Marco Zanta - Photographer, Italy

“Things, the city, the house”

LS: From your latest projects it stands out in greater detail, research that goes from urban proportion to the pleasure of fragment: things, the city, the house. Small signs and details that are rich sources of meditation and remembrances. I recall Samuel Beckett and Thomas Bernhard. On this walk, a sense of finiteness and completeness is strengthened favoured by a repeated insistence in gazing …

MZ: Yes, it’s true. Some ongoing projects have to do with a stronger mental attitude almost aimed at finding meaning beyond what the photograph shows. Bernhard’s Old Masters is a piece of writing that has had decisive influence on my way of conceiving photography. The pleasure of fragment emerges through the ever growing awareness in understanding that as precise and identifying as it can be, Photography simultaneously reveals and conceals. We believe we can see while most things are being hidden from us. At this time the precise import of my work is trying to exactly understand how far we can go.

Berlin 2010

LS: How important was it for your research to foster further cultural and aesthetic imagery through cinema, art, music?

MZ: A lot, truly. I realized from the beginning that photography was the conjunction point between several ways of communicating; it is truly the ultimate state of being contemporary … I was lucky enough to have a very stimulating youth; meetings and experience added to each other giving me a strong foundation enabling me to always ask myself questions. The study of Photography was parallel to that of cinema, literature and art in general. And music has combined all these worlds.

London 2010

LS: The lessons learnt from the American masters of colour photography, Italian Renaissance and European landscape painting. What has been the import of these examples on photographic interpretation of architecture and its changes over time and light?

MZ: Perhaps as first I would place the tradition of Venetian painting, at least for what it meant for the use of colour. American photography was and still is an enormous universe for diversity and teaching the potential of photographic language. Together with Paolo Costantini I was able to deepen my knowledge and even personally meet many members of that trend; this has educated me, given me structure. The conceptual approach of their way of conceiving Photography has always been stimulating; it has tickled my will to understand.

LS: Carlo Scarpa’s rapport with several photographers or Aldo Rossi and Luigi Ghirri … between architects and photographers there is often suspicion or a conflictual relationship. What are the major difficulties in photographic representation of architecture? What are the limits, if in your opinion there are any, of this medium?

MZ: This is a delicate topic, for various reasons. Essentially these are two languages that encounter each other and must relate to each other; there are at least two personalities expressed. This does not always work out … Sometimes it’s just a matter of empathy … In any case, I find that there is a great limitation among architects in understanding the potential of photography. It’s rare to find in this type of clients the ability to “trust”. Many in the end request a stereotyped image, the one we’ve been taught by the dynamics of superstar architects over the years. Photography of architecture has become at times “pornographic”, obsessively seeking only media and advertising appearance. Anyways, this is understandable. The cases of deep, empathic relations in history are not many. If you think about it, this is as complicated as finding and choosing a friend or a lover.

London 2010

LS: From the words of Paolo Costantini taking pictures is a sort of doubt, hanging uncertainty, unresolved ambiguities and disagreement between the human eye and the photographic eye. Do you share the details of his thought and lesson? As for his personal and professional influence, has it been decisive for your education?

MZ: Paolo was my age; he’s been, perhaps, the clearest mind we’ve had in the recent decades. There was a friendship and a relationship characterised by daily exchanges, especially in the last period of his illness. Paul had shed light on the great treasure that the Italian photographic culture was, historical and contemporary. He had knowledge and capability for analysis that I have not found anywhere, anymore. I believe that if his life had continued, today we would have been more considered and fortunate. Paolo had very clear in mind how the enigma that photography is, constitutes an element of extraordinary force of communication. His peculiarity.  I wonder what is left of all that he wrote and started…

LS: Teaching Photography: to what extent is it possible to teach photography?

MZ: Back to the issue of relationships. You cannot teach photography. Its technique is so simple that anyone, in fact, can learn it. You can try to teach a method to think photographically; a method that through photography puts us into relation with the world that hosts us. But it is all very uncertain, very complicated. It becomes necessary, even in this case, the openness of mind of the two parties confronting each other, teacher-student. It’s like playing tennis … you manage to get a sense of accomplishment when you find a good player on the other side that pushes you to give more. Rare …

Treviso 2010

LS: In our country, institutions and schools do not enjoy good health. What is in your opinion the condition of photographic criticism in Italy? What and how meaningful are the differences with other countries?

MZ: Let’s first face our reality: there is an ongoing regression that seems to have no end. There is critical ground where photography flourishes according to dangerous characteristics. Much is left to improvisation; there is no dialogue between the several “gangs”. Each one looks after their small piece of land and despises what happens within a short distance. Parochialism, our very own characteristic rules. I will not mention anyone for obvious reasons, but I can’t see people that have the strength and courage to change the situation. To the ones working on the photographic culture of our country what happens is very clear. Sure, there are some bright minds, but usually these do not have bargaining power in world of institutions. Museums are non-existent and not having these, it is not possible to create relationships with what’s outside. Much is left to the discretion of some photographers, as was the case in the early 80s. Back then people like Ghirri or Chiaramonte could really unite. Today this is no more. Hope comes from people who I think, are in love with what they do like Francesco Zanot, Fabio Severo and Massimo Sordi, but they are faced with provincialism and a current situation that tend to choke more and more. Basically I find that what differentiates us from other countries is strong didactic inadequacy in critical education and, as I mentioned before, the total lack of museums that may communicate with foreign institutions.

Tripoli 2010

LS: Can you tell us more about the genesis of your book (image editing, publishing, printing …)?

MZ: Creating a book for me is the highest point of my expressivity. It’s the time of auditing and leaving behind of a project. Undoubtedly the situation that motivates me the most. Sometimes everything happens fairly quickly, sometimes more slowly. It depends on the projects and on how much I feel the need to say something … In each case, however, I show an exaggerated obsession. It’s a process that I rarely decide in advance; I start a photographic project for the pleasure of discovery, understanding and challenging my being in the world, not knowing if it will ever become a book or something else. When this phase is completed, if I feel the need, I begin to think in an editorial way. At this point I stubbornly follow all the steps, finding a publisher, the critical apparatus, graphic structure and printing. I’ve always given a lot of care to all my books and I thank goodness I have always found professionals able to satisfy my wishes. IÕve given much attention to publishing because I think that ultimately this is what remains of the author. People study on books and through books we can enter into intimacy with the author. For photography books are, in my opinion, the ideal means to clear the distance between author and audience. Thanks to books we have the time to deepen our knowledge, going and coming, understanding the times. Getting so lost in the piece of work that it becomes our own.

Interview by Gianpaolo Arena