IN STUDIO with Marco P. Valli and Luca Santese of Cesura – ep. 13

IN STUDIO with Marco P. Valli and Luca Santese of Cesura – ep. 13

Giorgia Massari · 2 months ago · Photography

For the thirteenth episode of IN STUDIO, we went to Cesura‘s spaces in Pianello Val Tidone, province of Piacenza, to meet Marco P. Valli and Luca Santese, two members of the most active photographic collective in Italy. Known primarily for their joint project Realpolitik, a series of portraits of Italian politicians, including Giorgia Meloni, Silvio Berlusconi, and Matteo Salvini, the two photographers shared with us how it all began. From working together to coexisting within a collective, Marco and Luca also discussed the behind-the-scenes of their work and their upcoming project in the United States.

The Cesura Study: An Alternative Model

We find ourselves at the foothills of the Piacenza hills, in a two-story building with a somewhat Spartan appearance. Here is the headquarters of Cesura, the photographic collective founded by Alex Majoli – now a full member of Magnum Photos – and active since 2008. Around forty people, including photographers and assistants, work in this space equipped with all the necessary tools to make them autonomous. From post-production to the actual printing of photographs, to framing and transport for exhibition production. On the ground floor, a large co-working area precedes a printing laboratory. On the mezzanine, there is the archive of their publishing house, established from the beginning as a means of disseminating Cesura’s work. Upstairs, there is the editing room and the darkroom, along with a small kitchen that allows Cesura members to fully immerse themselves in this place, potentially without leaving for entire days. The sense of sharing is immediately palpable, as well as atypical for photographers. We are used to encountering artistic collectives or visiting large co-working spaces of mostly visual artists; the idea of a photographic collective working in unison with the foresight to emphasize the name Cesura rather than the individual intrigues us a lot. There are many questions we want to ask Luca Santese and Marco P. Valli, but let’s start from the beginning.

Why are we here in Pianello Val Tidone and not in the city?

LS: For various reasons, actually. One is that the dimensions of these spaces, for our budgets, would never have been sustainable in the city. At the same time, this is a place where one can retreat, so it changes the dimension in which you work. The legend – but it’s true – says that the place was chosen by drawing a circle with a compass on the map. About an hour’s drive from the main airports and near highway junctions.

How was Cesura born, and how did you end up here?

MPV: Luca Santese is one of the founders of Cesura, and I joined a bit later, in 2011. At the beginning, Luca was an assistant to Alex Majoli, then the collective was founded with its publishing house to promote Cesura’s work and ideology. The initial policy was not to sign projects but to release them only under the name Cesura, to make the collective as known as possible. It was funny at first when we arrived somewhere, and they said, “Are you Cesura?” Our idea has always been to bring Cesura first because the most effective thing that passes is the idea of collectivity. Then, of course, competitiveness has always been fundamental inside, both for better and for worse, but it has made everyone grow very quickly. Life here has never been “comfortable,” but, surely, living a sort of training has made photographers more prepared for more challenging situations. Let’s say that those who pass through here get toughened up and become more resistant, so it’s useful, it shapes you. In a way, living here and working intensely together also acts as a filter, especially at the beginning, as an aspiring photographer; it makes you understand if you are suited for this type of work.

How do you experience this place? Do you live nearby?

MPV: At first, we settled here. In the assistant phase, the guys live here; now we go back and forth from Brianza. When we work in pairs, we always meet here. This is the best space for productivity, which increases by 300% compared to when we are in Milan. What you would do in a week of work here, you do it in three days because everyone else works in the same direction. Usually, there are many of us, and comparison is frequent and crucial for us.

Do you think it can be said that there is a Cesura method that is consolidating and being passed down?

MPV: Yes, it depends on the photographers. Each has their method, but there are factors that keep us together, especially from a structural and organizational point of view.

Let’s talk about your Realpolitik project. How did the approach to politics come about?

