Advertising and Fashion photographer Stefano Gilera explores the world of The Craftsman, and reflects on the unforeseen ways in which the photographer makes visual connections
A shot of a single object that expresses a powerful memory or event?
It’s weird how sometimes a scene unexpectedly glimpsed from a car window or framed by my helmet while I’m riding past on my motorbike can unconsciously enter my head and for a few seconds totally capture me. It needn’t be a breathtaking landscape or a scene laden with special significance. I’m aware in fact that I often use contrasting concepts. Some discarded object, a desolate, deserted street or the repetitive features of a suburban cityscape get me thinking about the lives of the people who live there.
Sometimes I catch sight of someone, a fleeting trace lingering on our retinas. And I find myself trying to picture their life or imagine their voice when they’re at home. Trivial everyday details.
Sometimes I retain a more tangible trace: a hastily taken photo, just as rapidly pushed to the back of my mind. But then it may happen that during a fashion shoot or a portrait-sitting some small detail or an emotion aroused in me by my subject will remind me of one of those scenes.
And so I juxtapose the two photos spontaneously, quite by instinct, rather like a child with no rational or intelligent explanation to offer.
And to my amazement people far smarter and more perceptive than me accept my idea and publish it.
And the child is content…
Three books that have inspired you?
Favourite photo you have taken?
I don’t have a favourite photo. Actually, I find it impossible to compose “best of” lists: the 10 best films of all time, my 10 favourite songs and so-on. When someone asks me my Top 10 list of something or other, I generally order another beer.
Among my most recent work, however, I’m particularly fond of this one. I was doing a photo shoot for a leading producer of smart phones and tablets, sponsor of a group of Italian athletes taking part in the Sochi winter Olympics. We were at Armin Zöggeler’s maso, the farm in Alto Adige (or the South Tyrol) where he grew up and has lived all his life, helping his father in his tough agricultural work.
My client, of course, just wanted photos of the athlete. The hero of the luge, detached from his usual everyday setting. But it is a well-known fact that hens do not always respect the wishes of the rich and powerful. At a certain point a plump brown hen wandered nonchalantly across the set and I hastily took a few steps back. That to me is the photo.
Favourite artist, photographer or image-maker?
Another tough question for me! Amongst the great masters, I would definitely include Richard Avedon.
What inspired you to shoot around the theme of Craft?
I’m an advertising and fashion photographer so I guess I’m a bit spoilt. I’m used to shooting photos surrounded by a large supporting troupe of assistants and crew, as well as clients and art directors all playing a role in the evolution of the work.
My collaboration with Image Source has given me the impetus to try my hand at something new, for once quite alone and in a real setting, photographing real people doing real stuff.
And I love it.
How do craft businesses manage to survive in South Tyrol, and what kinds of business flourish there?
In the Italian region of Alto Adige there is deep-rooted respect for tradition combined with a lively sense of curiosity for all that’s new. People also have a high regard for ethics and I always felt sure that whatever I bought there was no doubting the quality of the product and the fairness of its price.
I had the opportunity to see wool being processed in a centuries-old building housing ancient machinery once operated by water power, subsequently replaced by rudimentary electric motors, alongside which sophisticated state-of-the-art equipment is now used.
Skills passed down from father to son, like the blacksmith I photographed in the tiny village of Malles who, as well as working for a handful of local inhabitants, also produces items for an important German designer.
These craftsmen, have they always lived in this area and done their apprenticeships there?
Yes, as far as I know they have worked there all their lives. They are likely to have gained some experience away from home as young artisans, often over the border in Austria. But always returning to their home villages.
Did you use any special equipment or processes?
As I have mentioned, my usual professional environment is one where everything centres around the need for producing images. Often unreal and composed of several shots with plentiful use of artificial light and post production.
In this series of photos I wanted to enter on tiptoe, to try to blend in with the landscape and shoot without intruding. So I used a Canon reflex and at times a small dedicated flash. But it felt best when all I needed to do was raise the ISO sensitivity. Now and then a little miracle in the balance between light and subject, and it felt like being inside a painting.