Interview by Claudia Bigongiari
All images © Camen Colombo
Carmen Colombo is a Milan based photographer who works with her Italian origins and places, especially the ones of her childhood in the northern suburbs, but who also takes her road as a freelance of fashion photography.
Going back and forward from her town, she uses photography to tell stories about people, and to slow down from the tight rhythm of the big city. Here, she narrates her research about the last two projects Mondo Piccolo and A Modern Decameron, made right before and after the Covid global lockdown.
Hi Carmen a warm welcome from Pellicola!
Tell us something about yourself and your profession. Did you always want to be a photographer? Or it’s a grown up passion?
Hello! I’m a 29 years old photographer who lives in Milan. I do love this city, because I think it has an international approach maintaining some typical Italian aspects: small street in which you can get lost, historical corners besides modern coffees and bars, skyscrapers and old fashioned buildings.
I was born in a small village in the suburbs in Lombardy. I often come back there to take some pictures. I love to re-discover the sense of belonging there through my camera.
At the very beginning, photography was for me just a medium I used to record things and memories, like most of us. After my high school diploma, I decided to attend a Visual Arts Course because I had a kind of need of creative expression.
Since then, first studying and then practicing, photography has become part of my everyday life.
Commercial and fashion freelance, your personal images are more intimare and ‘slowed down’ (as you say). Do you think it’s a compensation or an escape from the frenetic rhythm of the big city?
It is a compensation, a kind of exercise I tend to do.
I need to slow down to see more clearly and to think about what I see around me.
It could happen to see something I could be interested in, but I come back there only later because I need time to reconsider my vision.
Often it’s just a matter of light: I like to observe an object while the day light changes. I take the picture when I feel the light tells better my story.
Escaping for me has a more extreme meaning: it happens when I feel overwhelmed with something. That’s when I need to suddenly stop what I am doing and change my activity to try to have a better view. It’s really useful for me.
Mondo Piccolo started in 2019 and still ongoing, for example, it’s a series around the suburban areas of Northern Italy, where you grew up. It combines the simplicity of people and places with a fashion language. How do you create your setting? Do you generally decide how to dress your subjects?
Mondo Piccolo is a storytelling project through my personal vision of the suburbs in the North of Italy. The people portrayed are part of my life and my family’s and the places are just ordinary ones.
The only thing this project has in common with my fashion work, it’s the way I tell the story. I just decide which pieces of my imaginary puzzle put together to tell my personal story and vision.
I read you use medium format, which camera do you have? Do you always have it with you, or you select specific moments (maybe specific light hours) for shooting?
I have a Mamyia rz67 and a Pentax 67. Because of their weight, I cannot take them always with me. I need to decide in which moment I go out and shoot. My images are not about “stealing” fragments of life. Even if I am not carrying my cameras with me, I always have my eyes wide open to look around and to mentally record what might be interesting.
Generally, I don’t like too much contrast in the light and I love the sunset atmosphere to tell my stories.
I also use a Canon AE series 35mm camera with which I’ll be more quick ad immediate. I use it very often, even to record more personal memories of my private life.
Tell us something about these people in the series, are there people you never met before or they are more relatives and friends? Except normality do you look for some particular characteristic in your portraits?
In Mondo Piccolo I portray people who are part of my everyday life or people who are close to someone I know. There are some recurrent portraits, like Jacopo’s images. He’s a 12 yo boy who I love to portray as he’s in that life period between childhood and adult life. I like to photograph him as a short tale which is part of a bigger story.
I like normal people, the more they are not used to pose, the more I love to shot them.
I love to choose people because something of their aspect makes them unique: it may be a hair style, a special mark or how they dress.
I like your idea that in these small towns there are places, images not yet standardised, not yet under the influences of big streams. And that makes them non places, suspended in their ‘old fashioned’ reality. Do you believe they can survive in our fashionable and fast changeable world? And what do you think is the power of photographing them?
I do not think that they must survive. The world changes and it will be like this forever. And this is maybe its beauty.
The power of photographing them lays in the visual deception of the image as you can’t exactly tell the historical time it was shot. So, it’s like create a kind of loss of time references mixing new stuff with a more old school approach, also because of the camera or the film itself.
Regarding now the series A Modern Decameron, shot this summer in Greece as the first moment of freedom since the global pandemic situation. It still concentrates on simple and daily gestures of the everyday. Did the lockdown influence or change somehow your photographic approach?
No, the approach after the lock down is the same. For sure there is more awareness both for my work as well as for my personal life. Last year I spent more time without shooting images. And this made me want to work better for the future.
In A Modern Decameron you can see this. I tried to portray my friends without forcing it, trying together those portraits during the long days we spent together. Those images were casually born during moments when I saw interesting things from a photographic point of view.
Another element to notice in your photos is the distance you put between the subjects and the camera as if you want to present them without occupying their private space ‘too much’. Everything is looked from the same distance without distinguishing friends, landscapes, or fruits. Do you think it gives a more objectivity to your images?
Yes, I try to photograph things from the same distance. Perhaps it is a way to allow my subjects to speak without my presence. Even if I am there somehow as it’s me who decide what’s in or out the frame. Having the same distance allows me to make everything more homogeneous through the fruition of the subjects, both landscapes and people. As a sort of catalogue of stuff taken from the reality and put in a series according to my vision.
Finally Carmen, do you have some plans for your future work that you would like to share with us?
I think in this last year all of us thought a lot about our works and our way of working.
For sure, the forced stop led me to reconsider my pictures and to look at my work with more awareness. I would love to shot more people, I miss meeting strangers.
Still no precise plans, but for sure I’d love to set a new story in a far away place, where I can play with my imagination.
Thank you so much for the time spent with us and our readers! I hope you enjoyed the interview 🙂