LS: This is a fascinating story, especially because it aligns closely with Cesura. Cesura’s activity began before its official establishment, around 2005. Alex Majoli opened this studio with Alessandro Sala, one of his early assistants. Alex’s idea was to stay away from the city and build a studio that was also a laboratory, so he could have complete control over the entire production process. Relying on external support led to errors, delays, inaccuracies, and costs that became exorbitant. This meticulousness, if done externally, costs a lot. However, if you manage it yourself and train people to handle it, it has a different impact, besides costing less. At the beginning, there was a real division of labor – a couple of us focused on post-production, some on printing, a couple on assembly work and frame construction. All of this gave Cesura its soul. After years of being assistants, there was a risk that photographers would disperse into various agencies. The idea was different: stay here and establish a collective. That model of independence that had been created was applied to Cesura. To get to the point, none of us was a billionaire, and there was no one sponsoring something like this at that time, so the need was to start by shooting in our own territory.

Did politics come into play at this point?

LS: Yes, Italian politics was one of the first fields we worked on from the beginning. It was within reach, cost-effective, and we had the real potential to sell photos internationally. When in 2018 the situation of Italian politics changed, becoming hyper-populist, we realized there was an opportunity for us to work on a project together and provide a comprehensive narrative of the Third Republic in Italy.

Why do you think it was necessary to tell the story of the Italian political situation at that particular moment?

MPV: Consider that our background comes from Magnum. What sets it apart from many others is their work on contemporaneity with the idea of creating an iconography of the present with a broader perspective, not just chronicle-like. Following in this vein, Realpolitik was an opportunity for us to create a collective project, with the intention of forming a new iconography of Italian political representation and propaganda. In practice, it’s interesting because Third Republic politicians started self-producing their propaganda, nullifying the representation that photographers created of power. At that time, there was no one producing counter-propaganda or, at least, trying to subvert the propaganda canons proposed by politicians. We stepped into this gap. We began searching for an aesthetic that could counterpose itself in a satirical, critical, and grotesque way to the representation that those in power made of themselves. From that point on, we started following the main political events, which, individually, remain mere news, but in the organicity of a five-year project, they gain meaning – the documentation of the transformation of political power in Italy.

LS: Think about our photos of Giorgia Meloni, so grotesque, satirical, and comical. If – hypothetically – our country went to war, something that has actually happened but in a more explicit way, these photos would take on a whole different weight. This is the vision we try to uphold – looking at the present but trying to consider history, so that the images can continually acquire new communicative power.

A bit like John Heartfield did with satirical photomontages against Hitler’s Germany?

LS: Exactly, in the field of photography, political satire has been scarce, especially in Italy. Our attempt, with this grotesque, revealing, theatrical aesthetic, is precisely to create true masks of Italian comedy, or rather, Italian tragicomedy. There’s a beautiful page that I feel like promoting, called Meme Press Photo, which pokes fun at photographers. There’s a photo showing a roof covered in snow, and a person, with a shovel, removing a small corner. The meme says: “This is your impact on history, that is, nothing.” The flow of images bombarding us today is so intense that it’s like trying to respond to a bombardment with a pellet gun, but simultaneously, it’s not certain. This is work that can be thought of even for those who will come in ten, twenty, thirty years and can have a historicized perspective. Berlusconi is an example. The photographs we took of Silvio Berlusconi, when he passed away, became iconic images of the last Berlusconi.

In this counter-propaganda operation, have you ever encountered external obstacles, perhaps criticism or bureaucratic hurdles? Is it a problem to publish an image of this kind?

MPV: No, it’s not a problem because politicians are public figures, and during rallies or events, they can be photographed. The use of light we employ is not attackable, in the sense that everyone takes portraits as they see fit. We have had encounters with politicians, yes. For example, when we did Il Corpo del Capitano, we flew to Catania, and Matteo Salvini was coming out of the trial, and we handed him the book.

Do you know what politicians think of these portraits?

