have any favourite artists or photographers you would like to share with us, and the reason for their significance?
MB: Franco Fontana’s book about creative photography is what got me introduced to this subject, also his photographs played a major role in my artistic education, even though he is technically considered a landscape photographer. Bruce Gilden is another big influence on me, his unscrupulous methods in particular, even though he appears to often be criticised for them. Dating further back in time, WeeGee is another photographer whose work really strikes me to this day. Referring to other artists unrelated to photography, if I had to pick the ones that have been most influential on my personal education, they probably would be contemporary japanese novelist Murakami Haruki and, obviously, J.R.R. Tolkien.
TPL: Does the equipment you use help you in achieving your vision in your photography? What camera do you use? Do you have a preferred lens/focal length?
MB: I carry a Canon EOS M10, lovely lightweight camera. In general, I prefer wider angles such as the 22mm. According to the situation, I sometimes might switch to the 50mm to do geometry, but I never go higher than that. In reality, a wide angle lens is probably the only thing that is necessary for my photography. After all, what really matters to me is the content of the photograph more than the technical details around it.
TPL: What are some of your goals as an artist or photographer? Where do you hope to see yourself in five years?
MB: Within five years it would be amazing to make a living out of photography. I also will most certainly attempt to make my way into the film industry, at one point. If I ever get the chance to be a D.O.P for a feature film, that would be a dream come true for me. In the meantime, my attention will be directed to simply be a better photographer.
TPL: Are there any special projects you are currently working on that you would like to let everyone know about?
MB: What I’m working on right now is to improve as a photographer, as I said above. I do this by adopting certain environmental and technical limitations to further help give definition and a clear direction to my photographic genre. I have plenty of ideas regarding possible projects, nothing decided yet though.
I plan to see where I will be at in around three/four months and will proceed from there.
TPL: When I am not out photographing, I (like to)...
MB: I like doing sports, mostly skateboarding and free climbing. Literature is also very important to me: I spend a lot of time reading, novels mainly, sometimes essays, anything at my disposal; if somebody wanted to harm me they should just take my E-reader away and the job would be done. I often listen to music as well. I am always greedy for new music, which is a mindset that I often encourage other people to adopt. You will never know what you might find until you will have found it; therefore, you have to look for it.
Croatia is a beautiful and fascinating country, full of history and culture that is being renewed through the process of modernization. Through the photographs of Mattia Bullo we are able to get an insight into this unique journey, and experience the vibrant energy of a nation forging its future. To further appreciate the dynamic changes in Croatia and gain more insight into the country, we invite you to explore the journey with Mattia Bullo. His work is an invitation to unlock the beauty and secrets of a country in transition.