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.

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