MPV: Actually, they don’t think anything. In fact, there is a sensational story about Salvini related to the cover of Time Magazine. In 2018, we took a portrait of Salvini, captured with light from below. Salvini is smiling, and the light makes him appear Mephistophelean. It is the photo we published on the first fanzine of Realpolitik, and after a few months, we sold it to Time, which made it the cover of an issue titled “The new face of Europe.” Vivienne Walt‘s article criticized Salvini’s actions during that period. A month after the publication, we went to Rome, and during a League demonstration, they handed us a leaflet. In the center was the Time cover. Salvini essentially used it to self-celebrate as an international politician. At that point, we were left stunned and said, “Satire alone is not enough.” A portrait like that, for someone who hasn’t had visual education, doesn’t see its critical sense. The important thing is that it says “Time” and Salvini’s face. From that moment, we decided to work on Il Corpo del Capitano, to try to create an even more alternative, raw, more noir iconography that would dismember Salvini at a communicative level and make the photos untouchable. We turned him into a mask, put him on the cover without eyes so that he couldn’t exploit it in any way.

LS: When we gave the book to Salvini, he had a small twitch. Our goal is to work so that these means become the iconography of our time, even for the future.

How do you manage to shoot politicians so closely?

MPV: The photographs for Realpolitik were taken at a very close distance. We manage to get very close only during small provincial rallies. There are fewer people, fewer photographers, and we can approach more easily. In some cases, we were really lucky, getting as close as twenty centimeters from their faces.

Do you enter the rallies as accredited press photographers? Have you ever been discovered? Are the equipment similar?

LS: They have never said anything. The only factor that might arouse suspicion is the fact that there are two of us. The equipment is quite similar, although we use an external flash, which is somewhat unusual for press photographers.

Do you plan to expand this project internationally?

MPV: In addition to continuing the work on Italian iconography, we want to try working abroad, focusing on the American elections. We are considering working on Texas because, besides being the largest American state, it is currently undergoing a phase of change. It is a Republican state that might not be Republican anymore after the next elections. In short, it’s a bit of Ultra America. Our focus is not only political; the intention is also to narrate other central aspects of the country to obtain a diverse story.

Let’s talk about your work. How is it to work as a pair? It’s a bit atypical for two photographers.

MPV: Being part of a collective has accustomed us to working with many people. For us, the important thing is that the project has value and is done well. Being two allows you to take twice as many photographs, especially in a context like political rallies where time is limited for shooting.

Does the competitive factor come into play?

LS:
Yes, of course, but competition is positive. When Cesura was born, all the photographers were young and very competitive; they wanted to assert themselves. However, at the same time, we managed to learn that working together is a great strength. Now that we are more mature, we can do it more consciously without that youthful immaturity. A great example is the collective project on the Arab Spring. When the Arab Springs erupted, all the photographers divided the territories, and there we managed to bring home a complete job, which would have been impossible without the group. Marco and I work together because we get along well, and we know that working as a pair is only an advantage. Competition exists, but it’s healthy.

In collective projects, you never credit a specific photographer for a particular shot. I think this also shows the overcoming of an ego, which is not obvious.

MPV: The only time we are “obliged” to put either my name or Luca’s on the photos is for publications in newspapers. Often, however, as we review projects like Il Corpo del Capitano – which is the result of two years of work – we have no idea who took the shots. Especially for that project, we were very set on the same lens and light; we were like two operators producing two perspectives.

Being primarily recognized for the Realpolitik project, is it an obstacle to your personal research?

LS: I would say no. One must always remember that what you do is not who you are. In addition to the joint projects, Marco and I have our individual research, which is very different from Realpolitik, less popular and towards a more challenging path. In this sense, it is easier to be associated with this type of aesthetic – Realpolitik – because it is more popular and circulates more, while our personal research is more niche and circulates only in galleries.

MPV: The only thing to be a bit careful about is the long term. If you only take photos of politicians with that type of aesthetic, you risk the path of mannerism.

