Interview #66

Francesco Merlini

* The following text is an excerpt from an interview made in 2016. The original version is published in PANORAMA (DIORAMA editions).

Francesco Merlini (Aosta, 1986) studied at Politecnico, Milan. His work has been exhibited at Noorderlicht Photofestival (Heerenveen); Photo Oxford Festival (Oxford); Circulation(S), Festival De La Jeune Photographie Européenne (Paris); Kolga Tblisi Photo Festival (Tbilisi); Le247 Galerie (Paris); Spazio Contemporanea (Brescia); Angkor Photo Festival (Angkor); Month of Photography Festival (Ljubljana); Menier gallery (London); Oberkampf gallery (Paris); Think Tank gallery (Los Angeles); The Apothecaire Gallery (Bristol); Biennale des Jeunes Créateurs de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée (Marseille).

What is your training, and how did you approach photography? And how did you start working in photojournalism?

While studying industrial design at the Politecnico I started taking pictures of friends, journeys and that sort of thing; it was the time when magazines like Vice brought a completely new photographic aesthetics to the general public; I was fascinated, but I never thought of becoming a photographer. After graduating, I ended up working in the agency of photo-journalism Prospekt where I work now as photographer and coordinator. After a long training period, I started making reportages and small assignments for Italian and international magazines. In parallel I started keeping a diary: so in my head photographic research started take on another meaning, another value that has given life to a journey of discovery which sees its culmination in myself.

Be it personal or commercial projects, you always make life shots: why this choice?

On one hand I have always thought that reality in itself is already quite crazy and fantastic; on the other hand I never liked to stay on a set. I always loved the immediacy of photography, the possibility to pick up the camera, go out and accomplish something interesting. At the same time it has always been the link with reality that made me prefer photography to other creative means, which instead let you create a vision out of nowhere. In any case, for me reality represents an extraordinary structure around which I can create my works.

You said that you’re fascinated by the idea of being able to work as a photojournalist, but without limiting experimentation, by recounting reality in a personal way and hybridizing the two channels on which you work…

In recent years we are increasingly realizing the value of the relationship between documentary photography and personal vision. The ‘invisible’ photographer begins to be less interesting than a photographer who includes himself in the reality he photographs. I think this situation is partly a consequence of the large number of photographs that people see every day. We are all anesthetized, we need something that touches us on a more personal level to excite us or to make us think.

Farang is your major single project, a layering of images that you have been pursuing for years, trip after trip…

The photographs were taken in Italy, France, Turkey, Thailand and Kosovo over three years. What connects the images is that, after much time spent photographing in a ‘comfort zone’, the photos of this series are the result of circumstances foreign to my everyday life. I did not attempt to document these situations objectively, but rather to filter them as long as they were speaking to me. I tried to consecrate these moments of revelation by using the flash, impressing myself on the veil that covers the subjects of which I thus discarded the objective reality. I consider these images rather like relics of something invisible, and at the same time a Tarot deck; a single item, an object, a person are photographed so as to acquire a broader, collective meaning, almost becoming archetypes.

Which are your influences and your aspirations?

I grew up watching the photos of the great reporters and photo-journalists, especially war images; I have always been fascinated by the aesthetics of violence and how we can create something beautiful from death and suffering. I then became interested in the intimate photography: Petersen, Moryiama, Aue Sobol. Now I find it more stimulating to seek inspiration outside the ‘official circuit’ of photography: I watch a lot Tumblr, looking for new and original ways to proceed with my work.

I know that you are also following the world of independent publishing: What interests you in this medium regarding the photographic language?

Compared to an online gallery, working seriously on a publication allows you to create something new, adding further value to a project, especially when the photographer works with people capable of adding further levels of interpretation to that of the author. The advent of self-publishing has certainly created a multitude of very good and interesting projects. At the same time though, in the photographic context I see too often publications which are very beautiful in terms of graphics and production, but which, when opened, do not offer anything interesting from the photographic point of view; sometimes it seems that the authors spent more time on the design rather than on the photography project, and at the end you notice this.