Here’s a special sneak peek of one of the beautiful contents you can find in our paper magazine Polpettas On Paper #ZERO
Interview by Alessandra Barlassina. Portraits by Cartacarbone for Polpettas On Paper
May 5th 2015
Massimiliano Gatti is an Italian photographer. His refined esthetic is easily recognizable thanks to pale shades and a zenith light. The images are delicate and refined, often at odds with the social issues and the current events they represent. Gatti thinks that important messages cannot be spread only through dramatic images. His eye looks for beauty because in the end, as Dostoyevsky says, “the beauty will save the world”.
Why do you love photography?
Because I really enjoy when reasoning and thoughts spur from the photographic research. I use images as a proper language.
How did all start?
I started shooting when I was a student in Granada. I used to live there with other guys and, among them, there was a photography teacher: we even had a darkroom at our place. So I started experimenting and, only at a later stage, I joined the cfp Bauer School of Photography in Milan.
You have been defined “the photographer of the Middle East situation”. What is your relationship with that land?
Since 2008, thanks to different archaeological missions of the University of Udine, I’ve had the opportunity to go and stay both in Syria and Iraq. I graduated in Granada and contacts with the Arab world at large have always been a constant in my life. I learned about the culture and the way of thinking of the Arabs and all this has always fascinated me a lot.
Your photographs are delicate, refined and radiant. You portray the beauty. In the series In Superficie, awarded with BNL Prize at 2015 MIA Fair, you have been able to capture the treasures of the desert, using your typical bright light. They are still-life subjects that hide something else – as usual in your works. How do you convey so strong messages using such a delicate style? How do they affect your critical thinking?
This is my aesthetic style, with the very strong light that characterizes the Middle East desert. A kind of light that I’ve experienced there for the very first time in my life and that I deeply love. Somehow I used this kind of light in other works such as Peta, a project based on my father’s objects: it is the light of memories and an element I am constantly looking for.
My photos are apparently lightweight, and I am always trying to be focused on a single detail, broadening the perspective only at a later stage. From the story of a very small detail to the wider reading of all the interpretation’s layers it calls for.
It’s true, in my photographic research I always look for beauty. The key to understand the world definitely lies in the beauty itself. There is a tragic beauty in some projects related to Iraq such as In Superficie: it lies in the juxtaposition between the fascination of archaeological objects and the hardness of wartime findings.
The research of beauty can be the key to convey messages that hurt; not only harsh photos can stir the soul. Even delicacy and sophistication can do that, avoiding the violence to which we are unfortunately accustomed to.
You have developed photography series dedicated to the Middle East situation while you were based in Italy. The geographical distance wasn’t perceived.
All of my projects have in common my view and my personal perception of the realities I live. Those aspects are a kind of signature that it is reflected in all my projects, also in the ones that are not related to the Middle East. I have an interest for the historical-sociological research.
Tell us something about the series Warana Eh.
It is a series that I realized in 2012 in the areas of northern Iraq. The title comes from a typical Arabic expression that does not have a proper translation: more or less it means “what is behind you” that can be interpreted as “forget what has happened and look forward to the future”. I applied this concept choosing to capture the backs of some houses that will be replaced soon with new buildings, a clear sign that the country is in the middle of a vibrant economic development. An attempt to have a new start that leaves behind the conflicts and wars occurred in Iraq, in order to create new spaces for families and lay the foundations for upcoming new generations. It is a very positive message.
It’s not rare that your photography series are taken in dangerous places.
I have never felt unsafe during my journeys and I have never come too close to dangerous areas. I’m not a reporter who goes for the front line. I create my setting looking for a specific place and waiting for the right moment. I take my time, knowing better both the place itself and the people who live there. The contact with people is crucial for my job.
Usually you don’t take pictures of people but, when you do, their presence is powerful.