Our customary question: what can’t be missing in the studio?

LS: Actually, we need almost everything that is here. The real wealth, from a pragmatic point of view, is our equipment, printers, machinery, vans, which individually would be impossible to maintain. For example, having a darkroom is possible only because a group of people came together and created it. The van to transport the works, as well as all the internal services, we also offer to external photographers or agencies, allowing us to maintain our own activity and invest.

Ph credits Andrés Juan Suarez

IN STUDIO with Marco P. Valli and Luca Santese of Cesura – ep. 13
Photography
IN STUDIO with Marco P. Valli and Luca Santese of Cesura – ep. 13
IN STUDIO with Marco P. Valli and Luca Santese of Cesura – ep. 13
1 · 26
2 · 26
3 · 26
4 · 26
5 · 26
6 · 26
7 · 26
8 · 26
9 · 26
10 · 26
11 · 26
12 · 26
13 · 26
14 · 26
15 · 26
16 · 26
17 · 26
18 · 26
19 · 26
20 · 26
21 · 26
22 · 26
23 · 26
24 · 26
25 · 26
26 · 26
Ivana Sfredda, If We Assimilate To Enjoy (And To Lose Ourselves)

Ivana Sfredda, If We Assimilate To Enjoy (And To Lose Ourselves)

Giorgia Massari · 3 days ago · Photography

I’m not sure if it’s the sexual component that catches my attention. Perhaps it’s some elements, especially snails, that evoke a sense of familiarity in me, but also nostalgia for something I can’t quite identify. There’s a call back to my childhood, and it’s precisely the snails that evoke it. They were my only playmates when I spent the summer in a remote mountain location, in my grandparents’ garden which after a storm became the perfect habitat for these small creatures, as slimy as they were curious. Back then, I would pick them up from their shells, place them on my arms, and let them slide over me, amused by the trail of slime they left on my skin. I didn’t know it then, but I was assimilating them. In fact, that’s exactly what Ivana Sfredda talks about in the photos she showed me a few weeks ago in her studio in Milan. Soak up is the title of the series still in work in progress that the Molisan photographer has been working on since 2022, or perhaps even earlier. Interpreting the Anglo-Saxon term “soak up” literally, it refers to the sensation of enjoyment perceived in the act of assimilation. A unique human and animal need, that of joining someone or something, of being connected, and of “annihilating the boundaries that delimit a body.”

ivana sfredda
ivana sfredda

Ivana Sfredda’s macro shots do not contemplate any subject hierarchy. A strawberry in a man’s mouth, a group of worms intertwined, a droplet about to fall from an old faucet, all appear one after the other in a carousel of images that dance hand in hand in a perpetual circle, without jerks or arrogance. Hand in hand, united, assimilated into each other, in the other. So that in the act of encounter between two bodies, there is no longer a “my body” and “your body.” The power dynamics that humans have built in the relationship between artifact and nature are nullified. Perhaps this is where my childhood memory fits in, where it is clear that in that space-time arc, I did not know of this imposition, and no construct had yet had time to settle in the logic that today exists in me, the inequality of man > animal or even more so, artificial > nature.

ivana sfredda
ivana sfredda

But there is something beyond this unconsciousness or yet uncorrupted consciousness. Ivana explains it to me by citing Mario Perniola, a philosopher, writer, and theorist of contemporary art, delving into the sexuality mentioned earlier. Because it is clear that in the union of two bodies there is a tension that moves them towards each other, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be laden with a pleasurable end. Perhaps it’s just an unconscious need to lose one’s original form?

