The Milan-based photographer Alessandro Zanoni investigates the contemporary world around him by wandering through its urban landscapes and architectures. Fascinated by the Far East World, he has lately undertaken a deeper travel across China and the major cities of the Inner Mongolia, the new protagonists of its new artistic project.

Which is your first photographic memory?

Old pictures about my family turned yellow and hidden in my grandparents’ trunk; polaroid pictures taken by my dad at the beach in the ‘70s; long afternoons spent in the red light of the darkroom in a photo studio run by family’s friends; the magic of waiting for the image to appear.

Could you describe yourself with a book, a song and a movie?

It’s hard to choose. I’ve got many titles, but the first three that come to my mind are John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Bob Dylan’s Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues and Wim Wender’s Kings of the Road.

Which of your pictures would you choose to introduce yourself?

A black and white picture belonging to the latest series I’m working on.

A city you would like to portray.

Seoul.

A famous picture you would have liked to take.

I could randomly choose from the series “Yangtze, The Long River” by Nadav Kander.

How did you get close to photography?

As I am a compulsive cinephile, I could easily say it happened “through the cinema”. Actually, I think I bought a camera because I was tired of traveling on my own. I felt the need of a travel companion to collect memories.

I was born in Cremona area, I lived in a number of different cities but Milan is my home. We fight many times and it is getting more and more snob and presumptuous, however I am in love with it.

Urban landscapes, metropolitan details and little corners of the city are the main subjects of your artworks. Why did you choose this kind of photography? 

I’m interested in urban landscape, architecture and places we inhabit. Human presences are rare or even implied. I don’t have a precise flair in portraying a person or a visage, whereas I feel confident with volumes, geometries, concrete, asphalt.

We dare to say that through your pictures you become narrator of places. Your photographs show the ability and the desire of documenting the urban landscape. Do you identify yourself with this interpretation? 

I perfectly do. I think that by showing urban spots is possible to raise a number of questions in the observers’ eyes, such as who we are, where we live and how we decided to modify the world we are living into.

What inspires your photography the most?

The road, I dare to say. But also cinema and other photographers’ work.

We know that your approach to photography is quite fresh. Do you think that this has been changing your life a bit? What do you think you have learnt more from this experience, so far?

It has changed my life totally. It becomes a kind of new language through which I can now express myself. I think that the chance to communicate with people I don’t know personally is a great privilege and it would have not been possible without photography.

Milan is your city and it is one of the most frequent subjects of your photography as well. How is your relationship with this metropolis? Which part of Milan do you like the most? Which one do you like to photograph the most?

I was born in Cremona area, I lived in a number of different cities but Milan is my home. We fight many times and it is getting more and more snob and presumptuous, however I am in love with it. I like all those areas of Milan where beauty is subtle. To be honest, my favorite Milan is a city that doesn’t exist anymore: it is a black and white city, characterized by fog and its typical public houses (the so called “case di ringhiera”); by the irony of characters such as Jannacci and Beppe Viola and the differences between social classes. I like to photograph the earlier suburbs and all those areas that changed less.

All the cities that you portray in your photographs disclose their less known corners. The urban spots you immortalize are characterized by absence, emptiness and silence in contrast with the common idea of metropolitan chaos and traffic. What is silence for you?

I have got many friends, I really like to talk with people, however I am a solitary person. I like all those moments “suspended” in the typical daily dream feeling. They could be find wherever, even in the traffic or in chaos. You have just to observe, or wandering with your head in the clouds. Silence for me is an important part of the travel; the traveler is by definition solitary: a silent meticulous observer.

It has changed my life totally. It becomes a kind of new language through which I can now express myself. I think that the chance to communicate with people I don’t know personally is a great privilege and it would have not been possible without photography.

The city of Milan you describe through your photography is usually made of black and white shots; your Milan emerges from a number of details of contemporary urban perspectives, structural elements, parallel lines, single precise urban elements that show the essence of the ever-changing city. Do you think it could exist a kind of relationship between your art and Basilico’s photography?

Bearing in mind that we are speaking about a photography legend, I dare to say that a kind of relationship could exist (with reverential fear). I mean, all I am fascinated about can be easily found in his artworks. The difference is the aptitude: while I walk dozens of kilometers taking dozens of shots, Basilico would probably reflect for a long time before choosing where and how to take his pictures. However, what we have in common is the deep interest in the city and in the architectural element once represented in its urban context. On the contrary, I’m not so prone to that kind of architecture photography where the single building is pictured from different points of view, as if it were a model.

Speaking about Basilico, do you identify yourself with the habit of the flâneur wandering around the city and getting lost among its urban architectures?  

The pleasure of being fascinated by the landscape that will take shape behind the next urban corner, it belongs to me totally. It generates in me an euphoric feeling, a kind of vertigo that makes me keep walking for hours, without looking at the clock.

Your pictures range from precise details of buildings and contemporary architectures, to large scale views and more identifiable landscapes. However they are all characterized by clean lines, order of composition and geometrical balance. How do you choose the urban corners you photograph? Do they have a precise meaning in your life?

