Hello Federico! First of all, welcome to Pellicola!
Italian photographer based in Milan, tell us something about yourself. Why did you select photography as your source of expression?
I become a photographer quite late, starting as a professional 5 years ago, when I was 29. I studied history of art at the university and worked, for a certain period, inside an artist’s foundation. Those years have been necessary to grow my aesthetic consciousness, my awareness around the image and around lots of references that still inspire my today’s work.
Photography has been the medium I approached since my adolescence, but at that time, I wasn’t mature enough to consider images the expression of a personal connection with the world around me.
Your activity started in your Milan, to develop also abroad, seeking for a language around the urban life and the sense of city as space we inhabit. Is it possible to find this atmosphere everywhere or do you select specific places?
What makes me establish a contact with a place, city or single architecture, is a certain idea of familiarity. This feeling doesn’t reflect a specific space, I can find it in Milan, the city I inhabit for more than 30 years, as much as in Tokyo, a city I never visited before, that I know only through the Japanese anime I watched as a kid, or books that I created my idea of the city with.
I believe it is a composition of memories, images stuck in my mind that can emerge even if I’m thousand kilometers far from my city or inside a house which is not mine.
I try to evoke in my images this personal correspondence with the space I’m about to photograph, giving to the viewers this idea of intimate relationship.
Condomini milanesi (2018) is a study on private spaces in Milan, just from the outside of entrances and little gardens, where the architecture interweaves with the typical green areas of the city housing. In certain ways it reminds Colazione sull’erba (1972-74) by Luigi Ghirri, what inspired you for this project?
Colazione sull’erba is a work I really admire, I’m glad about this comparison. Maybe unconsciously It is one of my references. With this series I entered the green private spaces in Milan’s buildings on Sundays, when the access wasn’t controlled by the doorkeeper.
It was like the invasion of a space between the private and the public, and I think I gave through my images the impression of being inside a intimate space, a sort of ‘secret garden’. I was also interested in the idea of a small private garden, a little Eden which has to relate with the architecture around it. Another reference back to this series is the fact that I spent my childhood playing inside the garden of my building.
What is interesting is the fact that even if from the title you suggested the location, there is still a lack of identity: it could be everywhere, more pictures of the same place, or many similar places. Which is the sense of creating these “universal” places?
The lack of identity of places is a sign of our time. If two decades ago it was impossible to have access to images of places far from us except from the travel’s magazine, today we can easily have a virtual walk on all the streets of our planet. This give us the idea of the world as a single place, with some diversities, right, less and less noticed today.
It often happened to me, travelling, to stand in front a place that I expected to be exactly how it was.
Looking at my photographs the sensation could be of having shot them always in the same place. It indicates that I’m trying to describe my own perception of a particular place more than finding out its identity, it is an inverse process which starts from my interior feeling more than what is outside.
What attracts you more about architecture?
I’m interested in the architecture as a container of human lives, made to cross the time and to collect generations of people. When I relate with an architecture, or more a city, what attracts me are the signs left by the inhabitants and time, more than the cold interpretation of how the architectural projects has been made.
Maybe that’s the reason why inside architectural masterpieces, I look for secondary, trivial aspects, where it’s possible to capture more evidently these signs.
As much as you introduce the viewer to these non-defined/universal atmospheres, you put him in front of noted buildings by the greatest names of architecture. The trip you made in Finland in 2018 to discover the work of Alvar Aalto is full of various points of view: from the interior details, to the immersive presentation of the architecture into its environment.
Which is your approach to this wide material, how do you start?
In the last years, I tried to visit one architecture example of the ‘900 history a year, and understand how to approach places so much known and published by every manual of the history of architecture. I photographed the Tugendhat Villa, the Unitè in Marseilles and in 2018 the Sanatorium of Paimio.
I studied the history of architecture as a self-taught, my education is based more on the direct experience with places, producing a personal interpretation of them.
In this case I visited as many Aalto’s buildings around the Paimio’s area as possible. I was attracted by their ‘nordic’ aspect and how they were connected to the Finland territory, which is very repetitive and creates a uniform atmosphere similar to the one inside the Sanatorium, the Aalto’s houses and around furnitures of his design.
Light is a fundamental element in your photography. Here in Alvar Aalto architectures, it creates some shapes as signals of people’s passage. Do you wait for a specific moment or it just happens to you?
I’ve been in Finland late in spring, days lasted very long, the sunset was around 10.30 pm, it was a condition that I never experienced before. The light condition of that North latitude made me photograph in a different time, slower: the idea of suspension was given by the slow changing of light, the light was modifying the perception of time.
Usually I try to wait for a happy condition of light when I decide to go shooting, but sometimes I can be fascinated by a specific cut of the light which make me read the architecture, a surface or a room in a unexpected way.
We already said that you travel a lot. The series you made last year in Japan, Sunset, is again, a discourse on details and lights. But, unlike the other projects, you describe the urban place also by few characters and not in its emptiness. When do you decide to incorporate people in your pictures?
This travel in Japan was something different. It has been an experience of total immersion into a new reality; I was shocked by the people, their kindness, by the order 10 million of inhabitants can maintain in the city without making any noise. That’s the reason why including people in some of my images came naturally, they were part of the city’s identity. Usually in my photographs the two element I consider as indicators of the time when they’ve been taken, are cars and people.
This is a larger project in term of the different elements we can see, natural, urban, some portrays, some scenes of the everyday… How long did you stay there? And what did you expect from this journey?
I stayed in Tokyo for 2 weeks without never leaving the city, I didn’t want to make a tour of the most tourist places in Japan, so I decided to focus just on the city, trying to understand it. I visited some famous architectures like the Nagakin Capsule Tower, the Bunka Kaikan, the National Museum of Western Art by Le Corbusier and the Moriyama Houses, or, more often, I chose a spot on the map to reach with the underground and then wander around for the rest of the day. So I discovered the area of Yanaka and its cemetery, one of the most fascinating places of Tokyo.
One last question Federico, what keeps you so productive and inspired? Can you name some artists, of any kind, that have always influenced you?
I consider the inspiration as something deeply changeable in me, moments where it seems vanishing and other where curiosity comes up again. I believe that it is for me a tension towards something that I don’t know yet but at the same time I perceive familiar. There are many artists who influenced me and helped me develop my aesthetic, not only photographers. Painting by Charles Sheeler, the interiors of Hammershoi and Hopper’s works, the sense of time in Giorgio Morandi’s still life, Walker Evans photographs of architecture, certain frames by Michelangelo Antonioni or the light of the director of photography Gordon Willis, are my sources of inspiration.
Many thanks Federico for having find some time to share with us and our readers! Hope you enjoyed it!
Interview by Claudia Bigongiari
Images © Federico Torra