Is photography dead? An interview with Andrea Mazzini.

Tamar Shemesh in conversation with Andrea Mazzini, president of MFR, the Month of Photography in Rome.
Andrea Mazzini

Sunny Friday, noon. Andrea and I planned to meet at the Pantheon of Rome, one of the most epic sites in the city. As a true Roman man, he started our meeting by telling me that he remembers himself as a young boy playing and eating ice-cream around the fountain outside the Pantheon. We then found a local café and had our talk over a shot of espresso fueled with inspiration.

Tell me, who is Andrea Mazzini?
I was born in 1963. I approached photography because my mother was a journalist for LIFE magazine, and I had a chance to meet all the photographers back then. I was really young, around 6 years old.  I started working in photography in 1983 when I attended my military service. I did all the trainings in the mountains, so I was both photographing and training as a soldier.

Did you study photography?
No. When I came back home in 1985, my mother told me that it is important for me to understand the way photography is taught in the academy. I attended the European school of Design in Rome, just for one year. I started working on my own “libero professionista” (freelance in italian) and my first jobs were in fashion in Milan and Rome, tourism and industrial. In 1991 I changed my mind.

I was so interested in advertising and communications so I stopped photographing and started to grow with communications and advertising agencies.

I was working in an exhibition center, then I had a publishing house. All different things, all related to photography but not only focused in photography. By now I think that photography has changed so much and the focus point is to understand in which way you have to use photography to communicate things.

Are you still photographing today?

Why not?
I like much more publishing. For several years now that I don’t work as a photographer. I take pictures by myself. Last year I did a project about the human body and the tattoos.

I saw that! It was featured in LensCulture website. Tell me more about it.
It was my idea. For 10 years I used to go to the same bar. The owners, a couple, they were punkers, tattoos all over the place. I asked them -have they ever tried to pose in a studio? They said no. I was interested to interview people and ask them why they tattoo themselves and how they choose what to tattoo.

What was your conclusion?
It is so personal. It is very much a fashion thing. It started for other purposes, generally tattoos were just for people in jail and sailors. in Italy it was not allowed for many years so people did it in other countries. Now it’s free and everyone wants to show their tattoos. It was not a problem to find people to shoot. I thought that there would be some problem to shoot nude pictures, but it was not a problem at all.

How do you see the change in photography you’ve mentioned before? How was it back then and how do you see it today?
I don’t think at all that photography is dead by the digital. It’s the same change the first photographers had when colors were introduced to raw film, instead the big pieces of glass. They thought photography is dead because everyone could make pictures. That was the first “death” of photography and now they say it again, but it’s not true. Photography is not dead; it has just changed its market.

What market has changed when digital cameras entered our lives?
The press has changed, no more printed magazine. Most publishers don’t want to pay for the pictures they use in their websites and that is a problem. If you use a picture you have to pay. Photography is not the digital, nor the sensor. It is what people think in their mind that has changed the media.

What do you think today about the influx of snapshots, selfie sticks and the culture around instant photography?
I think that the education to read the photography is different today. You have so many images to see, that you take the first that comes and don’t have time to observe. That is the worst, it is not the right way to observe.

What is your advice to the readers regarding observing photos in the right way?
Pay attention on what you put in your images and the meaning of your messages. We spent centuries to describe things through texts and now we are losing the way to educate people by images.

One of the first organizations that used images to educate people was the Christian church with the images on the walls. They were giving commissions to artists to do it the way they wanted. Even in the cave there are paintings showing how to hunt or how to cook. That was a way to teach people through visuals.

What is the month of photography? What should we expect?
During the month of March, there are different ways to go around the city. One of them will be photos on the windows of different shops, where you can scan a QR code and see a whole story. We want to emerge photography in the streets, as part of the urban landscape.

In our website there will be a slideshow with all the pieces of a camera and a little teaser. It is a short movie that shows a guy in a laboratory trying to open the camera to find where is photography.

Where is photography? I didn’t understand.
Exactly that. He opens the camera and he finds that photography is not in the camera, it is in the head. Photography is you, this is the moto of the month.

This is beautiful and I very much agree. About the association that organizes the month of photography, FARO fotografia, can you tell me more about it?
We are 14 people. We started last year and this is our first target. The people involved are so different. Everyone is related to photography in a way, some approached to photography a few years ago and other that always did it. This is a critical point and our way of success, because share diverse perspectives.

The purpose of the month of photography is addressing that and deliver photography to the people of Rome and its tourists. The website is in Italian, so it’s not very accessible for tourists Yes, but we didn’t have time to do it in English.

Is this the first time Rome hosts a month of photography?
No, not at all. We had the international photography festival for 11 or more years. Delougu was in charge by the municipality to organize the festival. He did it for 10 or more years under 3-4 different mayors. Delogu decided everything under his control. He decided which photographers participated, he got the money from the municipality and was the manager of the festival. Each year he invited foreign photographers to make a photo story of Rome.

Now we are not involved at all with politics. We are a private organization related with private and public institutions. We made a call to everyone who wants to attend or apply to exhibit with no kind of selection. We declared that we don’t accept cruel things and things against public morality. We arrived now to 250 exhibitions. Plus, workshops, talks. There is a bit for everything.

So everyone can apply?

What is the criteria?
Good pictures with politeness. No politics. But we have just one exhibition that would take place in the Palestinian embassy in Rome.

Wow. That would be interesting!
I don’t know if it’s the right way to call it because I don’t think we recognize Palestinians.

What is the theme?
I don’t know yet. It’s a photographer that made a story in the territories.

Why did you decide ‘no politics’ but then you chose this topic?
Because we want to force people to view pictures. As much as we can, we want to show different things from animals to architecture to movies to… there’s no a common sense. No one theme. No theme at all.

In the selection process did you aim for more rising artists or established one?
Everyone was welcome, we have more than 100 photographers presenting. We have workshops with Franco Fontana and Ernesto Bazan who are more established. Ernesto Bazan is a strange guy, he is an Italian who is married to a Cuban woman and they lived in Argentina and in Cuba.

He was pushed out from Cuba and now he is living in New York City. His topics is a bit of everything, quite social. He worked for few years about the ‘Trilogia Cubana’. It’s about his relations with Cuba. around 150 pictures. They were taken in 3 different periods of his time there. We also have Vittoriano Rastelli.

There is an exhibition in the house of cinema of Sergio Stirizzi. He died but his daughter has the rights for his archive and she gave us the right to use his images.

Andrea Mazzini, Sonia Zimmitti and Roberto Huner, the organizer of the festival.

Are all the artist Italian?
No. we have internationals. Finland, Germany, Belgium. Mostly European.

I want to ask you about the funding of the festival- was it hard to get sponsorships?
We have no sponsorships. We ask the photographers to pay themselves the printing, and we ask the place that welcome the photographers to do it for free.

Wow. Sounds challenging to operate, but seems like you’ve done an amazing work. Last question, any advice for photographers to succeed?
There is no a good and a bad photographer. There is a person who knows how to view through the camera. The focus point is to understand what people wants to see. Photography is just a media for a more general product, where the good pictures makes the difference.

If you just shoot the coffee cup with no meaning or nothing, it’s a photo that everyone could take. But if you make a story, you make a sense in your shot. If you propose a complex idea, as great picture it will stand up.

All photographs by Tamar Shemesh

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