How To Become A Photographer In Prison

How To Become A Photographer In Prison

Giorgia Massari · 3 weeks ago · Photography

I meet Adriano Alia in a little park in Porta Romana. He’s sitting on a bench, waiting for me with a large book next to him and a small analog camera in his hands. I asked Adriano to meet because I was intrigued by his unusual first approach to photography. I was already familiar with his work through social media; in Milan, he’s made a name for himself, especially for shooting some of the most famous rappers, as well as numerous models. Anyone who frequents Milan’s nightlife, especially release parties, will have surely encountered him or at least heard of him. I only find out later that Alia has been in prison and that it was there he first got into photography. Doing some research, I discovered a project he did behind bars, and, most notably, that some of these photographs were exhibited in a show at the PAC in Milan. So, I prepare some questions and meet Adriano. He immediately shows me the large book resting on the bench; it’s the catalog of the PAC exhibition, titled Ri-scatti. Per me si va tra la perduta gente, which represents the beginning of his journey. We talk about his arrest, the numerous transfers before arriving at Bollate prison, which, as he says, changed his life. Until today, his career, and his success. During the conversation, there were moments of strong emotion – especially on my part – which underline the great adaptability and redemption that human beings can demonstrate even in difficult situations. In this sense, by confining this willpower within the walls of a prison, the help must come from above or, as is the case in many situations, from outside, allowing but above all believing in the possible redemption of prisoners.

adriano alia | Collater.al

Without a doubt, the story we are telling today is one of the few with a happy ending. As Adriano is keen to point out, without this course, designed and organized by the Milan PAC and Ri-scatti Onlus – the voluntary association that has been creating events and initiatives for social redemption through photography since 2014 – and promoted by the City of Milan with the support of Tod’s and the contribution of LCA Studio Legale, none of this would have happened. Let’s start with the interview and find out how to become a photographer in prison.

Let’s start from the beginning. How did you approach photography in prison?

AA: During my time in prison, I had the opportunity to learn how to shoot. One day Amedeo Novelli from Sony and Diego Sileo from PAC in Milan came to Bollate prison and proposed a photography course. The course lasted a couple of months, during which they gave us the opportunity to learn how to use the camera and to use it inside the prison, in the spaces we accessed, so also in the cells, air zones, corridors and common spaces. I had fun, I found my passion, and from that moment I haven’t stopped taking pictures.

Your shots cover a period of two years. How did you manage to shoot even after the course ended?

AA: Even after the course ended, I was able to continue taking pictures by putting myself forward as a photographer for the prison newspaper, carteBollate. But it was only after the okay of the newspaper director Susanna Ripamonti that I officially continued shooting. I was taking pictures during interviews with family members and during events, when politicians or public figures came inside the prison, as well as continuing to shoot my comrades. Until the day of release-which was August 18, 2023-I took pictures every day, building over time a real reportage of life inside the prison.

What were your favorite subjects? What did you look for in your shots?

AA: In the everyday norm, the main subjects were my friends. I used to propose them to take pictures outdoors during leisure hours or even in the cell. I found the way of life we had fascinating compared to what is outside, because inside there are things that when you are free you see as very normal objects of use and consumption, instead in jail some objects, some ways of doing things, some things we did sounded peculiar to me and in my opinion they were worth photographing. My own friends were saying to me, “Adri will you take a picture of us, will you take a picture of us here? Look, I got these new clothes for the interview,” or “I got a haircut today,” “I want to send a picture to my girlfriend outside.” So taking a picture of them was no longer just a picture, but it was a message that you sent to your loved ones to show how good we could feel inside.

adriano alia

From the way you tell it, shooting in prison sounds like a simple process, but I’m sure there’s more to it than that. Have you ever encountered obstacles? Hostility?

AA: There was always a bit of hostility, especially from some prison officers, because it was so unusual. Whereas on the other hand, thanks to Susanna Ripamonti and Director Giorgio Leggieri who gave me so much space, I had the opportunity to really delve into photography.

Do you think the hostility came from the fact that you might have documented something uncomfortable?

AA: Yes, you could say that I also photographed some of the flaws of the prison, maybe even things that I couldn’t have photographed or shouldn’t have even seen.

Is it a problem today to publish these shots?

