Vincenzo Castella – Photographer, Italy

“Urban Geographies”

LS: To what extent have your lust for knowledge and intellectual curiosity fuelled and endorsed your personal research? Who were the visual artists that have most influenced your beginnings?

VC: The research began when I witnessed the lust for knowledge at the “aerial state” coexisting with the rhythm of dull everyday actions. All in all, what is personal research if not the support of concrete daily and repeated actions? We can talk of a transformation to “solid state”. I was lucky enough at the beginning, when I was much encouraged by the work Carel Fabritius, Jan Vermeer and Giovanni Bellini as painters. As of documentary films, Robert Flaherty’s were my favourite. In photography, I was inspired by the work of Charles Sheeler, Paul Strand and Walker Evans, and that of secessionists Alvin Langdon Coburn and Karl Struss, followed by Bernd & Hilla Becker, Ed Ruscha and Art Sinsabaugh’s.

Vicinity Ma'aleh Adumim #10271 – 2007

Vicinity Ma’aleh Adumim #10271 – 2007

Gerusalemme (Deserto della Giudea) #10276 - 2007

Gerusalemme (Deserto della Giudea) #10276 – 2007

LS: In 1974 you took part in Alan Sorrenti’s third record as guitarist. Shawn Phillips, the Osanna, Toni Esposito… Naples in the 70s was truly sparkling and energetic, a door to the East and the Mediterranean.
 Luciano Cilio, in its ”Dell’Universo Assente”, reached peaks of rare beauty, intensity, and spirituality. A great Neapolitan musician disappeared in 1983, disregarded and forgotten in its homeland, while highly appreciated in the international avant scene. Do you know his music?

VC: I followed Luciano Cilio’s work for a while, he was great. He had also recorded some musical tracks in Alan Sorrenti’s previous album. I recorded for his third album (’74/’75) with droning performed by several types of guitar: turned off and amplified electric guitar, acoustic guitar and electric mandolin. I experimented different ways of recording under the guidance of Paul Buckmaster. I remember his constant incitement to play little recalled those advices by Miles Davis to John McLaughlin in “In A Silent Way” ’69: “Play like you don’t know how to play guitar”… The avant-garde of that time, which Cilio was part of, was truly extraordinary, a great “asset” for western culture. Thinking back in hindsight it is actually possible to see a limit in the methodological structure of conceptual tools and in an outdated idea of basic creativity. However, it was useful for getting ready to face the issue of classics and make some further distance from the academic culture’s old creative structure… for me at least.

Gerusalemme (Deserto della Giudea) #10303 – 2007

Gerusalemme (Deserto della Giudea) #10303 – 2007

LS: Are you still passionate about music? What are your current favourite listenings?

VC: Yes, extremely. My relationship to “listenings” has changed a bit though. They have become more solitary, sporadic and fragmented, but much less linked to the emphasis and hypnotic rhetoric of collective liturgies. I like stressing on the fact that music and musicians are always ahead of time. I listen to blues, African and Iranian music, as well as to the ancient music of storytellers and contemporary rock in its several forms, for instance I am much attracted by Stoner Rock even though, as the Americans would say, “it is not my cup of tea”.

Gerusalemme (Deserto della Giudea) #10292 - 2007

Gerusalemme (Deserto della Giudea) #10292 – 2007

LS: In which way have your obsessions and visions nourished your artistic research?

VC: I am not sure there was a specific way to it, but at a certain point the fusion between obsession and vision – which were naturally experienced around the clock – just grew stronger.

Istanbul #0 - 2010

Istanbul #0 – 2010

LS: “My form of art is travel made by walking through landscape… The only thing we should take of a landscape are photographs. The only thing we should leave are footstep trails”.
Hamish Fulton

These words reminded me of his read on trails, memory scraps, and on the accumulation and sedimentation of layers of contemporary city onto the historical one. I think this is very much related to his urban views, the inventory and representation of the city and of its cultural landscape.

VC: Vero, e per quello che attiene al paesaggio siamo entrati in un quadro leggermente modificato… direi che forse non dobbiamo neanche più “prendere”, ma piuttosto imparare ad esserci. Lavorare sulla visione e condividere documenti, archivi ed esperienze, per un artista è la cosa più importante.

Napoli #09 – 2006

Napoli #09 – 2006

LS: The importance of rules: how does “method” influence your photographic research?

VC: Very much, really. All my recent work is based on measuring the distance between system and method. The method, unlike the system, incorporates the repulsion towards functionality and convenience as its social and political manifesto. Adhering to the system (aside from the frequent and tragicomic lexical and terminological confusion) implies a sort of faith in success, the obsession of production, the distress of public attendance, the use of outsourcing and the exceeding love for the so-called “mainstream”.

Madrid # 7 - 2006

Madrid # 7 – 2006


Torino, Da Piazza Statuto #1 – 2002

LS: “As porous as this stone is the architecture. Building and action interpenetrate in the courtyards, arcades, and stairways. In everything, they preserve the scope to become a theater of new, unforeseen constellations. The stamp of the definitive is avoided. No situation appears intended forever, no figure asserts it “thus and not otherwise.” This is how architecture, the most binding part of the communal rhythm, comes into being here: civilized, private and orderly only in the great hotel and warehouse buildings on the quays, anarchic, embroiled, village-like in the center, into which large networks of streets were hacked only forty years ago.”.

