5 unusual photography spots in Milan

I am often asked for recommendations of places in Milan, both as photographic subjects and settings. Many of the inquirers are looking for the must-see places – those that are in the tourist guides and every visitor deems mandatory. That bucket list of landmarks are the Duomo, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele + the luxury fashion streets nearby (via Montenapoleone and via Della Spiga), the Sforza Castle and Arco della Pace. And indeed, they are spectacular and also within a limited perimeter, so one can cover them within a day. But unless you have a specific idea in mind or a lot of time to find it, these pictures will look just like everyone else’s.

Is that wrong? Of course not. I firmly believe that photographing landmarks that everyone else has checked off is not just a rite for tourists but also an act of communion for all of us. By photographing them, we stand in the same place and look to experience the same connection that so many others have done as well. We are not looking for originality or photographic recognition but belonging and sharing. Photographing in general is relating to one’s subject matter, so it’s totally legitimate to do what everyone else has already done.

However, if you have checked those off your list and want to experience some less-known places, here is what I recommend.

Entryways

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Talking to beginners

Mistake

An accidental image I recently discovered on my cell phone.

When does the moment come, for you, in which you lose the sense of being a beginner as you transition to the feeling of having mastered something? Are you aware of its coming, when it actually comes?

Most importantly, though, do you still recall what it feels like to be a beginner? I don’t mean remembering what exactly you did, but the embodied perception of not being sure how to move your hands and body in what you were doing, along with the exhilaration when things actually work?

I recently, almost by chance, joined an online group populated mostly by beginners in photography. Continue reading

5 books artists should read in 2021

It has been an atrocious year for the arts. For artists, it has been the worst not just because of logistic inconveniences and failed opportunities, but also – or frankly, especially – because of the sudden loss of hope. Questions and questioning has been brutal. Some of us have asked ourselves if things will ever go back to normal. Others, if the institutions our art world was built on will survive. And the worst question: “what is the meaning and the significance of what I do? Does it matter at all?” So now that the light at the end of the tunnel is almost visible, here is something to use our remaining time on before the grand reopen and help find that meaning to start again. Here are 5 books that can be guides in finding one’s way across the rocks.

ArtandFearArt & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland came out years ago, but it is still one of the most recommended books for artists. It is not about professional development, how to put oneself out there or working with a gallery, but the most underestimated obstacle there is: the fears and anxieties within the loneliness of the studio. Continue reading

Museum Bathrooms

This is not about art, nor exhibitions, even though it is about museums. It is about their use of a space that is often overlooked but has an enormous impact on the visitor experience.

The bathroom at OGR, or the former gigantic railway repair shop in Turin, Italy, now an imposing contemporary art center.

Bathrooms are a non-place that not only is transitory, it is also supposed to remain unnoticed by its users. Attention is paid to a bathroom only when something is wrong with it, but it inevitably leaves a subliminal impact on its users’ minds. However, in a museum, a bathroom has a special place in the visitors’ consciousness.  Continue reading

Do you collect photos of people you don’t know?

Looking at found photos

Vernacular photography – often defined as “authorless”, but in reality, made by the same people who use it, for themselves or family/friends, or, alternatively,  commercial but made directly for consumers (e.g. the Sears portrait service) – has been gaining a lot of attention in the past few years or decades. If you are a photographer yourself, you know the writings of Geoffrey Batchen, who was the engine of the research of that type of photography with his books, especially Each Wild Idea. Continue reading

Disappeared and back again

Toy camera fans, did you hear the news? The Holga is back.

One of the first posts on this blog, seven years ago, was about a roll of Kodachrome. As Kodak was discontinuing the production of its legendary film, the last lab capable of developing its unique process was ending its work, too. So I caught the chance and shot one roll of Kodachrome myself.

That last roll was actually also my first. While for most everyone else the pull of the film was nostalgia, for me it was something I could only define as second-hand nostalgia. I didn’t have access to Kodachrome while growing up, of course, but experienced its allure as part of the allure of the American dream – yet when I was able to access it, the dream had changed. Continue reading

The Floating Piers by Christo as a quasi religious experience

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It was a privilege to walk  Christo’s Floating Piers on the first day of the project. They are the ultimate sensorial experience: all about touch, vision, and whole body mobilization: it felt so light yet the day after everything feels sore. Continue reading

Students work this semester in Photography 1

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I had the distinct pleasure of teaching a group of awesome students this semester: sensitive, hard working and very much personally invested in photography. They made some great work and also allowed me to post some of their images.

If these images look familiar to you, you are not mistaken: this was their emulation assignment, in which they had to research an iconic photographer, analyze his or her style and produce images inspired by it. So that’s why you may recognize something you’ve seen. Continue reading

Archive of Abandoned Dreams: new files

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If you are waiting to hear how the review went, it hasn’t come yet. It kept getting postponed, which is great for my worrywart soul but also prolongs the anxiety. Anyway, the project that has taken the most of my time is The Archive. As the best form of presentation, I decided to make an actual antique binder, covered with dark green cloth with metal corners and the photographs would be filed inside, stitched with thread.

