Interview by Michela Coslovich
All Images © Tomaso Clavarino / Studio Faganel
Tomaso Clavarino (b. 1986) is a photographer and visual artist who lives and works in Italy. In 2020 his projects were the winners of some of the most important photographic awards in Italy, including Refocus (MIBACT, Triennale Milan, Mufoco), Verzasca Photo Festival and Cortona on The Move.
Free from any predefined photography scheme and model, Tomaso develops a research methodology that tells about spaces, places and situations through an intimate and personal vision.
We talked about his latest project Ballad Of Woods And Wounds which has just become a book, and about Padanistan: a story that focuses on the concept of places’ identity.
Hi Tomaso, welcome to Pellicola and thanks for this interview. Can you tell us how your experimentation in the photographic field began? In addition to being a photographer, you’re also a director: where does the coexistence between this two disciplines come from?
I approached photography relatively late, it was a slow realization that led me to understand, around 28, that the photographic medium allowed me to express myself at best. I grew up in a family where photography has always played an important role, but for years I have experienced it as a side interest of a journalistic activity, and in particular reportage, which helped me to shape myself as a man. After a degree in Contemporary History I started traveling writing reportage, mostly from Africa and Asia, for newspapers and magazines, mainly about conflicts and human rights, and slowly, with respect and a little fear, I started to add images to my words. Until the photographs completely replaced words. My photographic education is first of all self-taught, and secondly with deep roots on the one hand in research, a legacy of my university studies, and on the other in reportage. Growing up as a man, even before as a photographer, I saw my interests change, my approach, and, gradually, I tried to redefine my photographic practice. A journey that is still being defined and who knows when it will end. So, I embarked on a more personal path into long-term projects, not designed for magazines. I continue to work with them but they aren’t my only clients. Those projects explore different topics, fulfilling the will and need to talk about them through my vision. I like to experiment, I like to use different languages, different aesthetics, I don’t want to be caged in predefined categories and patterns, I like to change, get involved. I get bored very easily. Maybe that’s why I threw myself into new things that I didn’t know, as it was with cinema. I don’t think i’m a director, I had the opportunity and the desire to challenge myself into something I had never done before. It was a “tiptoe approach”: I had a story in my mind but no technical basis and knowledge, so I started studying and together with a team of great professionals, and friends, who supported (and endured) me, we managed to create a documentary, Ghiaccio, with just few means. Anyway, it was lucky enough to be appreciated and selected in various festivals. Concluding, I don’t know if this directing work will be the only one or if it will happen again in the future. I think myself as a photographer but surely these two roles could coexist and go in parallel through my personal and professional growth.
What is the role of photography in contemporary society?
I believe that photography should be a tool of investigation, criticism, analysis of the society we live in, more than ever in this world where we are constantly surrounded by images. Photography pushes us to ask ourselves questions, to make us think, contributing to widen and open our minds. Something that is necessary to understand this society.
In September 2020 you were one of the twenty winners of the first phase of the Refocus call launched by MIBACT, in collaboration with Triennale Milan and Mufoco, with your project Ballad of Woods and Wounds: how your artistic process developed in this work during the months of isolation last spring?
I spent the spring lockdown in my parents’ house, a farmhouse immersed in the woods of Monferrato, Piedmont. A place to I am very attached but from which I had distanced myself over the years. All this in a rather particular period of my life, with the news of my partner’s pregnancy and the loss of a person very dear to us. So I thought, not very rationally, to try to tell what surrounded me in a moment so full of tension, and for the first time to photographically dig into my intimacy and my personal space, something that before that moment it had never interested or intrigued me. Slowly, I realized that an interesting project was coming out, that really told something about myself, what I was experiencing, about people around me, my roots. And it didn’t make me feel uncomfortable with.
You had the opportunity to show the project in various exhibitions during the summer and autumn period and we know that a publication has recently been presented, the result of a collaboration with the illustrator Patrizio Anastasi and published by Studio Faganel: can you tell us something about it?
Patrizio is a friend, as well as an excellent illustrator, and one day, after the lockdown, we met and we started talking about the past months. He spent the spring in a context similar to mine, in a country house in the middle of the woods, in the Roero, Piedmont. Even if driven by other reasons, he spent time walking in those woods, with a notebook in his hands, drawing and collecting impressions of those moments, of that period of suspension. I saw his drawings, he saw my photos, and without thinking too much about it, very instinctively, we thought that the two projects, even if totally different, could dialogue very well together. We talked about it to the publisher, Studio Faganel, which is also the gallery that represents me, who immediately believed in the idea and so the book Ballad Of Woods And Wounds born, which has just come out.