«Perniola identifies in sexuality a point of suspension that he defines as neutral sexuality: the detachment from one’s own body that implies a sense of estrangement, cybernetic and indeed neutral. This erotic impulse detaches itself from the pursuit of carnal pleasure in function of an intense contact where the organic and inorganic body becomes a meaningful surface. A very powerful communication system that leaps beyond the categories of human/artificial, human/animal, animal/artificial – relative to being as such – which traces the fluid architectures of an alternative body.»

ivana sfredda
ivana sfredda

As explained by Ivana Sfredda, in the encounter with the other, the self feels fulfilled. This reminds me of a book I read some time ago when I was searching for a more conscious self. A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle – found in the “esotericism” section of a bookstore – actually talked about this. It discussed how the self exists only in the reflection in the other, when the annulment of the ego occurs, which only defines the boundaries of a prison where a false narrative of ourselves lives. So, in Ivana Sfredda’s shots, which she explains to me are a sort of exercise and play, all this is visually translated, as if to illustrate the daily and widespread existence of continuous equal and harmonious connections between elements that seem distant both in a hierarchical and semantic sense.

«The series focuses on the meaning of contact and relational energy, an exercise in imagining how these incomplete relationships can represent profound portals of learning.»

ivana sfredda
ivana sfredda
ivana sfredda
ivana sfredda
ivana sfredda
ivana sfredda

Courtesy & Copyright Ivana Sfredda

Ivana Sfredda, If We Assimilate To Enjoy (And To Lose Ourselves)
Photography
Ivana Sfredda, If We Assimilate To Enjoy (And To Lose Ourselves)
Ivana Sfredda, If We Assimilate To Enjoy (And To Lose Ourselves)
1 · 13
2 · 13
3 · 13
4 · 13
5 · 13
6 · 13
7 · 13
8 · 13
9 · 13
10 · 13
11 · 13
12 · 13
13 · 13
Alec Gill and Hessle Road photo archive

Alec Gill and Hessle Road photo archive

Anna Frattini · 3 days ago · Photography

Alec Gill is an English photographer, historian, and psychologist born in Hull, a city in the East Riding of Yorkshire county, famously known for its port. A few years ago, a crowdfunding campaign was launched on Kickstarter to celebrate the fifty-year anniversary of the first photo taken for the project dedicated to Hessle Road with a book, and we’re discussing it here today. The archive of 7,000 photographs – taken with his Rolleicord twin-lens reflex camera – dates back to the decade between 1970 and 1980. There are 240 images included in The Alec Gill Hassle Road photo archive, and in each of them, one can feel the atmosphere of a very difficult historical moment for the residents. It marks the decline of the fishing industry and the demolitions of mass housing in the area.

alec gill photo archive

The Alec Gill Hassle Road photo archive

The book, launched on May 18th last year, was written and conceived by Iranzu Baker and Fran Méndez. In this interview with Port, Baker discusses some aspects of working with Alec Gill. The photographer – during the writing of the book – proved to be «endlessly curious, extremely determined and dedicated». During those years, Gill also focused on the lack of play areas for children and how younger generations adapted to the changes in the area. Another goal was certainly to freeze time before the end of an era. That of fishing in the area, ended with the Cod Wars starting from 1958 until 1972 and 1975. A piece of history that thanks to Gill has not been forgotten.

Gill’s is a genuine inclination towards the stories of the underdogs. The aim was to ensure that these stories were told, both now and at the time of the shots. The Alec Gill Hassle Road photo archive is not just a social study, therefore. It is a testament to the relationship Gill has established on a human level with his fellow citizens. Their stories seem to tell themselves in front of the photographer’s lens. Furthermore, the naturalness of the shots not only captures the theme of childhood but also communicates extremely functionally moments of the daily life of the inhabitants of Hassle Road.