If you have been following my blog you know that the Archive of Abandoned Dreams is based on the poetry of Dimcho Debelyanov, a Bulgarian symbolist who, after a brief life as a literature student and then clerk (in order to support his family after the death of his father), volunteered for World War I and was killed in a battle with an Irish division. The irony of his life, in which his forced choices were made against his worldview and beliefs points so well to the aesthetics of symbolists, who relished in the impossibility of communication and forged a code of metaphors that distanced them instead of bringing them closer to readers. Debelyanov himself lamented the impossibility of his dreams but then abandoned them willfully with a very symbolic gesture. This way of relating has so much to do with contemporary culture: a world of facebook mirages in which participants create willful representations of their lives that seem more compelling when ambiguous.  Continue reading

Silent Shadows, Faithless Night


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If you wonder what I’ve been working on lately, here are a few images from a new project I started based on the poetry of one of my favorite authors, Dimcho Debelyanov – a Bulgarian symbolist poet, intellectual and one of the most sensitive soldiers to lose his life in World War I. Unfortunately, very little of his exquisite works has been translated into English, so I can’t fully show you the depth and sensitivity of his verses and let you judge how they inspired the images above.

In a few words, his poetic dilemmas focused on the impossibility of reconciling reality with ideals. Which, for this projects,  metaphorically speaks of the impossibility of art to transparently represent ideas. I aim to use Debelyanov’s particular metaphors in images not to evoke your despair as viewers, which many people report as the effect of his poems, but to address this dilemma. Austin actor Greg Holt modeled for it. If you are local to DFW and would like to help me out by modeling, let me know! I promise the experience won’t be depressing as the poetry suggests. Continue reading

Let’s say NO to the camera

20052013

By now, you’ve probably seen these two images of the pope announcements of 2005 and 2013.

The images above reminded me of an emotional story Umberto Eco told last summer in his column in Espresso. When he was a young boy, he witnessed a horrible road accident: a peasant woman had been run over by a truck, her head wounded amid a puddle of blood, her husband holding her and wailing in anguish. The little boy was transfixed – it was his first encounter with death, as well as with sorrow and despair, which he counts as a defining moment of his life and perhaps his most vivid memory. Continue reading

Mindful looking

©Ellie Ivanova. Brothers (2011)

The most important reason I believe in photography is its ability to transform the person taking the picture. When you have a camera in your hand, it makes you look harder at the world you are trying to capture. It forces you to pay attention and notice things,  find beauty in unassuming places and – as a side effect – understand the world better, or differently. Love it more. That was in fact the reasoning that gave birth to my idea of the Third Eye Workshops for Roma kids.

But you don’t need to have a camera in your hand to trigger this intellectual and emotional process of observation. Actually, the first assignment beginner photographers get is simply to bring a cut out rectangle to their eyes and to practice looking through that for a time. Sometimes we need an occasion created specifically to make us look. Time set aside for just observing and taking in what we’ve seen.

Taking a few moments out of our busy lives and making an attempt at really seeing is a kind of meditation. I like these moments of intentional mindfulness. This is how I do it. Continue reading

“The album of my head is full of pictures of you”

The Colombian group Los Aterciopelados (The Velvety Kids) have a beautiful song in their 2001 album Gozo Poderoso, titled simply “The Album”. Besides the groovy mix of rock and folk as well as the beautiful images in the clip, it’s interesting to note that the lyrics are made almost exclusively out of photographic terms. The song is about love and the refrain says: “The album of my head is full of pictures of you”. You can say a lot with photography, even word-wise 🙂

Some passages from the lyrics, in English: Continue reading

Frida Kahlo: the Nickolas Muray Portraits at PDNB Gallery in Dallas

Nickolas Muray (1938). Frida and Diego with Gas Mask. PDNB Gallery

It’s not an exaggeration to say that we owe the popular image of Frida Kahlo to the photographs of her as much as to her own paintings.  Her relationship with photography is so strong one might wonder why she didn’t embrace it as her own art. The daughter of a photographer, one of her most intriguing early images is in a family portrait, dressed as the son her father craved. Tina Modotti, Manuel and Lola Álvarez Bravo were three big-name photographers within her circle of friends as well as influential artists who put in motion the post-revolutionary Mexican cultural renaissance.  And let’s not forget the powerful role photography played in the Mexican social and political upheavals of the early 20th century.

But the connection here is not just Frida’s friendships with photographers and the power of photography in society. The striking correspondence of her paintings of herself and the pictures others took of her just invites us to look closer and to use one in order to understand the other better. There is definitely a dialogue between her self portraits and her photographic portraits that’s worth exploring and enjoying. Continue reading

Everlasting Moments (2008)

This film is based on a true story, but you’ve never heard of the woman photographer Maria Larsson, whose life it describes. She is not an historic photographer now forgotten, but an ancestor of screenwriter Agneta Ulfsäter-Troell, who discovered her accidentally while doing family research. So it’s logical though ironic that despite the movie’s title, those everlasting moments frozen in photographs have remained such for her family only, hidden and almost forgotten in a drawer. It’s a story about the fragile power of photography to preserve life as well as to take over one’s life, but it’s first of all a statement about women artists. Continue reading