Words by Costanza Francesconi
All images © Federico Clavarino
Federico Clavarino was born in Turin in northern Italy. His artistic journey began very young when he was just twenty years of age. His devouring curiosity became the constant characteristic of his artistic research. Drawn to the written word – he studied creative writing at the Holden School of Alessandro Baricco – but this interest was soon to take a change of direction. While travelling in Spain, his laptop containing the novel he was working on was stolen in Madrid. Losing the only copy he had, led him to explore the world of photography leaving his literary aspirations behind. “A fragment”, he says, is for him like the written story “a part of narration”.
“Everything then can acquire a series of new meanings, beyond the current one. Everything, both written or photographed, is an assembly of exercises, suspended somewhere between prose and poetry. A part of a whole”. With these words Clavarino shares his personal feelings. In keeping with the early years of his career, when he documented the hard times of the Spanish economic crisis of 2008, this fundamental idea about self-expression has remained intact. But he was soon to be on the move. An openness to change, a need for new things to look at and a travelling companion with the same yen for travelling – these are the driving factors that help us to understand what has fired the artist’s imagination. After some twelve years in Spain, the photographer and his girlfriend moved to Portugal and then on to England. He has very recently returned to Italy and works in Milan.
Photography and language teaching as a window on the world. Making a virtue of necessity, teaching English has become for Clavarino a mean to connect with other people. It is fundamental for him to be immersed in a circle, with the right balance of listening and reciprocity, as is the workshops on technical theory and practice in which the photographer often collaborates. The pictures of this artist, his attachment to his students, reveal the openness to the multiple and possible ways of expression – investigating his surroundings, documenting and experimenting.
Clavarino’s work is taken up with collaboration, teaching and commissions. His relationship with each of these activities is something more than purely professional. Every meeting is the occasion for a precious exchange. It is an interweaving of personal stories where everyone preserves his uniqueness while cooperating with the others. This idea of community is, not by chance, at the origin of the Hereafter file. A strong personal interest, together with the winning of the FotoPres prize “La Caixa”, gave shape to the insight. There were €20.000 to be won to permit the ten winners to pursue their photographic projects, meeting with internal and external tutors to have regular encounters in several cities. Fragments once more! Conversations, photos, voice notes: pieces chosen during a one-year trip visiting places associated with the Clavarino family, each chosen to compose a collage, getting deep into the family’s roots – an epic with a difference. The memories of the photographer’s grandmother, coming from the history of European colonialism, become the plot of a verbal-visual tale. “My grandmother lived in the little town of Horsham, near London. I heard something profound and distant in her words, something with strong and quite ancient roots”, says Clavarino. “A vestige of a broader and subtle context, the spectre of the British Empire in colonial times, an inconvenient and intolerable heritage that seems to be eructing unpleasantly”. The artist’s grandparents, John and Mary, lived and worked in the Sudan, Libya, Oman, Jordan and Cyprus. They were witnesses to the progressive transformation of the British colonial empire in which they had lived since their childhood.
It was therefore a question of “understanding where I was, who we are today, what kind of relationship we have with our self-image, and with the other”. In this series the subjects photographed are particularly eclectic. There are pictures of objects – notebooks, newspaper cuttings, black and white photographs, a military helmet, furniture, stacked chairs, a thorny branch. But also portraits, such as the lady sitting on a couch, or a youth with an olive complexion in a white singlet, and yet another of him with an absent look and a leaf in his mouth. Clavarino has also photographed the interiors of buildings and landscapes, archways, a geographical map lying on the ground, the bends in a rocky road, a flowerbed, a parked Vespa, desert dunes … They are photos that bear witness and give a voice to tell of the past, that speak of history and that speak to the present, outlining a hypothetical key to understanding the future.
Clavarino speaks of a chaotic archive, of accumulated materials to which he gives a voice. “I have done my duty. It’s not in my best interest to force the viewer. Denunciation, like indignation and concealment does not work”. His photography, speaks calmly with a simple honesty. Even the artist’s analogue process of photographing confirms this. His photos need time. He poses his eye on things in a continuous and prolonged way, using a tripod and frosted glass. “It is not a matter of stealing images but of generating a situation in the place where you are photographing. It is a question of devoting yourself completely to the moment – giving your maximum attention – of conversing with people”. His photography looks at a problem with empathy and analytical skills. He tries to really understand how things work and examine the traditions that give them life in order to find a solution. The elephant, his logo, is the perfect synthesis of these interconnected planes in his photographic discourse. “It is a form a drawing made by my grandfather, a detail from a larger image”. The raised trunk is a reference to colonial imagery – exotic, and oriental. Strangely, the shadow of the elephant has its trunk down. “This disconnection is the ghost of history, the darkness that runs through the entire book of words and images that is Hereafter”.