Interview by Anna Bulgarelli
All images © Francesca Todde
Francesca Todde (Padova, 1981) is a visual artist and publisher based in Milan. Her research focuses on cultural issues related to nature and human relationships with animals. Her practice is not limited to photography but includes in the creative process the editorial aspect and the diffusion in printed form. She first started with sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Carrara then she got interested in photoengraving and finally she approached photography. She is co-founder of the publishing house Départ Pour l’Image, alongside Luca Reffo. Her work is represented by Contrasto. Her first book A Sensitive Education, released in January 2020, was awarded the Ponchielli Prize for the best photographic book 2020/21, and received a special mention at the Marco Bastianelli Award for the best Italian photographic book 2020.
Anna Bulgarelli (AB): Hi Francesca, welcome to Pellicola Magazine! Could you tell us something about yourself and your relationship with photography?
Francesca Todde (FT): Hi Anna and thank you. My paths started from sculpture and, afterwards studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Carrara, I discovered engraving and photoengraving, after that photography. I still consider photography as a possible medium, I like to work with images in a broad sense. Indeed, my practice also includes graphic design and book design.
(AB): What does your photographic practice focus on? Which issues do you deal with?
(FT): I am interested in the stories of people who are looking for a different way to define their humanity. In my path, I often meet people who share a daily routine with animals, perhaps one of the oldest and at the same time most contemporary topics. The evolution of the human relationship towards animals of the last century leaves ample room for imagination to what this bond will be like.
(AB): How was A Sensitive Education project conceived and how did you develop it? How did you meet the bird educator Tristan Plot? Which approach did you use to dive into this story?
(FT): A Sensitive Education was born from a meeting with Tristan Plot in July 2016 in Avignon. Over the next two years I went to visit him several times in Poitiers where he lives and when he was on tour. The relationship established with him gave me access to a subtle world, where apparently nothing seems to happen, because the shared experiences with birds are tailored to their sensitivity which is highly different from ours. In order to be able to photograph the relation between Tristan and the birds, I had to change my way of looking, get used to their sensitivity and learn to pay attention to different, microscopic things that are the expressive world of birds.Therefore the work has changed form during the course of time, focusing more and more on the possibility of empathy with other species.
(AB): It is not the first time that you talk in your research about the relationship between humans and animals, what does it mean to you? Do you think it is an issue of our time to rethink the balance between humans, animals and nature?
(FT): I believe that the time we are experiencing is a great opportunity to change the course of our society. Studies on the cognitive abilities of animals are increasingly frequent and, in the challenges of climate change we are facing, our relation with animals will be essential: from intensive farming to tampering with the balance between species, from monocultures to the loss of biodiversity. Last winter I got to know some Sámi in Finnish Lapland, and I believe that Western societies could learn a proper relationship with nature from the natives, where taking more than what is needed is a crime because it alters the balance of the ecosystem through which we live.
(AB): A Sensitive Education is a book that has a very precise internal structure, both from the use of paper to the choice of colors and printing; would you like to tell us about the architecture of the book? What editorial choices were made and why?
(FT): The book was designed with Luca Reffo, artist and co-founder of the publishing house Départ Pour l’Image. We worked on the project of the book with considerable freedom, doubled the endpapers, built a neutral space, a slow and necessary time to become familiar with the fragility of the topic. Inside the book there are shorter pages of pink paper where there are archive images with a parenthesis function. Other colors alternate the cycles of images, for this case Luca’s experience as painter turned out essential also in the editing and in the image sequence. Thinking about the possibility of birds to see beyond the spectrum visible to humans in the field of UV, we built a cover starting from physical cutouts on colored paper, which we then digitally processed.
(AB): Would you like to share what your sources of inspiration are in photography and art in general?
(FT): I like works that straddle two disciplines, because they don’t find the opportunity to express themselves with only one medium.I observe at photographic books with high attention, in particular the shared work of Rafał Milach and Ania Nałęcka-Milach, the work of the publishing houses The Eriskay Connection and FWbooks, the paths between documentation and art in the work of Vasantha Yogananthan, Rob Hornsta’s paper and web publishing development and Wolfgang Tillmans’ work makes me feel good.
(AB): Would you like to share which are your sources of inspiration in photography and art in general?
(FT): I like projects that straddle two disciplines, because they don’t find the opportunity to express themselves with only one medium. I observe at photographic books with heightened attention, in particular the shared work of Rafał Milach and Ania Nałęcka-Milach, the work of the publishing houses The Eriskay Connection and FWbooks, the paths between documentation and art in the work of Vasantha Yogananthan, Rob Hornsta’s paper and web publishing development and above all Wolfgang Tillmans’ work makes me feel good.
(AB): Which future projects do you have in mind to explore?
(FT): A project on the imagination of writer Goliarda Sapienza is underway, I hope it will be ready in 2024, the centenary of the author’s birth.
Talking about the relationship with nature and animals, I would like to address the historical and current events of the Cosquer Cave in Marseille, which houses wall paintings from 27,000 years ago, and have the opportunity to learn more about the Sami population distributed between Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia.