INTERVIEW

Magnificent Elusiveness

WITH GIUSEPPE LO SCHIAVO

An interview with Giuseppe Lo Schiavo

“I am full of contrasts and weak points but I don’t feel any shame about showing them through my projects. For me, photography is a way of experiencing freedom”

Earlier in the year, Giuseppe Lo Schiavo won our Open Call – the final theme of our last edition – with his dreamlike alien form set against a stunning glacial landscape. Judge Brian Clamp, owner and founder of New York gallery ClampArt, praised it for the craft on show, describing it as ‘otherworldly’. Belatedly, we put some questions to Giuseppe and his answers were fascinating; jumping between his working process, how London might change outside the EU, his strengths and flaws, and how Italy can be described as a ‘lasagna of creativity’!  

In your series ‘Wind Sculptures’ you capture human figures – gorgeous and ambiguous forms, against vast and dramatic landscapes. Can you tell us a little bit about the concept behind the work?

Wind Sculptures is an experimental series of photographs that depict unpredictable forms that resemble sculptures, created by the wind, that only the a high-speed camera can capture and keep forever. Under an emergency blanket, I am interacting with the wind in order to create dramatic and voluminous shapes in a performance with ever-changing results. It is a collaborative process between me and nature and that’s why I try to stage my photographs in uncontaminated, windy places all around Europe. I imagine this collaborative process as a way to create unpredictable forms of beauty. Beneath the foil, I feel like a rock, sculpted in an accelerated process by the wind and the water.

The process is interesting, and you’ve taken images all across Europe – Italy, France, Greece, the UK… Can you describe your method? What kind of research goes into the environments you choose, and how you then work once on-location? Is it a collaborative process, or do you act as both subject and photographer?

As a first step, I try to find inspiring and pristine places with notable windy spots. That’s why half of my series is taken in Iceland, a beautiful land where you can interact with the powerful wind generated from a waterfall or you can step on a glacier and be part of the spectacle.

I prepare the blanket before visiting the site, in my studio, combining around 8-10 blankets together in order to create a unique foil of approx. 30 square meters. I usually work with at least an assistant – I set the tripod with the camera on and then I go on stage with my blanket. There are cases though, where someone else is covered up with the blanket; in one example at Glacier Paradise, I was shooting at 2900m altitude in Switzerland during a snowstorm, and I couldn’t act both as subject and photographer. I had to be fast, so a friend of mine is under the blanket.

At Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon in Iceland I risked my life by stepping on the very fragile iceberg platforms. The salty lagoon water was -10 degrees Celsius and the closest city was 7 hours driving away, but I was determined to shoot in this location. The entire experience was extraordinarily overwhelming, standing in the middle of a glacier surrounded by seals. There are experiences that you cannot miss in life and that was one of them for me.

You’ve taken videos of these performances, as well as the still images that make up the photographic series. For a practice that is so theatrical – spontaneous and ever-changing – how do you go about selecting the ‘decisive’ frame? Is it a case of taking many images and post-editing, or does this selection happen ‘in the moment’?

That’s actually one of the most complex phases of my project. I look at the pictures only after the shoot because I need my big computer screen to start the selection process. I usually take 25 images per seconds, for a total of about 900 images per scene, so it’s a very frustrating moment when you need to select just one or two shots among all those striking images. This process takes weeks because I need time between the first and the final selection. I want to be sure there are no external influences interacting with my decisions. I discovered that when I’m in a good mood I tend to select the most appealing and symmetrical shapes, while when I’m low-spirited I tend to choose the more edgy ones, or the ones with more imperfections, like the ones at the end of every photo shoot where the foil is partly destroyed by the power of the wind. I am braver when I am melancholic. I work a lot with my instinct. It’s my duty as an artist to filter the images based on my personal intuition.

The one constant in the series is the gold foil – a material used as thermal blankets in many contexts, but notably in recent times to warm migrants landing on European shores from the sea. Such a material must clearly be an aesthetic choice, but is there a political message, or reaction to the migrant crisis infused in your work too?

My brother works as an official in the Italian marine Coast Guard in Calabria, southern Italy, and he has participated in many migrant rescue missions, saving the lives of thousands of migrants coming from North Africa every year. The first time I saw the emergency blanket was when I assisted him at the disembarkation of 120 migrants in the Port of Vibo Marina in Italy. The first thing I noticed was this beautiful and sparkling gold coating blanket that everyone was wearing, a reflecting mantle that was symbolizing salvation, for those who had made it.

So I associated this blanket as a symbol of salvation and I extended the message, introducing it in a collaborative project between man and nature. We can only save this planet earth if we understand that nature is a system of which we are all part, we are not a separated entity. If we don’t respect our environment we are betraying our essence. When I interact with the wind with my blanket I am sending a message that we are all connected, we just need to collaborate more in order to create beauty and not disruption.

Backstage in Iceland