Blognotes from a photographer life...

Mar 28, 2010


Finally searching what is left of Bugis seafarers culture in Indonesia is making a twenty years old idea coming true. This people traveled the whole Indonesian archipelago and as far as India and Australia on sail ships they built (and still build) without a single piece of iron. They traded and exchanged goods, and from their home in South Sulawesi created colonies in many other islands. Few are left carrying goods on their traditional vessels (no more sails, engines have replaced them), and for a few years more will keep moving east, where large cargoes have no reason to go. Then they'll be a thing of the past, like many other cultures.. I first heard of them when I was shooting for my book on Indonesia, in 1990, and few things have changed since then.
Weddings, also among simple couples, certainly haven't. First the man has to ask to buy the wife from her family, bargaining as much as possible, to finally achieve happiness. Then the ceremony -lots of food and drinks- makes the whole village happy. Not the bride though: she's not allowed to smile during the wedding day as this would bring bad fortune to the marriage. Well, the husband was not smiling either, maybe because he was still thinking to the amount of money that had coasted him to start a family... My wishes to them is "keep your culture and customs alive".. happiness will come from your simple life, hopefully..

Mar 21, 2010


Travel photography is often considered an "inferior" field of profession when compared to the documentary reportage. It's true that the subjects are almost always less interesting from a social point of view, and the impact perceived equally weaker, but shouldn't we consider the freedom of expression that the "lightness" of the subjects allow the photographer?
"Truth in Travel" is the motto of Conde Nast Traveler, but for years the magazine has featured images that are far from a pure presentation of touristic destinations. Most of the time the photos are strongly interpretative, showing meaningful details (well, sometimes not so meaningful, must say..) or almost abstract panoramas. The idea is simple: the public is well educated on travel, knows what will find in the various places, therefore what a modern magazine should do is suggesting a clever way to enjoy it. This was an idea not received by many European publications that have then succumbed to the web era.
For the photographer the task is less simple then what may appear after this statement. If you don't limit yourself to the representation of a place what you need to do is understand the soul of it, focus on one or more aspects that may symbolize this soul, and then give a personal interpretation. This requires quite a lot of experience, especially because the time to do the work is often very limited. But then comes the good part of the story: yes, the personal interpretation that all photographers love to be requested for! Going creative is all it takes, and your limit is the sky (or a conservative photo editor)!
So travel photography can be really creative if the end user is well educated and ready to face the modern public. Still will be confronted with the documentary photography that requires travel: not the same thing obviously, but many people tend to forget the deep difference and think that once you go away from home the job will be the same. As I mentioned in a previous post, during a shared slide presentation at TPW with Alexandra Boulat, we also shared many comments. She had edited my selection and she noted how more difficult it is to obtain an approval for a "travel" image compared to another showing some tragic event. A starving child will always be more engaging to the photo passionate then a white sand beach!

Mar 12, 2010


Paul Theroux is one of the travel writers that most inspired me. To be honest it was not for indications on where to go and how. In his pages I rather found a reassuring common feeling with the solitary traveler, a coincidence with his vision of the social folds and his realistic schedule (more focused on the experience of traveling then on a deep exploration of single realities, a predilection I share). So I was very happy to find his latest book "Ghost Train to the Eastern Star", the diary of his journey retracing, after 30 years, his Asian journey narrated in "The Great Railway Bazaar". He wanted to see how the world had changed, but, more then this, he wanted to discover how himself had changed the perception of his experiences. This is something too interesting for me as well, after 30 years on the road.
He writes something that may seems an addendum to my previous post. "The world of settled people has evolved into a world of people wishing to emigrate. There was hardly any distinction, and not much romance, in being a traveler. It was now a world of travelers, or people dreaming of a life elsewhere-far away". Well, change the "travel" with "photography" and there you go: the two components of my profession seriously jeopardized!
But he also writes: "Travel means living among strangers, their characteristic stinks and sour perfumes, eating their food, listening to their dramas, enduring their opinions, often with no language in common, being always on the move toward an uncertain destination, creating an itinerary that is continually shifting, sleeping alone, inventing the trip, cobbling together a set of habits in order to stay sane and rational, finding ways to fill the day and be enlightened, avoiding danger, keeping out of trouble, (..) writing everything down in order to remember, reflecting on where I am and what I'm doing."
Who wants to give this up?

