by Paolo Mattei
Maurizio Galimberti is the focus of a new exhibition opening on Saturday, February 16th, in Venice, promoted by Veneto’s Science, Literature and Art Institute, curated by Benedetta Donato, and produced by Casa dei Tre Oci/Civita Tre Venezie-GiArt. The exhibition, called “Paesaggio Italia”, showcases over 150 photos that the Como-born artist created using original techniques such as mosaic, ready-made and manipulation, to tell the story of his personal Grand Tour.
Thus Galimberti, born in 1956, introduces us to the places that left a mark in his heart, on a journey that is guaranteed to be full of wonders, given the excellent talent of the author and beauty of the subject.
Furthermore, on the occasion of the exhibition, the first catalog of Galimberti’s work and research will be presented: published by Marsilio, it includes 300 of his works on the theme of landscape.
“Italianways” interviewed the photographer before the opening.
How did the idea for “Paesaggio Italia” come up?
I have always been in love with Italy, and thought it would be fair and good to use my work to contribute to my country’s beauty. It was an act of love.
What criterion inspired the selection of the cities portrayed in the exhibition?
The selection was made by instinct. As I prepared for the publication of the catalog, I returned to the places in Italy that have been most important in my life, the ones I have the deepest memories about, to photograph them again.
Musician and composer, Nicola Piovani was also involved in the book.Piovani tells the story of harmony, rhythm and melody that underlies my mosaics. He believes many of my photos can be interpreted as musical scores. And indeed, music is an important component of my work.
There are also contributions by an architect, Michele De Lucchi, and an art director, Giuseppe Mastromatteo…
Yes, my work thrives on contamination – with music, but also with architecture and graphic design. I feel like a musician who “plays” photographs, an architect who draws lines and shapes with his camera…
The story is that your passion for photography bloomed on a construction site…
My father was a building contractor, and took me with him on construction sites when I was little. He always had a dumpy level with him, that is an instrument with a tripod and an eyepiece used to measure and set horizontal levels. It looked like a camera, so I pretended to take photos with it. Little by little, I started to yearn for a real camera. Then my father bought me one, and I started practicing taking snapshots of my area, in Brianza. It was just a hobby of course… But I still maintain the mathematical precision of the construction site in the way I break up my photos. The same precision I had to prove when I was a kid, and to get some pocket money I needed to calculate exactly how many scaffolds were needed to renovate the front of a house.
When did your “passion/obsession” for Polaroid cameras begin?
I was twenty-six. I decided to quit the darkroom, because I never liked living in the dark and couldn’t stand the acids that cut into my hands’ skin. It was 1983, and I started to use a Polaroid because it allowed me to see the outcome of my work instantly. I have to admit the beginning was awful, because my shabby camera had a major parallax flaw… However, I remember reading an interview with Giacomelli, who said he considered cameras “a tool”. I thought, “If it’s only a tool, then it should get it to bend to my will.” I have always used a Polaroid since then, to the point I now have an almost physical need for it. I can only shoot photos with this “tool”.
Why don’t you like digital photography?
Because it “kills the point of view”. It allows people to shoot any number of photos, one right after the other, and in a way this means the camera ends up making the decision for you. Using a digital camera is like giving infinite penalty kicks to a soccer player: scoring a goal becomes statistically inevitable, it is just a matter of time. Plus it is a question of intensity and warmth. “Chemical” photography can convey a level of poetic energy that remains unfathomable for digital technology…
You have also studied art …I self-taught myself to gain some visual culture. Imagination on its own is not enough. Italo Calvino said, “Fantasy is like jam; you have to spread it on a solid slice of bread. If not, it remains a shapeless thing.” I felt the need to create a solid background for myself, a workshop of the imagination where I could practice. My Italian “favorites” are the artists of Futurism, like Boccioni and Tullio Cravi, with his cosmic images. Outside of Italy, Marcel Duchamp. I contaminated my vision with many other Italian artists. I love Alighiero Boetti’s mathematical concepts, Giuseppe Capogrossi’s puzzles, Mario Schifano’s aggressive and instinctive mood, and the casual, everyday subjects painted by Felice Casorati… I tried to make their peculiarities my own.
Who are your favorite photographers?
There are so many. Just to mention a few: Mario Giacomelli, Franco Fontana, Gabriele Basilico, Mimmo Jodice…
You are also an accomplished portraitist. You have a unique technique that makes subjects look like they have been caught by surprise, not like they are posing. How do you do it?
Without saying a word, I come closer in complete silence and rest the spacer on the person’s face. This is such an unexpected behavior that the subject is staggered at first. That allows his or her “inner silence” to emerge: there are no particular behaviors, no smiling, just true self. I feel a bit like a mosquito – I come up with no warning, bite, and immediately leave. That is how the person’s soul is drawn out. I like to say my photography is “of the soul”, not “of aesthetics”. Once, a Japanese man I photographed told me I was a shaman, that I had stolen his soul… Two years ago, I was moved by Robert De Niro’s reaction: I had gone to his house to portray his whole family, including his youngest son, who suffers from bipolar disorder. When De Niro saw the boy’s photo – which had turned out so sweet and dramatic at the same time – he went to another room for twenty minutes, and when he came back you could see he had been crying…
Talking about De Niro… you have many connections in the world of cinema. Who do you feel the closest to?Mario Monicelli, without a doubt. I met him in Venice in 2004. He was alone and when I took his photo he covered his face. That was a gut-wrenching portrait, the tragic story of a lonely man.
Marco Ferreri also made a strong impression on me. I met him in Venice when he presented “Nitrate base”, a movie that pays homage to the magic of film. He told me he loved Polaroids because he felt those photos had meat and blood in them. I also get emotional every time I look at the photo I took of Ennio Morricone, because he paid me what I consider to be a great compliment: like Piovani, he told me my photos had music in them.
I really like Dario Argento’s mad face. And I had great encounters with Giuseppe Tornatore, Maria Grazia Cucinotta, and Isabella Ferrari. But not all Italian cinema stars were pleasant to meet and work with: some are arrogant, not humble at all. And it’s easy to understand that’s why many of them will never make it to Hollywood…