Steve Bisson – Urbanautica Curator, Italy
LS: Could you tell us something more about how the Urbanautica project started?
SB: Well, having to think about how it started, I probably need to go back to the many trips I made as a child on the backseat of the car seeing reality slip away looking out of the window. I have lived in many places and when you do this, unknowingly you become a bit of an anthropologist. You begin to look at reality with a certain detachment, making comparisons and judging at times. This tension may become a limit to one’s own life, relationships, adaptability but can also be channeled in a useful way, as in the case of Urbanautica. In the end every form of expression reflects the need to communicate something. In comparison to the start Urbanautica is more than a personal journey; it now involves other professionals both writers and photographers. It is fast becoming reality that aims through the network and social media to increase opportunities for trade and knowledge without destroying the identity of the research project. Today it’s mainly the photographers who look for us and believe in the project. This is the greatest result we have reached.
LS: Sometimes your research insists on subjects like “anthropological spaces”, “different forms of human settlements”, “natural and urban landscape” and “environmental portraiture”. What does photography mean to you?
SB: Photography is a means to educate the eye. I say this because compared to other artistic disciplines it‘s more accessible. It is a subjective interpretation, each one has his own. Instead, if I think of a role that photography can have, it is to help modern civilization to be less indifferent, to make a self examination about their habitat and their own relationship with it. Man seems to inhale degradation, including the aesthetic kind, without notice. This is a crucial point of the unhappiness of our animal species. We have narrowed down nature to an icon, but in doing so we have reached a state of maladjustment to the environment to which many of the needs for “reunification” with nature refer. Urbanautica deals with this through photography.
LS: What is the guiding principle which joins photographic projects selected by Urbanautica?
SB: So far, having personally supervised the selection I would say myself. In reality the sources of inspiration are many. Basically we look for projects that have something non-trivial to tell about the territory. We are not interested in pretty yet purposeless and tedious photography. Most of the times we show human landscapes but the selection is not a foregone conclusion. Sometimes there are projects that convince immediately, others need more study. I’ve set aside projects, recovered them later and seen them differently after months. We have a trend in ourselves that corresponds to a slow and gradual maturation of our sensibility. Sometimes it is instinct, emotion. There is an irrational component. Photography definitely has its own grammar and must be respected.
LS: Every landscape has its own peculiarities. Every place is full of meanings and stories. What are the differences between American and European photographers?
SB: Today, contaminations through the networks make these clichés less obvious. It is possible that there exist mainstreams and this could probably depend on the models made available. I believe though, that especially among young people, these distinctions are fading away. It is an inevitable process. Research is essential to foster diversity in communication about photography. Documenting photographically is becoming ever more an introspective and artistic dimension as well as aesthetic. Landscapes become ever more places of the soul. It’s a little paradoxical because the stories tend to converge at an emotional level and meanings often transcend space. In the future, speaking of “landscape stories” may mean speaking of human psychology rather than geography.
LS: What are you working on right now?
SB: Speaking of photography, in this period to a group exhibition on the theme of the need for nature in places of living and dwelling. Karin Borghouts Alejandro Cartagena, Dustin Shum, Anne Lass are some participants. Different interpretations that revolve around this theme: nature as fiction, decorum, negation, ambiguity, surroundings, removal, construction and psychological landscape. We will have a preview at the Savignano Festival in September. And then we’ll go on stopping over in Italy and probably in Europe. In the future of Urbanautica there is also the desire to create photo books. Perhaps the exhibition catalogue is just a beginning …
Interview by Gianpaolo Arena