In most of my photo projects I use to focus on details, sometimes related to architectural elements and sometimes to specific objects. I really love to focus my attention on small things, slowly expanding the view: it is a synecdoche process by which a part is put for the whole and it enlightens the perception of what surrounds us.
From a visual point of view the human presence is very strong. I am currently working on a couple of projects dedicated to portrait photography: Spectrum, that involves pictures I took when I was in Syria and Exodus, that comprises portraits of Syrian refugees coming across Milan. The projects have different meanings and convey different messages but they are both characterized by pictures with black background.
One day, during an archaeolo
gical mission in Syria, I put up a sign outside my studio inviting all those who wanted to be photographed. I wanted to show those faces I knew very well, faces that are often wrongly perceived as dangerous by the West side of the world.
Middle-Eastern people are often perceived in a suspicious way, that is why I wanted to bring those faces out of the darkness. It was an attempt to show that the majority of those people have anything to do with terrorism.
It is a project I am working on right now. It is about Syrian refugees who are currently hosted by Casa Suraya in Milan. As in the previous project, I used a black background to enhance the subject of the photos. I always try to create very simple images, to catch the viewer’s attention and discard any interference.
Has your approach to photography changed since you started?
To be truthful, not that much. Probably the scenario in which I operate has changed: I’ve deepened a lot of topics that at the beginning had different priorities but my way to think and interpret photography is still consistent with its origins.
Do you have any favorite photography series?
Each series is deeply connected to specific memories and experiences. I am very attached to the projects developed in Syria because it regards a place that no longer exists and lasts only in my memories.
What would you say to those who consider photography as a minor art?
There are a lot of prejudices about photography, especially in the art world. Baudelaire himself considered it as a mere technical tool. However, photography already proved its potential as a communication language and can be considered as a form of art under every aspect.
Do you have any photography icons?
Since I professionally grew up in the Bauer School of Photography I cannot forget Luigi Ghirri, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and the architectures of Eugène Atget.
Who is your favorite writer?
Lately I am reading a lot of American literature books such as the ones written by Bret Easton Ellis and James Ellroy. Right now I am reading something about the Isis, and the latest book by Slavoj Žižek, Islam and Modernity: Some Blasphemic Reflexions.
Do you go shooting alone?
Yes, always. I love the phase of photographic research: I walk a lot, thinking, looking for new subjects and taking note about the right time for shooting. It is a moment of loneliness and meditation.
You have a degree in Pharmaceutical Sciences. According to your opinion is it a dichotomy considering your current job?
No, I don’t believe it. I have a degree in Pharmaceutical Sciences and I am specialized in Biochemistry. Somehow the precision, the scientific method and the concept of repeatability are absolutely a legacy of my scientific studies and I can apply those principles to the photography itself. In such a way photography can be considered as a scientific tool.
THE LAUNDRY ROOM
A thing that makes you proud?
I am really proud of sharing my journey with people who believe in me.
What if you were not a photographer?
I would be a mechanic for sure!
If you would have to suddenly leave, what would you bring with you?
A notebook and a pencil.
A song that pairs your photos .
La leyenda del tempo, Camaron de la Isla.
Analogic or digital?
Most of the times digital.
Tell us a thing that you can do very well
City or countryside?
Countryside without any doubt!
What did you eat yesterday evening?
What do you have on your desk?
A computer and various notebooks.
Three adjectives to describe yourself.
Perfectionist, dazed and willing.
A city that describes yourself?
A secret mania.
What do you do when you are not shooting?
I use to walk alone in the hills.
Something you are against?
Violence and sharp shoes.
Do you have any other passions?
What would you ever want to do?
I would never want to compromise on my projects. And dancing Latin American…
One thing that you promised yourself to do very soon?
Traveling to Iran.
Cigarettes, the Nirvana and friends.
Shirts, cruises, Barbara d’Urso (Italian TV host, editor’s note)
Your biggest dream?
Going to Iran.
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Italian original text available on the paper magazine Polpettas On Paper #TWO.