Since 2018 you have also been working on Padanistan, focusing on the concept of defining a place that is indefinite in itself: the Padania, starting from Turin and reaching Venice. What prompted you to work on this contradictory place?
We all know Padania, we all have a well-defined idea of that region, even for those who have never been there. It’s a representation, an image built over time, which led to define an identity of a place, that however, doesn’t exist. A fake identity. Many works have been produced on Padania, in this area of Italy some of the masters of Italian photography have worked. In this case, as often happens to me, what prompted me to visually investigate this region, trying to do it in a personal way and trying to get out of the stereotyped vision of this area, was the curiosity to interact with a territory that belongs to me, because I was born there, but from which I have always felt very distant. I thought of embarking on an extremely personal journey in this area, along the Padana Superiore road from Turin to Venice back and forth, for about three years. Without any particular artistic ambition, but with the only desire to give life to a personal story of a territory and to try to investigate this apparent identity, was born a story steeped in nostalgia, where the feeling of disorientation is strong and where outer and inner space are confused, mixed together.
In addition to the issues already mentioned above, are there other topics that you explore in your photographs? How does your artistic research develop?
If someone asked me the main feature of my photographic practice, I would not hesitate to say instinct. Instinct is a characteristic that has always conditioned both my work and my life. And this is reflected in my photographic works, which all arise from a personal interest and from curiosity, that is the engine of everything I do. There are some issues that spark more interest in me and that I like to research and deepen, to compare myself with, which are, vaguely: the identity of places, man-landscape interactions, but also socially relevant topics, which I like to investigate by going deep into them, trying to expand on different levels of narration.
Could you recommend to our readers some artists who have particularly inspired you during your journey? It would be interesting to know your reference models in photography and cinema.
The panorama of the artists who have inspired me over the years is extremely long and varied, and evolved hand in hand with my person and my photographic research. From Paul Graham to Alec Soth, from Mitch Epstein to Joel Meyerowitz, from William Eggleston to Stephen Shore, passing through Gregory Halpern, Todd Hido, Alexander Gronsky, Martin Kollar, Peter Bialobrzeski, Caroline Drake, Katrin Koenning, and arriving at Maja Daniels, Txema Salvans, Stephanie Moshammer, Bryan Schutmaat, Garret Groove, so definitely heterogeneous influences and visions. In the same way, also in the cinematographic field I have always nourished myself with the most varied productions possible, from Ken Loach to Julien Temple, from Wes Anderson to David Lynch, from Lars Von Trier to Tarantino, while as regards more strictly the Italian documentary, Gianfranco Rosi, Andrea Segre, Daniele Gaglianone are directors that I certainly took as a reference when I started working on the set for the first time.
Together with Francesca Cirilli, Tommaso Parrillo and Dario Bosio you have created Jest, an hybrid between an exhibition space and a training place in the field of visual arts. What is your mission?
Jest was born with the aim to create an independent space for photography, for exhibitions, a place where you could invite national and international authors for workshops and lectures, organize talks and book launches, addressing a wide and various audience. To go beyond the pandemic related closure and future issues, we have to understand how to reshape our proposals and our activities, the same that in just few years allowed us to make Jest known nationwide for its cultural opportunities’ value and thanks to the authors who have exhibited in it (Tomoko Daido, Synchrodogs, Alba Zari, Fabrizio Albertini, Max Pinckers, Martina Zanin) and taught (Peter Bialobrzeski, Discipula, Piero Percoco).
Can you give us some previews about your next projects? What are you working on?
At the moment, between the general situation we are all experiencing and the recent birth of a child, I am dedicating myself to the definition of some, already opened, personal projects, apart from a series of works commissioned by magazines and private. I am working on my new book, taken from the Padanistan serie, with Peter Bialobrzeski who is curating it. It should see the light next year, or in conjunction with the exhibition to be held during the next edition of the Cortona on The Move festival, or just after that. Once the dummy is closed we will try to find an interested publisher. I hope that the search will be fruitful because it is a project I particularly relate to. At the same time I am expanding a work started this summer during an artistic residency in Valmalenco. This is a series entitled Hard As Rock that starting from a small archival collection of a mountain museum, will re-think and investigate the identity of an Alpine valley. Finally, I hope that we can unlock a residence in collaboration with Mufoco and the Municipality of Milan linked to the “Contemporary Panoramics” call that I won almost a year ago, to narrate the northern suburbs of Milan, which, due to the pandemic, is on standby from months.
Thank you very much Tomaso for your words, good luck for your work.