Let’s start with a small presentation who is Massimiliano Perasso? When did you start taking pictures? Do you remember what it felt like?
I consider myself a traveler. I certainly love to travel with the mind and whenever possible with the body too. I started at about the age of 15 when I received my first compact camera as a gift. I remember that I used to go to visit my relatives once a year and that occasion was perfect to give meaning to my photographs. I got used to binding my photos to my memory, to compensate for the physical or mental absences of some people or places.
What weight does photography have in your life in general and in everyday life?
I think that taking photographs has become an instinctive gesture and is so cemented with my daily life that it is not considered as a gesture to be given weight. What follows (selections, editing, layouts), on the other hand, I can admit that it takes up most of my time. Sometimes I take my distance from everything to try to regenerate the spirit, to look a little further beyond borders and preconceptions. It is an attempt of course, nothing certain.
Has it ever occurred to you that your work causes you pain? Even in retrospect?
Surely. If there is a sense for my daily photography, it certainly consists in continuing my work of introspection. Every time I look back, through my photos and projects, I fall into a vortex of emotions that are difficult to manage. This type of suffering helps me to remember what has been, what we are. ..and the more I suffer in remembering, the more I suffer in searching. There is always the downside, I am of the opinion that accepting certain types of suffering can also help to better define the concept of happiness.
Is there a part of Massimiliano that doesn’t show in your shots?
I am sincere and careful in representing myself. It is hard work to talk about yourself in everyday life. Like almost everyone I have my favorite roads, generally I avoid facing safe roads, I prefer to grope in the dark. What I do not represent in photographs is all that I consider repetitive, everything that concerns everyday life is negligible for me, unless it is linked to a particular emotion. Another problem is the web, we are forced to censor a lot, I am not only talking about nudes or particularly daring self-portraits, I am referring above all to the difficulty of communicating something in the appropriate way. One thing that cannot be seen on the web is my consideration of time, silence and all those shots that for some reasons I cannot publish for issues related to the absurd censorship policy.
What are the subjects you love to photograph? Are there situations that constantly return to your work?
People in general in intimate situations. I also really like trees, for their geometric ambition to reach the sky. In balance and harmony with the surrounding world. I’d like to be a tree. The situations that happen to me are all the situations that, in some way, I look for; even at the subconscious level. A sort of magic always leads me to intimate or adventurous situations and for this reason I consider myself very lucky. Even to be still alive.
A photo you’re particularly fond of? Show it to us.
I don’t have a favorite photo but I can show you something that lately screams in my head.
How much courage does it take to be a good photographer?
A mix of courage and unconsciousness. The first one is necessary to face new situations and unforeseen events, the second occurs when courage fails. But this does not mean being a good photographer. In addition to experiencing firsthand you may need a lot of study and openness towards different communication languages. The ability to communicate does not always go hand in hand with courage.
In a hypothetical podium, where would you put honesty in your work? And what would be the other two values that you consider indispensable in a photographic work?
Honesty is essential, during the shooting phase and also subsequently during the selection process. I prefer to think that the emotion must be honest. In the final process the emotion, the mood that comes by reading my work, must be the same I have on my mind. If I were not honest I would not be able to work on myself, I would not be able to analyze my past and I would feel like an idiot. Totally. In this period, when I look for new works to read, in addition to honesty, I often look for coherence (which is related to honesty towards yourself but concerns a longer period of time). Last but not least: knowing how to communicate (for which sensitivity, study and a lot of passion are needed)
One or more hosessions. If you have any.
I have a lot of obsessions and addictions. I am a calm and peaceful person only thanks to a careful management of my weaknesses. I would like to be a simple person and enjoy the essentials but I will never succeed.
Tell me an anecdote, something curious that happened while you were shooting
I could tell when, a few years ago, in Rome a boy pointed a gun on my forehead (that person later became a friend, until he was arrested for various reasons. Since then I have lost track of him) or when I followed a mad bikers club around Europe (I fell off the bike among other things). And why not remember all the tears of joy and despair, and all the other situations in which things took an unexpected turn. There are so many anecdotes that I prefer not to highlight anyone. Not with words.
Thanks for the talk!
Thanks to you for your interest.
