When I have been asked to interview Solimano Pezzella I immediately agreed with enthusiasm because, for me, interviews are a pleasure. And because Solimano, based on what I can say I know about him (we met a while ago, when I began this adventure with Arteventinews and I got the chance to see his wonderful workplace), together with being a really interesting person, he is what one usually refers to when talking about a “good person”.
However, right after agreeing on the interview, I began wondering. “what kind of a photographer is he? How can I ask him about his work in a way I haven’t already used with other photographers? What does he have that’s different from the others?”
And then I got lost in the internet browsing in his blog, website (solimanopezzela.it), and among the various photographers and photographs, until I found a quote from Neil Leifer, one of the best photographers to ever live, one of those who made the history of sport photography with unforgettable images: “photography doesn’t show reality, but the idea one has of it”. And then something snapped. Maybe I figured it out, I said to myself.
Does Solimano focus on sports then? You may be thinking. Absolutely not. He photographs something else, but that quote chains itself perfectly to what he can show of his models. Solimano mostly shoots people, who usually do not even know that they are indeed what the images end up showing. That is why, probably, at the end of this, you will agree with me that that quote is a good summary of him as a photographer.
That being said, now follow me and find out who Solimano Pezzella is.
Who is Solimano Pezzella?
As you might say: class of 1971, born in Pistoia. Actually, I never ask myself that question. I simply live. I live in the moment, not without ever wondering where this is all going to take me. I believe in destiny. That in life sometimes things happen at the right time and bring you to an exact place; what this place really is, though, is not for us to know, simply because it is there, and you, too, are there, figuring out that that’s your place to be. Actually, I am an artisan who realised that he was pouring his earth in what he was doing. Nevertheless, I do not call myself an artist; like St. Frances used to say: “those who work with their hands are workers, those who work with their heads are artisans, those who works with hands, head and heart are artists”.
And already this first answer says a lot about the person I am standing in front of.
How is a passion for photography born? I said.
Photography meant as “framing the moment” has always been with me throughout my life. I have always used the tools, from single use cameras to compacts, through digital ones and the best phone cameras on the market in order to take pictures which were at least decent. In 2012 I decided to give a shot to a photography course, in order to learn how to use a reflex; I wanted to gain a little more confidence with technique. I ended up growing a passion for it and I started investing my energy and sacrifices in photography.
When do you think it goes beyond “doing it for yourself” and it turns from a passion to a profession?
Good question. Actually, it all came pretty natural and spontaneous, even though not too much. I got myself a VAT number as soon as I let myself being involved more with what I loved doing (to get a more professional attire to what could have looked like a hobby). I had to do it also because I always feel the need of having everything in order. Without this first big and important bureaucratic step, I would have simply missed out on professional opportunities and commissions that I was beginning to receive. You see, Enrico, I think that being professional begins in your head and in the way people present themselves. Also, even when it was just a passion of mine, with time I began to realise that I was always engaging with socially relevant themes. When you begin with this type of works, as long as you do them for yourself, it can stay at the “passion level”, but when you start doing them for others on commission, then “having everything in order” is inevitable to be on good terms with your own conscience.
You have recently published a book. It is an important and difficult one that I have had the chance to read. In that book you narrate through your pictures the final moments of a man’s life. Do you want to tell us something about the book and why it came to be?
You are talking about “Il tempo del sollievo”, edited by Atelier. That book mainly came to be because of an inner necessity of mine. I had been asked by Giancarlo, terminally ill, if I could shoot his final days of life. These pictures were for the doctor who was giving him palliative care to use for research and for sharing a message: the quality of life and the dignity of a terminally ill patience is important, they are not just numbers on a hospital bed. I thought I only had to shoot pictures, and I agreed on doing it. With the passing of the first days, weeks and months spent side by side with a person in this condition, I have been overwhelmed in quite an unexpected way. With time I realised I could have seen it coming my way, it was inevitable. Once this journey came to an end, I had so many emotions in me that I felt the need to push them out as a liberation. So, I started writing down every single sentence, moment and anecdote experienced together, so, at the end, I realised I had so much material on my plate to work with that it could become a book.
What remains after such an experience?
The knowledge that this is an experience you are never forgetting. One of these things that you would not wish your worst enemy, but one that you feel proud and honoured to have lived. For me it was an absolute life lesson. Something like this notably changes you, even if subconsciously. And you only realise it with time.
Solimano Pezzella affirmed photographer. Tell me something about the exhibitions you participated in.
I began going to exhibitions when I got the chance to, or better said, I’m honoured to be considered amongst the best Polaroiders in the world. This has already allowed me – and Covid permitting, I think will continue allowing me in the future – to have my work featured in art galleries around Europe. I have been featured in exhibitions in Cologne, Paris, Arles, Bologna and many other Italian cities. And this, together with giving me the chance to travel, honours and gratifies me whilst giving credibility to my work.
