When I arrive in Italy I like to imagine Julius Caesar and the Roman Empire. So much power so much glory rushing across a continent like a tidal wave. The notion of world order suffused your brain waves.
Italy like Europe and its’ ever evolving boundaries of nations as in most continents is like a philately collection changing hands over centuries. There is a greater significance to the provenance of one stamp one country over another as time pushes forward.
Italy’s incredible cultural history teaches my camera to recognize layers of information in every moment. Photographs that exhibit even an iota of a narrative are in fact a novel unto themselves. The richness of stories told in an image communicate life forces that most people just don’t see...maybe like the experience of seeing a UFO for the first time...when it is true your whole mind lights up.
That is why when I travel through Italy sometimes I find my vision impeded. I am not entirely sure why. Maybe the history is so mind consuming that I am lost in a glorious haze. I am possibly under a spell. I think the fault possibly lies in Milan’s La Scala. The famed opera house sends me a euphonious dance of Mozart, Puccini, Verdi and the greatest tenors and sopranos that have ever arched their lips. I am overwhelmed by the greatness I will never know.
There are tools to escape this halting reverence. I always need a visual rhythm to attach my eyes to. For me that has always been cinema.
My camera has been influenced by films years before my career began. Dozens of film makers and thousands of stills in film have shaped the way I breathe imagery through my mind and lens. I have always felt a special debt of gratitude to Fellini and Antonioni. They simultaneously lifted my eyes to beyond the limitations of a single frame. In particularly the films “The Nights of Cabiria” and “Red Desert”(“Red Desert” was Antonioni’s first film in color) defined for me what it means to have a photograph shaped by imagery, exaggeration, fragile emotions and the meaning of color. Their films provided a postwar (WW2) way to reveal an inner character and an urban landscape. Thousands of images have resonated with me: Fellini’s usage of a 1956 DeSoto Fireflite Convertible and Antonioni’s pale red industrial plants have become my cameras’ pillars of understanding visual identity.
Once you see these films, you can only become a photography addict. Their modernist views (Fellini and Antonioni) accompany me to my day as Il Flaneur of Milan.
Utilizing my commission to photograph the fabulous designers/architects Gae Aulenti and Ettore Sottsass, I embarked on a dark street, bright light chirascoura journey through the streets armed with Caesar, DaVinci, Mozart and dozens if not hundreds of camera considerations.
It is impossible to explain what it means to be alone amongst a million people, a thousand years of a city. It is truly unique to everyone’s reflective soul. You are simultaneously lonely and bubbling with verve. If you take the wrong path, one might commit suicide...if you take the right one, you dance the jig atop the Duomo.
An essay about Milan is not to be written now. The enjoyment of a cultural phenomenon that is alluringly rich at every corner is not to be written now either.
I fuse my moments together. My dinner at Boeucc, Bulgari Hotel and grabbing a prosciutto/cheese/macchiato moments and many more have taken me through the streets for days with my intended sessions becoming one of a thousand coming of age moments.
Arriving at Gae’s ( pronounced guy) studio/office, one is not flummoxed by the sparse space. Hopefully you are aware that her designs are clean and smart.
When I am led into her personal space she greets me at the door. I have photographed thousands of people young and old. After awhile you begin to recognize life’s map in their eyes. Gae’s eye speak to all of the wars an architect endures.
Her studio space is a place that I dreamed of having for a million years. Books, designs and a place to retreat to, all in a square of bliss.
So many subjects want to turn the attention on me. They defend their personal fortress like something out of the “Game of Thrones”. They will protect their privacy, their feelings at all cost. Eventually Gae opens up with a bit of prodding about her most famous assignments. She discusses the Musee d’Orsay, the lamps and tables we wish we could afford. She has come around. She is no longer protecting Gae. She reaches out and offers me a tea and something stronger. After a couple of hours of taking pictures, Gae asked me if I have gotten what I came for. I look around the space that I want to steal for my own. I recognize a light that I had not seen before. I suggested one more moment. I felt the success of my endeavor in a snap. It wasn’t the photograph, but the moment that I was living in history. I scanned the space one last time. Great designs, great space, great light and the ultimate share: a life. As I clicked the single frame, I realized I was done, spent. I always shake the hand of my subject thanking them for the time they gave me. This morning was a bit different. I took her hand and thanked her. Instead of getting up to escort me to the door. She said, “ if you do not mind I will sit here for awhile. As I looked back at Gae as I was leaving, she was in my light, the light I always dream about.
I stole some Milan moments in the afternoon to have a bit of bread,cheese and prosciutto. I sipped a macchiato with something amber that was a bit stronger.
I arrived at the home of Sottsass. I wished that I was born in fifty other decades. I have always wanted to meet everyone who has made an impression on me. I am completely put at ease by Sottsass sparse living quarters. I realized in that moment his beautiful brightly colored designs have nothing to do with his domestic residence. I expected something futuristic. I imagined bright colors and cool white light pouring in. I imagined a 21st century space odyssey. Instead I was blown away by the shades pulled, amber lights and the aged lines of a man who seemingly disappeared from life. The life lived had vanished in his eyes. I have met young and old creators I have rarely met eyes that have said, “goodbye”. I was very happy to make this moment with my camera.
Ettore Sottsass surprised be by sharing dozens of stories. For two hours I felt I was the luckiest photographer on the planet. This man who appeared to be near death, had a Disney affect on me. His eyes started to dance, his octaves were up and down. Methuselah came alive and gave the gift of Sottsass. When I shook his hand to let him know I had completed the shoot he floored me; “that’s it?”.
I entered the streets of Milan. Nearly 2500 years of history splayed before me.
Fellini, Antonioni, Sottsass and Aulenti, carried me through the day.