Stefano Gardel won our first theme of Edition IV – CIVILIZATION – with his arresting desert landscape; at once alien and familiar. Judge Simon Norfolk praised it for the craft on show, and noted how it reflects on the blind way in which we vandalize the natural world. We put some questions to Stefano, discussing his recent and rapid journey into the world of photography, his working practise, and his plans for traveling the globe.
Perhaps you can introduce yourself – how you got into photography, and what motivates your practice?
Hi thank you for having me! I was born in Milan Italy in 1980, and moved shortly after to Lugano, Switzerland. When I was 19 I moved to San Francisco, California to study chiropractic, where I lived and worked for eight years as a chiropractor.
I got into photography only recently, beginning of 2016. I was having problems with my health and had to limit to a great extent what I could eat or drink. It resulted in me cooking every meal at home and stopping drinking alcohol altogether, which was very hard! My social life got empty really fast and being outgoing and sociable I found myself getting depressed. So one day after work, sitting on the couch and staring at the white wall I thought to myself: “Wouldn’t it be nice to hang some cool picture there..?” Having had a weekend course on how to use a DSLR 12 years before, I bought a professional camera and started traveling and taking pictures. It was a way to distract myself from my problems, and the more I shot the more it felt like my own thing, a way to express my creativity. Things happened really fast and now, one year later, I’m selling my work to art galleries in Milan and Sydney.
I find that my motivation is determined by inspiration. When I feel inspired by an idea or a project I have to go out and shoot in a matter of days – it’s like an urge I cannot resist. I know exactly what I want to shoot, the mood I want to convey and how to edit it. On the contrary I may have long periods of times were nothing comes, so I just wait.
Your series ‘Neon Desert’ confounds expectations – the desert environments seem both familiar and alien at once; recognisable forms but rendered in metallic, industrial tones. Can you tell us a little about how the series originated, and what your intention behind it was?
This series was a revelation to me. I didn’t know where I was going with it until the end. It was shot in the California desert earlier this year. I got there around 6 a.m. and started shooting for a couple of hours. When I got there I was disappointed to find quad tracks all over, because I was going for a more minimal, clean look. But after a while I was there I started playing with the tracks in my compositions instead of avoiding them. I thought how cool it actually was to find in this lost land with no soul in site these marks of “aggression” on this otherwise dormant landscape. Mad Max came to mind, and how I could actually be in a futuristic post apocalypse land. So in post-production I decided to give it a futuristic look, first working the whole series in black and white to get the contrasts with great detail, and afterwards recoloring it from scratch with coloring masks. I tried to get a retro synthwave look, aiming for a Blade Runner feel. The title of this series Neon Desert is inspired by the movie “Neon Demon”, by Nicolas Winding Refn, which used very similar color tones.