AA: No, the shots I took during the course have already been published already seen in an exhibition that was held at the PAC in Milan. At the end of the course, photos were selected and these photos went on display at the Pavilion of Contemporary Art in Milan, and so everyone I had photographed during the course had already signed the release. Then the photos I took after the course I always took anyway to my friends.

Despite the bad experience of being in prison, it seems like it offered you a new opportunity. What do you think about that?

AA: Yes, it sounds absurd to say, but being in jail was a turning point in my life. Especially the last two and a half years I spent in Bollate were perhaps some of the best years of my life because, after a few years with the same people, unbreakable bonds are formed, your fellow inmates become like brothers. In the end, Bollate is a prison, but it’s not closed off from the outside world. There are many volunteers, many courses, plenty to do. If you’re someone who wants to make the most of it, Bollate prison gives you the opportunity to do so. I did a lot of things, I tried to keep myself busy every day, all day long, with as many things as I could, and the days flew by.

You mentioned that before Bollate, you were in both San Vittore and Opera. Are there similar opportunities for inmates there too?

AA: Yes, when I was arrested in 2019, they took me to San Vittore prison. After a few months in San Vittore, I was transferred to Opera, despite it being my first time in prison. I still don’t know why. Opera is a really boring prison; apart from working out and playing cards, there’s not much you can do. After a year, thanks to Covid, I managed to spend a year on probation. Then, due to an investigation initiated by the Prosecutor’s Office, they decided to bring me back to jail, and I stayed there until the end of my sentence. I was lucky because I didn’t return to the original prison; instead, they sent me to Bollate. The photography course I took was actually also held in other prisons in Milan – Opera, San Vittore and the IPM Cesare Beccaria -, however, I think the possibilities Bollate gives you are not so easy to find in other prisons.

What happened when you got out of prison? How did you approach the world of photography outside?

AA: As soon as I got out, I had no intention of taking pictures because I thought that my photography was something only about prison and that outside, as a free person, there was too much competition. I was a little demoralized, I thought I was not a photographer and I would be a drop in the ocean. Then, thanks to my friends, especially Andrea Sata and Zano, I found the motivation to continue. I bought a cheap analog and a Kodak Gold 200 ISO film and made my first roll of photographs. It was cool because, by happenstance, at that time I caught a lot of cool people, especially famous people who I’m not going to list here. Then I evolved, I bought a nicer camera, still analog. An Olympus compact, which has now become my must-have item.

Coming out of prison you inevitably found yourself without your subjects. Why did you choose precisely the people of the night as the new protagonists of your shots?

AA: Imagine that after my time in prison I no longer knew the night. When I was arrested I was twenty-five years old, I was young and loved going out at night. When I got free I remembered how much I liked the night, going to nice places and making new acquaintances. I was very well received by my friends, who took me to release parties. I had no idea what a release party even was.

I think there is a curious parallel between prisoners and celebrities, both of whom are a little reluctant to have their pictures taken. Do you agree with that?

AA: Yes, without a doubt. In prison, I learned to photograph those who are not too happy to have their picture taken. Criminals and VIPs don’t want to be taken. In jail I learned to build confidence with my subject and photograph them at the right time. Almost always cool photos come out because they are spontaneous. They are somewhat lurking photos, almost paparazzi-like, the result is never posed but as natural as possible.

Last question about the future. What are you looking forward to? Do you have plans for an exhibition?

AA: Yes, I would like to do an exhibition in Italy, although I’m afraid that by doing it here it will be a bit exploited, because Italy is still a bit of a bigoted country about these things. At least, that’s my fear. In any case, my dream would be to do it in Milan, where the imprisoned boys I photographed can come. It is important to me that people see what can be done inside a prison and that they understand how crucial it is to promote projects like this. It is full of young people in jail who are brilliant, who discover their talents only in jail because maybe outside they were living a life that did not give them the chance to discover them. But there needs to be a focus on that. Because if no one helps them, when they get out of jail they will go back to doing the same things they did before or even worse, because you get even hungrier when you get out of jail.

