The Italian analog photo community is a really small one, so it wasn’t long until I knew about Samuele Piccoli, a camera maker from Pistoia, a city not far away from Florence. I immediately got curious not that much about his beautiful cameras, but about the whole process of production. The background, the attitude, the goals, the overall personal energy is quite important, especially in such an emotional world of film photography, where individual approach matters more than industry. I asked to come for a visit and an interview, and luckily for me Samuele turned out to be a super open sweet person, who welcomed me a few days later at his workspace!
I can barely believe it’s been almost six months I got my MFA in Photography degree (with all A and A+ grades!). Feels like it happened yesterday, feels like it happened in another life. The hardest aspect of being on your own is lack of external pressure. Deciding your tasks, your hours, your plans and goals sounds liberating, but tends to be quite scary, strange, directionless… and relaxing. However, when you’re a workaholic, it’s never going to be your case This summer I took maybe five days in total of real vacation, reorganizing my life all the remaining time, main focus being, naturally, the darkroom. My best friend and partner in crime Massimo and I made those two darkrooms in Florence, one small normal one, one big with vintage enlargers. You might have seen the story on YouTube, but in case you haven’t…
New work environment, all independent from school, did not turn out that easy to maintain. We were running into problems every single step of the way: floods, humidity levels, temperature, ventilation, short circuits… but an even bigger problem turned out to be darkroom equipment! When choosing my own, I realized just how many things are plain terrible! I accepted the facilities at uni, but my own space I wanted absolutely perfect (it still isn’t). And I am disastrously picky and attentive to tiniest details.
Mind that, Massimo basically has a camera and darkroom equipment store. So I have a choice no one does. I tried about six different enlargers (and refused to even try about twenty more), kinda liked one 4×5 DeVere and truly liked an IFF (which prints only up to 6×9 medium format, unfortunately). Timers are my personal pain too. But the easels! Mamma mia, what a disaster. First, I don’t know who had the idea of producing two-bladed easels. It’s pure nonsense. Second, even four-bladed easels are mostly ugly! How is it possible to create beautiful prints using equipment with zero designer thought? And prices were killing me. After I got an outrageously expensive, very pretty, brand new easel which turned out a pain to use, I got seriously angry and decided to make one of my own. Along the way, I came up with other devices that would significantly simplify my darkroom life (which is 80% of my general life). So currently we are making and testing prototypes, designing a bunch of potentially useful stuff and hoping it works out!
Being a perfectionist in the darkroom is the toughest and most time-consuming thing. Just when you think you got everything right, your eye falls on this little area in the corner, where you realize you could have worked better. And here it goes again. And again.
I am currently working as a teaching assistant and using the udergrad darkroom, so all my “bad” prints go into a huge box, and anyone can take a print or two. I have only advertised this box to few people so far, so that they get the best ones first. Yesterday I witnessed this funny moment of my friend failing to choose between several prints, all of which I have dismissed for imperfection and which seemed absolutely fine to him. So technically I could stop a good four hours before attaining the “ideal” print and still get people to appreciate it!
But I guess my love for the darkroom is too big to be happy with the acceptable. If you love something, you are giving your all, and that feels natural and normal. So if making your work perfect seems like too much, you probably gotta change your job
Just photographing has never been enough. You can tell by all the videos I’ve been doing, sharing the process and the backstage magic is equally as important to me as getting the final result. I am always excited to see people getting interested in analog photography, and there is no better way to make their path easier than teaching! This is the main reason why I am doing an MFA, not a regular MA in Photography: after MA it’s a long story of getting a PhD before you can teach, while MFA is a degree letting you lead courses at university level. Not like I am really considering being tied down to rules, schedules and bureaucracy (what a university actually is), my plan is leaning more towards independent courses and workshops with very few attendants.
For that to get real, work is going in two directions: setting up a space for classes, which I wrote about in the previous post, and learning teaching methods. I’ve assisted one photography professor before, and am doing a teaching assistant job with another right now, analyzing their every word, their ways of interacting, of explaining, of course structuring, of guiding and motivating students and constantly thinking how I would do it. I sure know I will be like neither of them, as I already have my own course plan and vision. Yet I am super-lucky to have actually pretty amazing people to assist, as they are extremely different in teaching approaches, and I can take the best bits (more…)
My life is a series of craziest coincidences, which seem weird when seen separately, but then fall together like a perfect puzzle I could have never imagined with a conscious effort.
Eleven years ago, when I first had the idea of learning Italian, it seemed particularly pointless: I didn’t have any connection to that country or any Italian friends, and the similar Spanish language was much more widespread and useful to know. Still, out of all world languages, I remained stuck on Italian, but only three years ago I took intensive individual classes with a really good tutor (for two months) and maintained my basic Italian alive with another professor for about a year more. Back then I was planning to move to London or New York, but had not a tiniest clue that in a few years I would end up nowhere else but Florence, getting my Photography MFA!
As a part of MFA program we are taking individual classes with a professor of a chosen specialization. Since I wanted to learn studio lighting, I started a course with Massimo, a great engineer and teacher, who did not (and still does not) speak any English. In that case usually we are provided with someone to translate, yet I was told: “You speak Italian, you’ll survive” and left alone. Quite incredibly, my barely existent Italian grew to be quite decent over few months, and Massimo and I, instead of just doing the course, ended up talking for hours and hours. We quickly found a common interest in large format photography and darkroom printing. By that time, for a couple of months already, I was printing at school thinking how great it would be to have my own darkroom, yet I had absolutely no equipment and was a student in a city where I knew no one. (more…)