November 18, 2022
Photography and words by Mattia Bullo
Interview by Karen Ghostlaw Pomarico
Since the first time I approached photography a few years ago, my relationship with the camera has changed quite a bit. While initially I saw it as a wonderful tool to explore and discover the world around me, photography has slowly become a way for me to explore my own self: my view of the world, my ideas and, most importantly, my personal feelings.
This matured artistic approach is what led to my project, SIMULATION THEORY. This series seeks to explore a very particular and curious feeling: the feeling of slowly losing touch with reality.
How can I be sure that my personal perception of reality corresponds to how the world actually is? If the idea that I have of the world is based on the information that comes to me through my senses, and the senses are not only filtered, but freely manipulated and corrupted by the brain, will I ever be certain that the things I see and the experiences I live are real? Does it even make sense, then, to place a distinction between reality and illusion, lucidity and hallucination, sanity and delusion? Did Jeffrey Epstein really kill himself? These millenary questions, still explored today by philosophers and neuroscientists such as Nick Bostrom and David Chalmers, have haunted artists and thinkers for thousands of years and inspired some of the most ground-breaking artistic production of the 20th as well as the early 21st century. From Philip K. Dick's revolutionary Sci-Fi literature to the Wachowskis' massive Hollywood blockbusters, countless authors have been captured by this dilemma and used it to build their incredible stories. And for good reason! Who, while watching the Matrix as a teenager, hasn't identified with Neo in his kung-fu themed battle to clear the Veil of Maya that is holding humanity hostage? Well, if there's a Neo somewhere out there, it's definitely not me. Although most likely nobody will ever know the answers to these questions, I still wanted to let myself slip into the doubt and try to tell my journey through street photography.
“How can I be sure that my personal perception of reality corresponds to how the world actually is? If the idea that I have of the world is based on the information that comes to me through my senses, and the senses are not only filtered, but freely manipulated and corrupted by the brain, will I ever be certain that the things I see and the experiences I live are real?”
IN CONVERSATION WITH MATTIA BULLO
THE PICTORIAL LIST: Hello Mattia, it is interesting to hear about your change in direction in how you visualize and translate your photography. Can you tell us about that pivotal moment in time when you and your photography turned a new direction? What was the cause for this?
MATTIA BULLO: I wouldn’t really talk about a single pivotal moment for me personally, as much as the slow development of an approach to photography centered around exploration and playfulness, which constantly leads me to seek out new directions for my work. Whether it is in the visual product or in the work method, I try to never stay in the same place for too long. My photographic production changes as I change as an individual, and my work reflects that. However, lately I felt the need to focus a bit less on technical progression and more on making sure my work stays true to me personally, and it seemed right to move away from factuality and realism, at least for a little bit.
In these past few years, the more photos I took the more I started feeling the need for continuity in my work, which inevitably led to a more series-driven type of production. When I go out to take pictures, I feel most comfortable when I have a specific plan in mind, or at the very least a feeling that I know I want to represent and have thought about how I want to represent it. I need to know that I’m going somewhere with my pictures, although it might still be a bit unclear where, at the beginning of the process. With Simulation Theory, I wanted to play around with the ways in which a series of images can guide the viewer on an emotional journey, as well as a visual one, and It’s been beautiful to observe my perspective on the images change over the fairly long time that took me to finish the project.
TPL: As you have said, we live in an ingenuine world of fake news and fallacy, where the distinction between fallacies and truths are hard to distinguish. How has your investigation through photography helped you to see this more clearly? What has this brought not just to your work, but to you personally.
MB: It honestly hasn’t helped much at all, I’m 100% susceptible to fake news, just like anybody else. Fake news is not a novelty, Roman emperors 2000 years ago were doing the same exact propaganda that we are seeing in today’s politics, and throughout history the news have always been manipulated, with bad and good intentions. The difference with today seems to be only the amount of news that hits us every day, which makes any proper fact-checking seem ridiculous to whoever’s not directly involved in research, and what usually arrives to us from the media mechanism very often aren’t even facts but interpretations of facts, and opinions about those interpretations.
I mean, even us photographers, what our job is is literally to manipulate images towards specific emotional objectives. We’ve all seen examples on the Internet of how the same space can seem packed with people or almost empty depending on what lens was being used. I feel like it’s a common misconception that photography captures reality. Images and their message are not only manipulated in post-production, but directly in camera as well; anytime we look at a picture, we are looking only at what the photographer wanted to show us and how. And that’s something completely objective. The photographer himself is the first filter. Even the individual with the strongest willpower and the most free time can’t escape this complex maze on his own.
The way I see it, is that we can ultimately do two things. The first one is simply being aware that facts are always distorted and the news that reaches us is inevitably filtered to a degree. This step allows us to begin placing the information they receive in a context and test its compatibility with what we already know. The second and most important one is trusting the system and, more specifically, the scientific community and the millions of people in it that committed their lives to fact verification and theory falsification, and whose work now is being discredited more than ever. It almost seems like the message that’s spreading now is that science is just an opinion like any other. And, in all honesty, I can see why. I mean, major control organisms that should in theory guarantee transparency in some of these fiends have undoubtedly disappointed the public opinion in the past. But the fact that science is imperfect shouldn’t discourage us from trusting its progress and continue investing resources in it. After all, it’s as close to the truth as it gets. Right now it seems to me that we really need, as a society, to go back to our foundations and rethink how we want to value education and logical thinking, and make sure we lay the ground for the generations to come to have tools to protect themselves from these issues.