Credits Adriano Alia

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Michele Gabriele brings his aliens to miart

Michele Gabriele brings his aliens to miart

Giorgia Massari · 1 week ago · Art

After yesterday’s preview on April 11, today miart officially opens to the public until Sunday 14. With the title no time, no space, director Nicola Ricciardi declared that this edition, the 28th, will be the best in recent years. Impossible to state objectively, but the novelties and the quality of the installations lead us to confirm this thesis. The emergent corridor, the first one you encounter as soon as you cross the entrance, is always the most interesting in our opinion. So many galleries we already knew, like Milan’s ArtNoble with an installation by Luca Staccioli, others we discovered here like London’s Gathering with works by Soojin Kang. Moving to the established corridors, also from London we also liked the booth at Cooke Latham Gallery with Lisa-Marie Harris’ solo show. Then Ciaccia Levi with Zero Gallery and Francesco Gennari’s installation; Cassina Project with works by Louisa Clement, Alessandro Fogo, Cecilia Granara and Erin Jane Nelson. What surprised us, however, was the work of Michele Gabriele (1983, Fondi), presented by the New York gallery ASHES/ASHES, which, by the way, is also simultaneously present in the spaces of the aforementioned Cassina Project, in the group show To Romanticize with Indecision that he curated together with Monia Ben Hamouda. So let’s talk about his work, perhaps the most Instagrammed of the fair because of the particularity of the subject, an alien – actually two, three if you count the painting – wounded, plastered and with fins on his feet.

gabriele michele

Michele Gabriele‘s mediums are painting, sculpture and installation. At miart there are two alien sculptures presented by the Lazio artist, class of ’83. In the background of July 2nd, the work at the center of the ASHES/ASHES booth, is the painting A Life in Theory that offers a clearer idea of what his research is. On the one hand, the artist makes us reflect on what are the alienating effects of the era in which we live, on the other hand, he does not take himself too seriously strong in an aesthetic that is extremely linked to the most sophisticated pop culture possible. In the midst of the Anthropocene, it is not surprising that everyone is drawn like moths to this booth, intrigued by the novelty of something finally divisive on display at miart.

michele gabriele
ASHES/ASHES, Michele Gabriele, miart 2024, installation view

Courtesy Michele Gabriele

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All facets of Alessandro Mendini

All facets of Alessandro Mendini

Giorgia Massari · 6 days ago · Art

«I am not an architect, I am a dragon,» is how Alessandro Mendini described himself in a self-portrait drawing that is now the poster for his just-opened retrospective exhibition April 13 – atTriennale Milano in collaboration with Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain. Indeed, his eclectic personality is difficult to describe in a single word. Architect, designer, graphic designer, artist, poet, craftsman. Mendini was all this and more. From the emotional charge present on stage during the April 12 press conference, where daughters Elisa and Fulvia Mendini also spoke, one could sense not only the genius but also the incredible sensitivity that such a multifaceted figure guarded. This exhibition, open until Oct. 13, aims to connect all the threads that make up his complex, kaleidoscopic identity, to quote Stefano Boeri. «In the exhibition we have tried to give an identity to the various sections to show how Mendini’s identity is not univocal, but composed of many parts. Like so many red threads that lead to the various rooms of the dragon,» explained curator Fulvio Irace, who had a long-standing friendship with Mendini.

Drawings, installations, design objects, thoughts. In this exhibition there is everything. Or rather, there is the whole world of Alessandro Mendini, the whole reality filtered through his eyes, no doubt colorful and never boring. The playful aspect is evident as well as his cartoony gaze. Mendini in fact, as Irace explains, also wanted to be a cartoonist. Even more, his daughter Elisa Mendini-during a touching speech-describes him as a shaper of reality. His empathy for everyday objects and the mystery of poetry that transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary is clearly rendered in Pierre Charpin‘s installation, which divides the path into six thematic nuclei, while maintaining the coherence that has always distinguished Mendini’s personality. Through more than four hundred works, the exhibition I am a Dragon. The True Story of Alessandro Mendini offers viewers a broad look at the history and especially the creative force of a man who changed the history of design and architecture.

alessandro mendini
@delfino sl @dsl studio ©Triennale Milano
alessandro mendini
@delfino sl @dsl studio ©Triennale Milano
alessandro mendini
alessandro mendini
@delfino sl @dsl studio ©Triennale Milano

Courtesy Archivio Mendini, Triennale Milano, Fondation Cartier

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Cécile Dormeau illustrates what it means to be a woman

Cécile Dormeau illustrates what it means to be a woman

Giulia Guido · 5 days ago · Art

Every woman knows how difficult it is to be a woman: fighting with your hair in the morning, trying to hide pimples, dealing with comments about your weight, your appearance, your clothes. These are aspects that are part of everyday life and that sometimes take a heavy toll on morale. French illustrator Cécile Dormeau gives voice to all women by drawing scenes of normal everyday life and normalising certain aspects that are not always talked about. 