To continue from your previous answer, now tell me about Solimano Pezzella and the Polaroid technique. Tell me what is it that pushes you to use something that for the most of us is now relegated to the past?
Although many think that the Polaroid camera has ceased to exist, I tell you that it is absolutely on trend, with a growing market appeal with new models and accessories being released lately. I chose the Polaroid because of my approach to photography. Analogic photography that you “make” with this technique urges you to visualise the shot in your head before you physically take it. Also, given that you only have eight photos in your machine, you are forced to really think your shot through before taking it. To sum it up, this method represents for me a more reflective photography that requires different times from digital photography, but has the perk of being instant and free from the long waits for the development and print of the films on paper. This is for me a perfect combination. Reflection on the shot you are about to take, together with the possibility to immediately have your shot in your hands in a tangible form. Also, that time that goes between the shot and the picture showing up on paper, makes it all more magical and unique.
And now it is time to try to give body to the quote we began this interview with. “Photography does not show reality, but the idea one has of it”. Solimano Pezzella and his project of researching on the human being through pictures of the human body. Do you want to tell me something more?
The human body is an endless source of inspiration. It is a shield scratched by fights, sufferings, joy and sorrow, not only exterior but inner too. I do nothing else but translate these scratches into pictures.
From my understanding of what we have discussed before, your project is dedicated mostly to the representation of the human body, usually seen through small details. The whole picture it is either “composed” or it appears almost like a puzzle. Is there a specific reason for it?
That is my vision of photography. I have a vision made of details; very up closed pictures because I very rarely distance myself too much from the subject. This way I am brought to have the same vision even when I am shooting a whole figure, and not only a detail. Many portions shoot from close distance that, if I want to, I can put together and reassemble as, indeed, a puzzle to recreate the whole thing. This also allows me to create a unique work, since it is a fruit of the moment, made with single shots and therefor impossible to recreate.
What are the motivations that make your models come to you for a shooting?
They look for uniqueness. Since, as I said before, I basically only shoot Polaroids every single photo is a one of a kind object, not replicable. Of course, I can make copies of it and print them on different materials, but the matrix is one and only. On an emotional level they often try to freeze in time a moment of their life, everyone with their stories and lives. You know, just like when you open a relative’s shoebox and you find pictures of a long-gone life inside of them. You look at them, you savour them, and you relive those moments in your mind whilst they remain framed forever on something that is tangible and material.
You use the art of photography to bring out something from your models they do not even know is in them. How do you do it?
That you should ask them, because they are the ones who grow their self-acceptance shot after shot, even though very often they do not even know that they look like what shows up in my pictures. Surely, I am able to do this only after the experience I talk about in the book. It is from there that I began to change and I was able to catch shades of the people I was facing that I couldn’t see before. That to confirm you how it is more about the internal change on a subconscious level that that experience gave me, than it is about what remains in you.
According to you, is there a reason why it is mostly women who come to you? Do women need to discover their true self more?
Surely, it is easier to confront themselves with the other sex, especially when it is with someone they do not know. Often it is easier to open up and talk with people that are not that close. But more than “discover their true self”, usually a woman, or someone with a feminine part to them, needs more certainty and recognition. I, through my photography, offer them a form of help. What I do is showing them with different eyes what they see every day, and therefore cannot really see it for what it is. It is similar to perfectly knowing what a city far away from you looks like, whilst you struggle to see and appreciate the beauty of what’s behind the corner.
Why do you most shoot black and white?
I could answer you in the most classic way saying that shooting black and white helps focusing on the image itself without being distracted by the colours. But in reality, it was a technical choice at first, since with the lights I had when I started this type of photography, I couldn’t bring out the true colours. So, I began to study every single shade and technique to highlight the full potential of every light and shadow, and in this manner black and white just emphasised everything. Now I also shoot with colours, but I always prefer black and white.
Has Covid somehow put a stop to your project? And what are your projects for the relaunch?
It did put a stop to it, and not even a small one. But it had a positive side, too. This forced stop has given me the time to study, analyse and experiment with lights and tools. In fact, after a thorough study, as soon as it was possible, I changed all my lighting in the shooting room, so that I could maximise the potential and the quality of my work, making it even more unique. For what concerns the actual shootings, they have resumed, with full respect of all the restrictions.
Here, in what I’ve told you through my questions and his answers, there is a little bit of Solimano Pezzella. He is, obviously, much more, but in his photography work, which is mostly passion and poetry, we can surely find something of the two quotes cited in this article. In that of the great photographer, which in my opinion perfectly sums up his work, and in that of an extraordinary saint, who, obviously if contextualised, gives a body to what it means to be at the same time a worker, an artisan and an artist.
And I truly hope I managed to give an answer to the three questions I asked myself at the beginning.
The photos from this article are by Solimano Pezzella
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