TPL: When you step into the street, how do you engage your camera? What is it that inspires the click of the shutter?
MB: The answer to that can be so variable in reality. It depends on the day, and on what I want to focus on. Most days I’ll have a project to develop, therefore I’ll be taking pictures that I’ve already thought about a lot; I know in which direction I need to go; granted that in street photography you can never really know what you are going to get out of the day, I generally try to leave the house knowing with clarity at least what I want to communicate. I’ll have ideas, images, which I will then look for out in the streets.
Other days I’ll pick up the camera because I feel the need to take some time to think about other things that are going on in my life, in which case I’ll not pose any restrictions to my work and just let the camera be guided by the streets and by my curiosity.
I also like to reserve some days for exercising, go back to the basics and focus on very specific photographic elements throughout the day, for instance a specific color, or a texture, or a picture that I have seen someone else do and I want to copy. I personally find copying other artists so useful when it comes to progressing artistically, it feels like learning the grammar of a language, so that when you know the grammar and, more importantly, you have something to say, you can then write it down.
More generally, I always seek inspiration in a variety of artists and art forms, the furthest away they are from what I’m trying to do, the better. To put it in legendary jazz musician Miles Davis’ words: “I listen to everything EXCEPT jazz”. Contamination between different ideas, cultures and art forms is essential to produce novelty, at least in my opinion, and it’s kind of what I always try to do myself. Music is a big one for me, I always get great inspiration from it. Sometimes, when I listen to music, read a book or watch a movie, I get hooked to an idea, a concept or an emotion; other times, inspiration can come from different projects that I’m carrying on in other fields. From there, I begin experimenting until I find a clear path, which can also consist of just one or two pictures, that I think will lead me to something bigger and more articulate. Once I reach this stage, it’s mostly about trusting my instinct and my work process until the project feels finished.
I love mystery. I love it in pictures, novels, films, everywhere. I feel like building intrigue is essential to storytelling at any level and with any language.
TPL: There is a voyeur aspect to your images, you create a disconnection or disassociation to your subjects, making them less human in many ways. Tell us why you have chosen to isolate your figures.
MB: I don’t think it’s really a conscious process that makes me isolate my subjects like this, it’s one of those things that happen on their own. I guess it doesn’t really surprise me though. I’ve never been the most sociable person out there. Which is also why street photography feels so intimate to me: I don’t need to interact with anybody if I don’t want to, I can just take the picture and flee. In documentaries, where the relationship with the characters can oftentimes make or break a film, unfortunately I don’t have that luck.
Solitude has very often been a theme I connected to in literature, from the works of the earlier Sartre to many of the more recent Murakami best-sellers. Very often in life I found greater connection with stories than with physical people, especially those that were telling me about other people, out there, feeling lonely and finding ways to deal with it. Now, I’m not really sure how much I want to analyze this, but solitude is definitely something I want to explore in my current and future work.
TPL: The Film Noir aspect creates a mysterious landscape, tell us about the suspense and intrigue you create in your dramatic imagery?
MB: I love mystery. I love it in pictures, novels, films, everywhere. I feel like building intrigue is essential to storytelling at any level and with any language, and in general I’ve found that the stories that have stuck with me the most aren’t the ones that give me clear, direct answers, as much as the ones that leave me with more questions than when I started. For this reason, as I was moving forward with the series, I tried to move away from minimalism and try to build my pictures with slightly more complexity.
I’m a huge fan of noir and neo-noir in films, and authors such as Godard, Wells and Wilder have played a massive role in my aesthetic education, and so have many hard-boiled novels that later inspired their films. The oneiric element characteristic of the noir genre is definitely something that I want to include in my work. Moreover, the first photographers to inspire me were primarily black and white photographers. Weegee, Salgado, Cartier-Bresson are the artists that pushed me to photography in the first place, and so naturally I modeled my work around them quite a bit initially. I learnt color for professional purposes, but even now in street photography black and white always feels like it suits more what I try to achieve in my images.
TPL: In leaving, please tell our readers what you have planned for the future, and what they should look forward to.
MB: At the moment I’m in the pre-production phase of a short documentary that follows the footsteps of two twin contemporary dancers from Argentina who’ve come to Europe to pursue their lifelong dream of a career in the professional dancing industry. Facing the usual challenges that characterize the profession, such as psychophysical abuse by professors and industry leaders, tremendous competition and lack of funding; while working at a call center to support themselves, the two of them are in the process of developing their own personal project, in hope of starting their own dancing company while exploring their bond.
This project is due to come out in the next few months, and in the meantime I’m also collaborating in the production of “Babyface”, a documentary on the Spanish professional wrestling industry. In terms of photography I don’t have anything planned out yet, I’ll see what comes up. Although my future after these two documentary projects is a bit foggy, my long-term plans haven’t changed: to do my best to grow professionally and artistically.