Cécile Dormeau graduated from the Estienne school of design in Paris, then lived first in Hamburg and then in Berlin where she worked as a designer and illustrator. She later worked as a junior art director at Ogilvy One in Frankfurt, finally deciding to pursue a career as an illustrator and return to Paris, where she now lives and works. 

Every day Cécile shares simple illustrations with her 265,000 followers on Instagram, with colourful backgrounds and featuring girls of all ages struggling with jeans that are too tight or hair growth.
What sets Cécile’s work apart from that of all other illustrators is that she started dealing with these topics in “unsuspected times”, beginning to make her illustrations as early as 2015, long before movements like NormalizeNormalBodis. 

The illustrator manages to summarise in a single image the state of mind of thousands of people, who share her work, finally feeling understood and no longer alone. 

We’ve selected just a few of her works, but if you want to find out more, follow her on Instagram

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The History Of Writing Told At MAMbo

The History Of Writing Told At MAMbo

Giorgia Massari · 5 days ago · Art

When the phenomenon of Writing was not yet fully known in Europe, researcher and scholar Francesca Alinovi (Parma, 1948 – Bologna, 1983) promoted an exhibition on frontier art, specifically looking at the New York scene. This was in 1984, the writers Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, and Ronnie Cutrone were so young that their works were still accessible, yet Alinovi had already understood the magnitude of the phenomenon that would shortly thereafter explode internationally. Forty years have passed since the exhibition at the Galleria comunale d’Arte Moderna di Bologna, and to mark the anniversary, MAMbo in Bologna has decided to pay homage to Alinovi and writing with an exhibition that intends to retrace all the evolutionary stages of the phenomenon, to tell the story of the past but also the present. FRONTIERA 40 Italian Style Writing 1984-2024 – curated by Fabiola Naldi – collects the sketches of 181 authors, testimonies of the creative process of several generations of Italian writers, unique expressive devices, priority and generative of each author’s style. Let’s better understand what it is all about.

writing mambo

More than 40 years have passed since Francesca Alinovi began writing about graffiti, glimpsing in the concept of frontier the evanescence of boundaries and in aesthetic contamination a new Avant-Garde. In the years when the scholar was telling about this new frontier, painting was overcoming the space of the frame, was expanding into the environment, was dematerializing in futuristic visions in which a single platform would share and contaminate all styles and all languages, while knowing how to interact with a complex social, anthropological, and cultural place. This premonitory vision allowed the scholar to see beyond the surface, to go where one should not go, to meet, talk to, and thus understand all those kids who, armed only with their letters and their fast-changing style, were training a new generation of authors, disrupting the fortunes of all Western metropolises

Fabiola Naldi
writing mambo
Bozzetto CURSE Roma 2024

Writing today, city by city

Among the writers selected for the exhibition at MAMbo are some young Italians who bear geographical witness. In other words, the importance of the city in which they operate emerges from the writers’ works. «Operating in Milan certainly has a different meaning from doing so in Bologna or Rome, and furthermore, the thickening of the relationships woven with provincial places has reinforced in these authors the use of contaminated languages that have given rise to letters containing different styles and little comprehensible to a public unaware of the glossary of the discipline», reads the press release. But the phenomenon does not remain confined to the city of origin; in fact, the exhibition shows how the friendships and crews that were created were instrumental in forging a connection between different cities, giving rise to larger and even international groups that contributed to the spread of the phenomenon and, above all, to its affirmation.

The exhibition will be open at MAMbo until July 13th, 2024

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Bozzetto BREEZY G, Roma 1993
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Bozzetto ROSE, Rimini 1995
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Installation View, FRONTIERA 40 | MAMbo di Bologna
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Bozzetto DAFNE, Genova 1996

In cover: CRASH, Torino 1995

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