They choose me, actually. For this reason, most of the times there is not a precise meaning or a precise relationship between me and them. Once I see the “composition” (that is already in front of us) I stop and stare, trying to catch it. Order and balance come firstly from my profession as a graphic, but also from art history: the discovery of perspective, Leon Battista Alberti, the Renaissance.

China is on the verge of a terrific growing and going there makes me live again all those atmospheres and contradictions that characterized our 60’s boom. I think that it could be easy to find something of the past Italy in my way of observing China.

Do you have a favorite time of the day to make your pictures?

During the day, definitely. I don’t have a favorite time, it depends mostly on the intentions and feelings I want to give to a picture or series.

Shanghai is the main protagonist of your series “Dust Never Sleeps”. Why did you choose this city? Which is your relationship with Shanghai and, generally speaking, with China?

I’m in love with China. All its urban spots have a great visual and emotional impact. As far as Shanghai is concerned, it is the city where I’ve been more and that I know better. China is on the verge of a terrific growing and going there makes me live again all those atmospheres and contradictions that characterized our 60’s boom. I think that it could be easy to find something of the past Italy in my way of observing China.

All the snapshots of Shanghai you have taken are fixed and suspended under a dusty grey sky. Geometries of the metropolitan city emerge rigid and impressive from a cocoon-like blurry atmosphere. Everything seems wrapped in a melancholic atmosphere. Is it done on purpose? 

What I did on purpose was the decision to eliminate human figures. Melancholy belongs to those places, but you should be able to identify it. In this precise occasion, melancholy belonged to the photographer portraying the city as well. If I was able to bring it to the observer’s eyes as well, it means that a kind of communication was activated.

It seems as if all shots of “Dust Never Sleeps” belong to one and only day. How long did you take to conclude this series?

It took me three days to conclude the series.

What’s the meaning of travel for you?

It is essential. I’m addicted to it.

Where would you like to live?

China, Korea, Japan, or wherever in Far East definitely.

Your next project.

I spent five weeks travelling and taking pictures in China, in the major cities of Inner Mongolia. It is a rich series made of black and white photographs, a kind of on the road project I am still working on. Title and concept are well defined already. I would like to make a book from it.

Your main flaw and quality.

I am easily distracted and my self-esteem is a little low sometimes. As far as qualities are concerned, I could say I have a cynical sense of humor.

Make a wish.

I would like to try and follow what makes me happy.

Livio Moiana is an Italian photographer investigating and describing human bodies through his pictures. People and emotions are the main focus of his art. He is specialized in black and white portraits where harmony, elegance and proportion emerge. In his most known series “Shapes (of freedom)” human bodies twist and mix one to the other in creative unusual shapes where emotions come to light. His artworks have been exhibited in Milan, London and Barcelona.

What is your first photographic memory?
I don’t have a special one, I try not to be projected to the past. It is part of my life, it belongs to me, and it comes back to me in a strong silent way through my pictures. However, I prefer future and things that I would like to do next.
Bearing that in mind, I can tell you a nice anecdote about my first shot: it was taken up in the Alps when I was about thirteen. She came to me staring at my eyes. I felt so insecure but I took my courage and looking at her I shot!
My first photo. The headshot of a cow.

Could you describe yourself with a book, a song and a movie?
It’s always hard for me to choose just one title, because I like so many different ones depending also on the moment and the mood.
I will say something  considering my present mood: a book, The Bible. A song, it’s really hard to say one. I adore listening more to the music/melody than to the lyrics. Only about the melody: Wrathchild, by Iron Maiden. A movie, The Warriors.

Which of your pictures would you choose to introduce yourself?
I would probably choose one of my really first “Shapes (of freedom)” images.

I can tell you a nice anecdote about my first shot: it was taken up in the Alps when I was about thirteen. She came to me staring at my eyes. I felt so insecure but I took my courage and looking at her I shot!

A famous person you would like to portray.

Papa Francesco.

A famous picture you would have liked to take.

Any of Salgado’s photos. His work is pure magic.

Human bodies are the main subjects of your artwork. How did you get close to this kind of pictures? Do you take inspiration from someone you would like to tell us about?

In 1993 I was living in Miami and while entering a store I saw some cards representing body photos of Herb Ritts. I fell deeply in love with his photography (also portraits) but it remained a pure “like” thing. Years later, while I was taking photos to a model I saw the shape of her belly between light and shadows. It was love at first sight with body shapes. It all really started in that moment and Ritts came back to my mind, as an epiphany. After few years I walked my way. I confess that I have never studied or followed famous photographers. I’m not really interested into them. Photography to me is a way to express what I have inside. I don’t take photos to please somebody. I do it just to feel good.
I try to improve myself every day but never imitating other photographers. I hate to be a copy of somebody. I want to be myself.

You seem to prefer black and white pictures to the coloured ones. Has black and white a precise meaning in your work, or is it just a stylistic choice?