Mar 7, 2010


These are time of brain storming, coming changes, radical changes.. What I call a re-evolution of my job. The reason why I write this post is mostly for my own sake, to make a point. But is also a reaction to so called artistic experiments that I find empty and useless. I should say hopeless, as they are intended to find new professional solutions through superficial shortcuts.
Re-evolution starts from history. And here is my professional history.
Beginning of the 80’s I started my (five years) long pursue of a space in the travel editorial market. The photographers that most inspired me at that time were Ansel Adams, Ernst Haas, Fulvio Roiter. Being a traveling geographer by vocation, landscape was my main focus. I soon realized that my Florentine roots had impressed a strong (even too fixed) sense of Renaissance composition to the images I produced. I bought a Pentax 6x7 for medium format and a Sinar field camera besides my Olympus OM2 (then OM3 and OM4) 35mm cameras.
In 1985 I decided to jump into the full time profession. It was a gamble, but I succeeded. By the end of the 80’s I was working for Bonechi travel books (I published over 120 books with them in a 15 years cooperation) as financial support. But I also published 3 major books for the Italian Touring Club (New Zealand, Indonesia, South Africa) among others, and regularly contributed to the major Italian and American travel magazines of the time. Massimo Morello, with whom I’m traveling in Asia most of my time today, was then the editor of Atlante. He pointed out how I had developed a very personal style, maybe even too refined as I was making even tragic situations looking beautiful. It was ok though, but I had the sad privilege of signing the last cover of this glorious geographical magazine on February 1993 (US Highway 1 driven from snowy Maine to sunny Key West).
Mid 90’s is when I started my digital exploration. Yes, it was over 15 years ago, when nobody was talking about the digital future: no digital cameras, basic scanners, bad printers. But I had the support of courageous editors. Andrea Scandolara, the editor of Weekend magazine, published very experimental stories. I did the Fiesta in Pamplona in red tones, the Bilbao Guggenheim museum in the same colors of the building, Oktoberfest in the tone of beer. Luciano Di Pietro did a special issue on Bell'Europa with photos I had transformed as if they were modern azulejos. And many more.. Travel was a matter of photographic interpretation: I was working with Leica or Nikon by now.
A selection of those works were published in “Back in Town”, in 1998, my first portfolio book. The book never went to the bookshops but was distributed by Nikon Italy and the Image Bank, in a number of copies that would be a dream today. It was good: I had made my point, in a way..
I also started with multimedia experiments: small videos and an interactive CD were produced but never published. The publishers called it “too new”. When they finally understood it the content was already too old, and CDs outdated by the web.
But for me was time of changes again. Probably it was a mistake from the professional point of view, but I wanted to follow my “traveling geographer” vocation above all. I had started discovering the human being in the years: the most challenging subject for any artist. I thought applying my experimental style to cultural reportage would have worked. And partly did. But the past decade was full of changes, doomed by continued crisis, uncertainties. Magazines were confused, had no idea of what the public wanted. Probably the public just didn’t want magazine at all: their time had finished.
But I published some interesting stories and books nonetheless. My project on major world religions started with 3 books by the Touring Club (Buddhism, Hinduism, Orthodox) and ended with Io Credo, a brick-size thick book on prayer throughout all major religions. The echo of the work was really strong.
In 2007 NAG (Not Yet Global) was published: my second portfolio book. For me the closing step of this “experimental reportage” phase of my personal journey.
And here we are.. In a middle of a mess that sees all the old editorial world crumble with the rest of western certainties thanks to a crisis that is not only economical. I made several posts on this: on how we need to reinvent not only our profession but the sense of calling ourselves “photographer” in times when every person has a camera in his pocket..
This time is different from the past. An adjustment will not be enough. A re-evolution is essential if we want to keep traveling with a camera, a real one, in our hands.