An interview with Carlo Bevilacqua.

This interview with Carlo Bevilacqua marks the beginning of a series of informal chats with artists and other celebrities: an opportunity to get acquainted with people with different skills and attitudes, but with a common trait—creativeness.

 People whose work and commitment provided us with much food for thought as well as new ideas. Born in Palermo in 1961, a photographer and a director, Carlo Bevilacqua has been switching on and off between photo shoots, documentary films and clips. Having taken his first photographs in Palermo in the 80s, he moved to Milan where he still lives and where he works for Italian and foreign magazines and advertising agencies, while still pursuing his own research and authoring his own books. He also directed and produced several short films including (In collaboration with con Francesco Di Loreto e Little Red Robin Hood), a biographical short film on Robert Wyatt, a vocalist and drummer with Soft Machine, featuring Elvis Costello, Brian Eno, Phil Manzanera and Nick Mason; another on Moira Orfei, called Amore e Fiori (Love and flowers), a colourful tableau dedicated to the well-known Italian actress and circus queen, plus as a number of video clips for many artists including Cristina Donà, Marco Parente and Antonella Ruggiero. His photos and his videos have been exhibited or otherwise shown in many international photo and film festivals like Boutographies (Montpellier, France), PhotoBiennale (Thessaloniki, Greece) , Fotografia Festival (Rome), Indian Vision (London), Fotografia Europea (Reggio Emilia, Italy) and at the Center for Fine Art Photography (Fort Collins, Colorado, USA).

 

Studio XTV di Carlo Bevilacqua
Carlo Bevilacqua nel suo studio
Primo libretto delle foto Indian Stills

Carlo, would you describe your latest, wonderful photos as the work of a photojournalist?

Actually, I feel more like a storyteller than a reporter. A reportage must follow specific rules and my approach to photography is closer to drawing up a story than to taking a picture, as I tend to pinpoint an intriguing subject first and then work on it. While I strive to be as unbiased as I can, it goes without saying that when you tell a story something personal will always be present. Besides, my works, as you would expect in a story, involve a certain time frame: they grow and develop as time goes by, it takes time to appreciate them. You may say that my works turn into books, although some pictures do end up in newspapers and websites. Actually, part of my works may well be regarded as a form of news reporting, but they also include portraits, views, interiors… It’s arguably just a combination of all these, with a common element—everything revolves around Man.

What about your portraits, Indian Stills?

It is a series of snapshots taken using a tripod and an optical bench. That’s the point, you see: they were not stolen pictures, people were aware and participating, they were deliberately posing and very happy with it too. There is a peculiar technical and aesthetic trick, however: using that film and that frame bestows a well-defined style, an easily recognizable appearance.

From a photographer’s point of view, that specific frame (namely, the protective frame found on Polaroid film) openly states that I used that film and without cuts:what you see is what was caught on camera. Basically, I conceived the picture in my mind before actually taking it. This explains why I chose to avoid colours, although it is a slight alteration of reality and pictures cannot boast the same spontaneity of a photo feature: after all, they are portraits.

Indian Stills Carlo Bevilacqua
Indian Stills Carlo Bevilacqua
Carlo Bevilacqua Indian Stills
Indian Stills Carlo Bevilacqua

Your latests works are called Into the Silence and Utopia. How did you come up with these ideas?

I was really looking forward to learn more about people who chose such an alternative lifestyle, whether alone or within a group. Then of course I was also keen to share this knowledge, describing and portraying their way of life. The work about those so-called hermits shows people who gave up what we regard as a “normal” life to pursue silence and enhance their listening skills, driven by personal and quite diverse motivations. Their “worthy leisure” reminds me of the meaning some Roman authors—Cato the Elder for instance—gave to the word otium, when thoughts give way to rumination and meditation, while leading a simple life, in harmony with nature and without harming the environment.
Gisbert, the first hermit I met, dwells in a cave in the Mediterranean island of Filicudi; Maxim, a Georgian monk, withdrew to a small village where he lives atop a 40-meter pillar of rock; Swami Atmananda lives in Calabria, in a hermitage named after “Primeval Harmony”; Viviana, a former model, moved to the Apennines with the rather challenging project of persuading people to open up abandoned churches to… well, to hermits without a hermitage. And that’s just a few of the Hermit of the Third Millennium I met. While I was working on my project devoted to these Hermits of the Third Millennium, called Into the silence, my journey took me to Slab City, a hippy commune in California. This led me to meditate on collective communities and later, partially as a result of a chat with an old friend, I started writing Utopia.

Individuals and communities...

These people—both the Hermits and the others—wonder whether we can improve this world, and what we might do to improve our quality of life. I found this really intriguing and motivating enough to start my research, including writing Utopia. I was interested in understanding what sort of happiness they were seeking—and also what sort of governing body such entities may have. The definition of my Utopia is well expressed by the words of Arianna Rinaldo, who wrote the foreword: “[Utopia is a] journey during which we look for people who were bold enough to believe in a better world,
turning their dream into reality”. The term Utopia is commonly intended to denote an ideal but unattainable goal; on the contrary, to me it refers to the drive which enables us to overcome his limits and achieve his dreams. Utopia does not mean reaching a given spot, rather, it applies to the direction we follow. Some instances of “utopia turned into reality” include the Arcosanti experimental town in central Arizona, a prime example of so-called “arcology”, a combination of architecture and ecology (meaning environmentalism) as conceived by Paolo Soleri, an Italian architect; Eliphante, a village hand-built by Michael Kahn and his wife Leda Livant in the Arizona desert, the fruit of his skill and imagination; and Christiania, in Denmark, one of the most popular urban hippy communes. In Italy we have Damanhur, an environment-friendly, spiritual commune practising “biological agriculture” in a valley in Piedmont, where erecting or renovating a building takes place in compliance with the tenets of sustainable architecture. They also run several business concerned with renewable energy. Again, a number of people has settled into abandoned Apennine country cottages in Tuscany, creating a participatory project called “Comunità degli Elfi”: their goal is a “natural” life and they reject the use of unnecessary technological aids. These were all highly moving experiences, always against a backdrop of wonderfully fascinating surroundings. Photography is also a way explore and understand the world, providing enrichment of one’s knowledge—something I hope to be able to convey to others as well.

Sharing is a basic aspect of the Web, which is a fundamental tool for your work. What do you think about the web, then?

The web—more specifically, digital technology—is extremely useful, no doubt. To being with, it is a platform through which I can promote and popularize my work abroad as well as nationwide. On the other hand, I tend to use the web to gather information and find contacts rather than to draw attention to my works.

Finally, it is through the web that I was able to get in touch with Crowdbooks, an Italian start-up specialized in crowdfunding and publishing art books; I am not sure I would have been able to find the money to publish Utopia without them. Thanks to Crowdbooks people have been able to pre-order my book, I mean the print version plus the corresponding e-book, at a lower price, which enabled us to have a longer print run.

By the way, I think Utopia has only lately been launched...

Correct. The book was first introduced to the public in November 2017, during the Bookcity event held in Milan; I took that opportunity to illustrate my project, with the help of Crowdbooks, an online crowdfunding platform for art and photo books. Then in January I described my work in a conference at the Frigoriferi Milanesi Exhibition Area, as part of “Writers #6. Gli scrittori si raccontano” (writers talk about themselves), a literary event. This year the subject was Pasolini and the 1968 protest movement; as the organizing committee saw a connection with my Utopia, they set up both an exhibition and a presentation involving other writers too. These took place on January 26 to 28.

Thank you for your time and consideration! Good luck with your book as well as your future plans!