Interview with DAVID PICCHIOTTINO

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Part 2 of SnappedAway In Depth Series with David Picchiottino. We talk about his inspirations, photography masters and being in love with the Louvre.

Can you briefly introduce yourself and your photography style to our readers?
I was born in 1976 in Paris, France.
My photographic approach is very influenced by the light and the silence of the places surrounding us, when they find their soul, when human presence has disappeared.I was interested in the pictorial representation’s function of images. How did people in the past represent their everyday life? How did they capture it in images?

I relearned how to see these many a time seen paintings, these grand works which somewhat are, like my photographs, representations of the everyday life that interests me so. I am fascinated by the sharpness of primitive Flemish painters (Van Eyck, Van der Weyden, Memling), the mystery of Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings, the light of Vermeer and the way he paints the daily life of his time, the mystery and melancholy of Hopper.

I started working with medium format and 4×5 inch camera to achieve this quality of detail, the colours and tonal values I wanted to get. I try more and more to go in this direction, «to paint» more than to photograph my subjects. I also put a certain distance between the subjects and the camera. This allows me to show the places the way I want to, and lets the spectator’s imagination do its own work.

I think an image must stay open, it needs to breathe, it needs some air. Images need to break free in order to really tell their story.

How did you get interested in photography? And why did you pick photography as a medium and a form of expression?
As many photographers I guess, it was by an accident. I discovered that photography allows me to express myself, to freeze moments, emotions that would otherwise just disappear.

I think this is vital for me, I can not do otherwise. I take my time, I completely disconnect, I do my best to only be a receptacle for the beauty that is happening in front of me.

How did you learn how to shoot? And what did you find the most helpful source of information along this way?
I pursued studies in graphic design in Paris at Penninghen (ESAG). This has tremendously helped me develop my “eye”. I was lucky enough to have Paolo Roversi as the photography teacher. He made me the honour of being my thesis master. He taught me one thing that I apply in every single one of my photographs: photography is writing with light. No light, no image.

I try to use light as a narrative element in my work. It is my main protagonist.

After my studies, I went towards fashion. I was hired by a fashion brand as a graphic designer. I was given the opportunity to work there on lighting by creating the light in a studio with live models. I’ve since then worked as a freelancer for the fashion world and made a few series for different magazines.

At some point I made the acquisition of a Hasselblad, with which I shot photos for different clients. This gave me a serious tool to start using in my personal work. After that I also purchased a 4×5 inch camera and spend a lot of time fine tuning my framing.

I study photo books a lot of but also look a lot at painting, I take time to visit as many exhibitions as possible, visit museums, and of course follow all the good sites on the internet.

How about your photography style? Can you describe your journey to where you are right now?
I think I already answered the question about my stylistic approach. If you want to hear who inspires me, the list would be something like: Stephen Shore, William Eggleston, Jeff Wall, Garry Winogrand. Of course there is more, movie directors such as: Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, Nicolas Winding Refn. And as I mentioned before, I was always captivated by painters like: Hopper, Da Vinci, Memling, Van Der Weyden and of course Vermeer.

I am fully focused on working with everyday life, everyday places, common things that people do not seem to notice anymore. I am very inspired by the different qualities of light, I think it has become one of the crucial factors in my work. Currently I am working on a project about the USA. Since 2011 I have tried to explore this territory, reveal its innate character as well as mankind’s influence on the land. I am very interested in depicting the lives of those who occupy it today.

Do you remember your first most inspiring photographer/ photo book/ exhibition in your life? And how about other photography masters? How do they inspire you and how do they influence your photography style?
I think it was Philip-Lorca diCorcia, it was a long time ago so I’m not absolutely sure… When I encountered his work I was inspired and impressed by the way he uses light in everyday environments. I keep being inspired by so many various photographers : Sorrenti, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Jeff Wall, William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, Pieter Hugo, Harry Gruyaert, Andreas Gursky, Avedon, Irving Penn and a lot lot more. I studied their use of light, the style they approach their subject matter, the unique way they look at our world. At this point in time though, I am turning more to painting then photography for inspiration.

I spend a lot of time in museums, see all kinds of exhibitions. In the last two years I’ve developed a real passion for the Louvre. I try to see everything there is to see in there, but I must admit I have a thing for 15th to 17th century north European painters.

I love Memling for his finesse, precision, and an incredible modernity. There is Bosch, and the madness of his work. Tons of characters, tons of details. Van Dick and his way of idealizing the subject, flattering its ego. Van Eyck. I love “The Arnolfini Portrait”, a painting so extremely rich in symbolism. I adore Rembrandt for his strength, specially his many ruthless self portraits. I also love Gericault for his strength, Ingres for the way he paints skin, Leonardo da Vinci, a master of light and darkness. He used to say: “Things are more beautiful when the shadows are half way upon them.” I am also attracted to the expressionists: Ensor, Grosz, Kokoshka… The incredible scream that rises from their paintings.

How do you work? Are you after a specific project or a single frame? Do you come with idea first or the idea finds you when you are shooting? How do you find your project ideas? Please share your work flow with us.
I am just walking around with my camera, but I need to be in a certain mood, a frame of mind. I need isolation, to be calm, a certain « vague à l’âme »… I need to be in touch with myself. I try to stay focused on my different projects, all listed on my site.

I love walking alone in the streets. All my senses are up and running, and suddenly a light, a scene, and an image is right there. If I’m lucky, the image comes together all by itself. It’s a bit like a mystical revelation, in a sense. It may sound a bit bizarre, but that’s really the way it is, what it feels like. I wouldn’t be able to recreate it, even if I tried. This right scene sometimes exists only for a single moment. After that, it will never be the same again. What I look for at that moment is the sensation of immortalizing my feelings on film.

I don’t really know how to describe my work. I am a Photographer, not a writer. I need photography, it helps me say things, I ask questions through it, it brings the spectator along with me, telling him an open story.

It’s a quest of infinity, a constant work on myself. I need it. I need to express myself through photography. My pictures are always calm. I increasingly exclude human presence from my work. I try to tell a story with a place, with objects. People are essentially present by their absence. They were there at a certain point in time, now they have disappeared. They are now only ghosts, traces of life…

What is your favourite or memorable project/ photo you have worked on. Why? And also what is the project you will share with us?
I think all my projects are important but for now, it’s USA because everything is condensed in this series: my love for landscape, admiration of painting, there is the wilderness, there is the unique light, and of course people too.

What do you personally find challenging as a photographer?
There are so many good photographers right now. With an iPhone everyone has an access to a very good camera and using digital you don’t need a lot of practice to achieve a very beautiful picture. I think it is not enough to have some good photography in your book these days. As a professional photographer (here is my website) the real problem is money. As I said before, there is a lot of photographers now and even in the professional market it’s getting more and more difficult to find one’s place.

Do you have your favourite lens? Why this specific one? Favourite camera?
45mm for landscape work and 80mm for portraits or still lifes. My camera is my secret 😉 but I can tell you I shoot with a digital camera.

What is one piece of advice you would like to offer a person starting as a photographer.
I can only speak about what I know: fashion photography. To succeed you need to be very creative, look a lot of various things: exhibitions, magazines, internet… Don’t focus on gear, it’s not as important as many people think. You can create beautiful pictures with a very cheap camera, even an old smartphone. I saw photographs taken with an old 24×36 film camera that were much better than some other ones taken with the latest digital medium format.

If you enjoyed reading this post stay with us for more of David Picchiottino’s photography. Also you might want to check his website to find out more about his work.

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