Walter BenjaminImmagini di Città: Naples, Frankfurter Zeitung, 1925

Photography, as well as writing, has the ability to generate points of view, metaphors, traces, possible itineraries, digressions from reality. Can you tell us something about it?

VC: My use of the language of photography connects with the choice of “showing” and the not-necessarily-casual relocation of episodes, almost in a more structuralist manner, the textual trail without the paternalistic presence of the narrator. The adjective ‘photographic’ is properly and improperly linked to several nouns: deposition, proof, document, reflection, sense… instinct, but it is an action of transfer starting from the appearances of a chosen object through optical projection on a light-sensitive surface! It can be described as a true migratory act of solid objects, shifted and re-dimensioned from one territory to another. This transformation of documents goes in a not-easily-traceable direction. Ethnographic accounts and simultaneity of interpretations generate an unavoidable iconographic vortex. I am not sure where anthropological research is going to, surely not in the same direction of the quickly-changing fashionable sociology that is applied almost as it were an adjective of everything it sees moving around it… The passionate study of culture inevitably leads to personal involvement (which one should traditionally withstand, however it is not possible to belong to observation only), but in the end it brings to reflecting on the phenomena which attempt at explaining something about life, that is Art.

Napoli #01 - 2002

Napoli #01 – 2002

LS: Colour is part of your expressive language. Why did you make this choice? How did the collective perception on colour and its significance change?

VC: It was not a real choice, it does not have to do with aesthetic or creative reasons. If I go back to when I was an adolescent, I realise the way of dreaming or more simply the device to reconstruct dreams would always be a coloured one. I lived and measured this landscape, finally the “editing of the dream” from the first television and youth comic books’ black and white, initially with sporadically inserting coloured pages would transform to permanently become a sort of… cathodic Full Colour. Then the use of colour supports quickly become a fundamentally available subject, and part of my contents.

Amsterdam - 2000

Amsterdam – 2000

Malpensa, Milano - 2002

Malpensa, Milano – 2002

LS: In your opinion, can photography be a revolutionary act? To what extent can it be able to renew its language to dismantle some rooted reactionary thought?

VC: Of course! It is in the nature of the language of photography to create a gap between expectations, therefore redefining values beyond conveniences and good manners. Clearly what is important are not really the results and the number of stylistic variations, but the centrality of the visual object, which is often defined by the path to it.

Rosa al binario 21, Milano - 2013

Rosa al binario 21, Milano – 2013

LS: Though Italy is a country with deep cultural roots, photography still seems to play a very marginal role, unlike in other countries. Why so in your opinion?

VC: The difficulty of observing the contemporary is traditionally a sad experience of our academic structure which obviously reflects on didactics. Photography seems to play still a deeply recreational and stylistically evolutionist role. On the other hand it is elitist, over-creative and derivative, and it rarely produces literal outputs. In sums, when we look at some visual works we hardly see beyond them through that experience. We do nothing but statically contemplate while the experience of elsewhere, the “through-ness”, the “conspectus” does not even affect us… and the image does not take shape, does not become text, it does not teach and one does not learn “from and through it”. But it is not just our fault if we are essentially visual illiterates, and if we think about it this does not happen in Italy only.

Milano #01 – 2012

Milano #01 – 2012

Gesturi, Sardegna #01- 2012

Gesturi, Sardegna #01- 2012

LS: There had been in Italy some collective projects like “Viaggio in Italia” (1984), “Archivio dello spazio” (1987-1997) or “Linea di Confine” (1990-) that were able to create important opportunities to confront towards the development of an identitarian vision of territory and landscape. In your opinion how have those experiences evolved? What do you think of today’s Italian photography?

VC: The very 80s attitude of rediscovering what was within eyesight, that is that kind of dry and graphically defined documentarism, has rapidly become a sort of international style that was a bit emptied if compared with the initially passionate, provocative, questioning approach, and ultimately almost a revolutionary one, reaching for redefinition through semi-industrial devices. It quickly became some sort of mainstream, self-referential and extremely boring…

Rimini - 1981

Rimini – 1981

LS: What are you working on at the moment? What projects do you have in mind for 2014?

VC: I still and will make photographs on urbanization or anyway on “proximity” and on possible identity relations between things. With regard to “fieldwork”, I am experimenting a sort of forensic method having documents reconstructed starting from the end, from bones. From 2007 I have realised video-animation installations, making my way through static images with crossed and often multiple itineraries, almost like a virtual film camera. The project was received and presented at the “Art Unlimited, Art Basel 2008”. I am now working with static film takes in 4K. What happens if we watch the 24/25 frames contained in a second of film take as if they were images? Perhaps I will understand a bit more on the real sense of the “image’s time”… but we will see.

Interview curated by Gianpaolo Arena

Translation curated by Michela Leoni