Alec Gill and Hessle Road photo archive
Photography
Alec Gill and Hessle Road photo archive
Alec Gill and Hessle Road photo archive
1 · 10
2 · 10
3 · 10
4 · 10
5 · 10
6 · 10
7 · 10
8 · 10
9 · 10
10 · 10
Nanni Licitra’s non-places

Nanni Licitra’s non-places

Giorgia Massari · 2 days ago · Photography

Nanni Licitra ‘s (1988) photographs focus primarily on non-places, anonymous and impersonal spaces that dot urban peripheries. Licitra transforms these marginal areas into other scenarios that acquire new meaning. We are talking about the series Hell end in Hell, whose images are emblematic reflections of a society in transformation, where the individual struggles to find a sense of belonging and identity in an increasingly chaotic and alienating context. The series, winner of the Liquida Photofestival Grant, on view in Turin from May 2 to 5, is a true socio-cultural analysis that reflects in toto the contradictions of contemporary society.

nanni licitra

Nanni Licitra ha iniziato la sua ricerca fotografica nel 2008 concentrandosi esclusivamente sulla fotografia analogica. Questa scelta non è casuale; infatti, la fotografia analogica richiede una pazienza e una precisione che si riflettono nel suo approccio distaccato e contemplativo. Licitra si pone come uno spettatore attento delle realtà che lo circondano, privilegiando uno sguardo che va oltre le apparenze per cogliere l’essenza delle cose. L’utilizzo dell’analogico da parte di Licitra non è solo una scelta tecnica, ma rappresenta anche una dichiarazione di intenti. In un’epoca dominata dalla velocità e dall’effimero delle immagini digitali, il fotografo siciliano opta per un ritmo più lento e contemplativo, che permette di approfondire le tematiche trattate e di trasmettere un senso di nostalgia e malinconia tipico dei non luoghi.

nanni licitra
nanni licitra

Courtesy Nanni Licitra

Nanni Licitra’s non-places
Photography
Nanni Licitra’s non-places
Nanni Licitra’s non-places
1 · 10
2 · 10
3 · 10
4 · 10
5 · 10
6 · 10
7 · 10
8 · 10
9 · 10
10 · 10
MIA Photo Fair, What We Liked Most

MIA Photo Fair, What We Liked Most

Giorgia Massari · 2 days ago · Photography

The preview of the eighth edition of MIA Photo Fair, the photography fair that returns to Milan every year with a selection of international artists, was held yesterday, April 10. This year it is no longer in the usual Superstudio Maxi, but moves next to the star of the week, Miart. So that, potentially, in one day the bravest can see two fairs by getting off at the Portello metro stop. Miart at gate 5 of Allianz MiCo while MIA Photo at gate 16. Getting to the point, let’s talk about what we liked. As is always the case, following the trade fair system, many of the exhibits are seen and seen again, but still enjoyable to review such as shots by established photographers of the caliber of Giovanni Gastel and Ugo Mulas, or even photojournalists Fausto Giaccone and Carlo Orsi. But, among the many evergreens we have unearthed a few new ones, perhaps a few names we have already heard, but not so much in our opinion. Therefore, we made a selection of our favorite booths.

#1 Maria Svarbova – ARTITLEDcontemporary (B022)

mia photo fair

#2 Irina Werning – OTM Gallery (B023)

mia photo fair

#3 Karla Hiraldo Voleau – Christophe Guye Galerie (B019)

mia photo fair

#4 Laetitia Ky – LIS10 Gallery (E014)

mia photo fair

#5 Giulia Frump – Young Art Hunters (F018)

#6 Paolo Ventura – MarcoRossi ArteContemporanea (A022)

mia photo fair

#7 Daniele Ratti – VisionQuest 4Rosso (C018)

mia photo fair

#8 Najla Said – Mashrabia Gallery (F005)

mia photo fair

#9 Angelo Formato – Welcome to my known collective exhibition

mia photo fair

#10 Thorsten Brinkmann – Galleria Fumagalli (A019)

mia photo fair

MIA Photo Fair will remain open until Sunday, April 14.

MIA Photo Fair, What We Liked Most
Photography
MIA Photo Fair, What We Liked Most
MIA Photo Fair, What We Liked Most
1 · 11
2 · 11
3 · 11
4 · 11
5 · 11
6 · 11
7 · 11
8 · 11
9 · 11
10 · 11
11 · 11
Other articles we recommend