I like black and white pictures for two main reasons. Firstly. it’s hardly to relate it to a precise period of life. Secondly, it leaves you free to fantasize, to live a photo without conditioning. We are used to living reality in colours. Black and white is a more personal intimate dimension.

In 1993 I was living in Miami and while entering a store I saw some cards representing body photos of Herb Ritts. I fell deeply in love with his photography (also portraits) but it remained a pure “like” thing. It was love at first sight with body shapes.

How do you select your models? Should they have any precise feature in order to be selected? Which element is essential for the realization of your artworks?

First of all I choose my models among all those who write to me because it’s necessary to love my photos to pose for them. If you love them you give 1000% while shooting. If you just do it for money you probably give 80-90%. Even if it is 100% it is far away from giving 1000%. Then, I choose people who can match with my ideas. They have to be flexible, patient and I have to like them as persons.
I can’t work with arrogant unprofessional or impolite people.

While shooting, which relationship do you built with the models? Do you mind to tell us a brief anecdote about it?

I love the atmosphere while making those photos. We really work like a team, making the maximum effort we can. We support and help each other. The concentration of everybody involved is totally on reaching the best result. There’s no space for any other thoughts. And I really love it! I love when at the end of the shooting everybody is tired (especially models) but happy because we have done a great job.
They are always ready to say to me, “Livio, if you want to do it again, I’m in!”
When I see people giving so much for my photos and going through pain for them (often they have muscles pain for some days after the shooting), it’s real happiness to me and I feel lucky.
I have a huge respect for the models who help me to create “Shapes (of freedom)” photos.
An anecdote I would like to tell you about is when a person after shooting these photos told me that she understood the beauty of a part of her body that she didn’t like until that day. She’s now feeling more comfortable with herself.
That episode made me melt. It really touched me.

Your pictures are characterized by harmony, elegance and order. What do you look for while making your pictures? Which aim would you like to obtain through a picture?

Usually I love a mix of strength, anger and sweetness, or just one of them.
I like to feel it as a punch. I’m not really fond of middle ways in photos. I love contrast which is not necessary a matter of light.

Moving now to your earliest series “Shapes (of freedom)”: naked bodies emerge from dark surfaces, they embrace each other in unusual assertive poses, and they transform into artistic compositions. They are human and strong “Shapes”, with no visage. Your geometric shapes require a good flexibility and a great amount of creativity. Where do you get your inspirations from? 
I take inspiration from my feelings firstly, but also from everything (or kind of) that catches my attention in life. I love to know as much as I can about everything in life. I love learning and this comes back into my photos.

Watching life with the eyes of a kid and by its curiosity is very helpful. The day I’ll stop being curious, I’ll probably quit taking photos.

An anecdote I would like to tell you about is when a person after shooting these photos told me that she understood the beauty of a part of her body that she didn’t like until that day. She’s now feeling more comfortable with herself.
That episode made me melt. It really touched me.

Your shapes emerge from emptiness, a dark void, a kind of ethereal and silent place.  This reminds us to a number of works made by Mapplethorpe. Do you agree?

I’ve been told by several people that my photos have something in common with Mapplethorpe. Despite he is not in my 100 top photographers list, I’m incredibly proud of it because he is still a myth and always he will be.

All your exposures are unusual and creative: despite being fixed in a picture, they seem to move and bodies seem to mold one into the other with continuity. They are naked bodies full of vital tension, but never vulgar nor provocative. How much does the model contribute to this final result? How much do you influence it? Does one of the two parties prevail over the other?

Models are so important for what they give and express, especially for the energy and the intensity they give in doing it. I have to lead the shooting because I have the final result in my mind. They cannot see themselves while posing. I think there’s a respectful balance between me and them. And I really like it.

How long does it take you to take a picture?

It can take from 10 minutes up to 20.

Light plays a major role in your portraits, it is an essential element of the final composition: it defines them, brushes them and engraves your shapes as they were sculptures. Which meaning do you think light carries out in your pictures?    

Light and shadows are like twin friends; they are part of the same team. They follow body lines like they were alive and could listen to what we are looking for.

Could you tell us something about the title of your series? What does the word “freedom” mean for you? Did you leave it in brackets for an artistic purpose?  How would you like it to be read?

Freedom is one of the most important sides of life. It’s easier to be happy when we are free because we can be who we really are. Unconditioned.
This word needs another meaning inside, a kind of subtitle: respect.

I never give titles to my photos because I want people to be totally free to live them.
In my photography freedom is my richness in creating art listening only to my feelings.
I love to create freely, cages free, without rules, careless of possible judgments. Just me, my feelings and the model/s.

Shapes (of freedom) is that. “Shapes” is what you see at first. “Freedom” is kept in brackets because I almost whisper it without disturbing.

Your next project.

Still have to decide. I’ll listen to some music and follow my feelings. What will punch my stomach, that will be my next project.

Your main flaw and quality.

Uhh… I’ve got many flaw. Laziness, just to mention one. As far as qualities are concerned, it’s not up to me to say if I have any.

Make a wish.

I would like my photos to be appreciated around the world.
I would like to find somebody  interested in publishing a book with them.

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