for Giovanni Savino
Posted on September 15th, 2020
Tell me about your work?
SLOW PORTRAITS was born out of my desire to “subvert” the very concept of portraiture by voiding the main portal of facial expressivity over the centuries: the eyes. When we see a photo where, by chance or technical mistake, the eyes of the sitter are closed we tend to discard it. Instead, by specifically asking my sitters to close their eyes, not only I elicited in them the ultimate sentiment of trust that allowed them to completely abandon their “social persona” in front of my large format camera, but also to grant me permission to enter into a new, utterly private realm of perceptions, to explore a mnemonic geography only defined by skin, wrinkles and facial hair, not their stance. Each photo is unique, taken on 4×5 positive paper and developed in a concoction of local Dominican coffee and river water, which I think adds yet another layer to the tactile, skin-level emotions I wanted to document.
EX-LIBRIS is a project that coincided with the death of my mother. My mother and I hardly ever got the opportunity to spend a lot of time together as I left the family home at a very early age, due to a toxic relationship with my father. Obviously my mother and I kept in touch, across the oceans and everywhere, by telephone, as I relentlessly traveled the world for CBS News, but mostly by mail. Often we would mail each other our favorite books, perhaps in an effort to spend some quality time together, despite our painful geographic separation, by reading the same words that had elicited interest in the other one of us. Inside those books we would always put something important to us, an “ex libris”: a photograph, a dry flower, a note, a drawing etc. Something we had touched, that meant something, a keepsake from a mother to a son, and vice-versa.
EX-LIBRIS was photographed in my New York studio, in a deep solitude intensified by the recent passing of my mother. I used long expired (1940’s) photographic paper in the film holders of my Deardorff 8×10 camera, resulting in highly texturized paper negatives. Conceptually I tried to create books-as-object-d’art, hence I often inserted in between the pages items that I felt replete of mnemonic, personal symbolism. This body of work is also a celebration of printed-paper, a marvelous medium that I enjoyed in many forms, throughout my life, which is rapidly disappearing in today’s digital world.
Analog or Digital?
Analog. But I also shot digital in the past, although I was never entirely happy with it, as it just did not add anything better to the way I worked with film, aside from the immediacy of results.
Fact is that since the inception of digital, clients always wanted photos and videos delivered “yesterday” which is to say ASAP.
So I adapted and invested a lot of money trying to keep up with the continuous upgrades, the ever-changing software, the built-in obsolescence of digital equipment, FTP’ing photo files, multiple backups, etc., in a rapidly deflating and ever more dysfunctional industry. Until I said: “screw all this”. Sold all the digital gear for a fraction of what I had paid for it and went back to wood and glass cameras that I am sure will keep serving me impeccably for the rest of my life.
What inspires you?
The desire of conveying emotions and to document what I feel as worth documenting without resorting to the written or spoken language.
What is your favorite thing about being a creative person?
It keeps me sane(r). It makes me learn new things everyday. It gets me in touch with the mystery of the universe, with the magical of the everyday. It never allows me to feel bored. It is a time machine, a theatre of the serendipitous, it promotes useful compassion, it is the least lethal religion I can practice. It used to put plenty of food on my family table too, but, paradoxically, now that it does it to a much lesser extent I feel somewhat a richer person.
What do you hate?
Ignorance and arrogance.
Oligarchs and Technocrats.
Racism and all forms of discrimination.
And that, that alone, should explain why today I am planning to relocate far away from my loved U S of A.
Optimist or pessimist?
Realist. Many decades running around the world for CBS News, by the side of wonderful journalists such as Morley Safer or Ed Bradley, taught me to assess a situation and possibly even predict how it will develop.