We have a great passion in common, Takuma Nakahira. I would like to address some aspects of his photography, especially in these times, when a certain kind of aesthetics, once linked to tensions and a sense of rebellion, has become in a way, an unwitting stylistic exercise for the mass. Takuma is a photographer who shocked me, underrated and misunderstood in my opinion, with less appeal than figures like Daido Moriyama, but extremely profound and far-sighted, the true soul and essence of Provoke. If they asked me the classic question, you know “what book of photography would you take to a desert island, just one book” I would answer without thinking” For a language to come.” Now I ask you, how much of the thought behind Takuma Nakahira’s photography has really been understood, beyond mere aesthetics? Takuma was more than a photographer, but there’s not much talk about that…
Well first of all, Takuma Nakahira was extremely well read in the fields of linguistics, Marxist theory and existential philosophy (the Sartrean take on it, at least). In his earlier works, such as For A Language To Come, he mainly focused on the phenomenology of experience. He distrusted the claim of realist photographers that shooting something ‘as it is’ would truly capture something accurately, instead opting that shooting something in a more subjective way could produce results that are more truthful in nature. The “Language” he refers to in the title of his book is that new photographic language, of visual subjectivity being applied in order to create more objective results. An important detail to note was that his desire to create a new visual language came out of the conviction that the traditional visual language (as seen in mainstream media at the time) was part of a capitalist apparatus, contributing to injustice and oppression. In his later works, he attempted to transform the photographer into an entity called ‘the human camera. During this period his goal was to create an illustrated dictionary of objects and scenes around him, going as far as to try and limit his own influence on the result as much as possible. He stated that his previous claims regarding subjectivity were wrong, but still persisted the traditional way of taking pictures had to be opposed. Thus, he went in the opposite direction of his earlier work, but with the same goal in mind. Because of the very nature of photography itself (being a product of the photographer), he obviously failed to take away his own influence on the work. The images that resulted were in fact incredibly moody, subjective and ultimately a perfect postmodernist deconstruction of his environments (the very thing he was trying to avoid.) The main issue for his work being misinterpreted as an extension of ‘protest zines’, or misinterpreted as ‘a result of the atom bomb’ and reduced to aesthetics today, lies fully in the total incompetence of the Western photography bubble. His work was brought over to the West by the exact kind of people he attempted to oppose throughout his career and they turned it into an ‘aesthetic’. That is not to say that a gallery owner wouldn’t be able to be versed in Marxist theory or the notion of deterritorialization, but to attach those labels to his work would surely impact how easily his work can be presented and sold.
In hindsight, I think Nakahira deserves to be seen as a theorist first, one that explored his ideas through photography in such a revolutionary way that he pushed the boundaries of the medium for every photographer that came after him. Furthermore, I think it is up to the photographers of the present day to do their own homework, read his essays themselves and further build on what he has laid the groundwork for. Simply building on the aesthetic he laid the groundwork for only contributes to diminishing his legacy as one of the most important minds to ever pick up a camera.
Talking about Takuma Nakahira is not easy, you have to come to terms with contradictions, questioning coherence and satire. Satire? “An illustrated botanical dictionary” is open to multiple interpretations, it could be the essence of his thought, formalized in the purest and most uncompromising way, but at the same time a provocation, a farce staged. How did you perceive it?
For me, “An Illustrated Botanical Dictionary” is perhaps the most important work ever produced by Nakahira, but everything that makes it such a perfect example of what photography can be (in modern terms and in the context of the 70s) is the result of him failing his own mission. In setting out to find a way to eliminate the photographer from the process of photography entirely, he instead managed to silence the conscious mind of the photographer and produced a body of work that takes the viewer on a ‘stream of subconsciousness’-style journey through his environments. The images, especially when combined, are in a way the proof that photography’s potential goes beyond capturing the present and in fact reaches out into the sphere of capturing the present as experienced by a part of our minds that is free from language and associations. The thing that I can’t figure out retrospectively is why Takuma pushed ahead with these results and still attempted to present them as the most ‘free of influence’ kind of photography. Perhaps he was so obsessed with his mission that he did not realize what he had actually discovered. However, having read many of his essays myself as well as the writings that influenced him, a part of me can’t accept that he didn’t realize what he had achieved. A small part of me therefore likes to imagine that he secretly knew what he had done, but was afraid it would be re-appropriated by others in the same way that his Provoke-era work was. And thus, almost ‘satirically’, publishing it as ‘objective photography’. In all honesty I really am afraid that he never realized his achievement, though. You can compare Takuma’s thesis and results to Einstein’s theory of general relativity; in his calculations he predicted black holes, but he himself was persistent that they did not exist.
Okay, let’s talk about the last Nakahira, it seems like the circle closes with a disarming naturalness. As we know, the last times have been hard for the photographer, his memory has crumbled, there are poignant video testimonies of his regression, of his starting from the beginning to see the world around him with new eyes. In the tragedy, the epilogue really seems the apotheosis of his theory. The human eye gives us Documentary, photos taken near home or in familiar places, usually following the same paths, like a child randomly photographing the world around him. Without memories there is no language. Has the tree become something else again?
It’s a very tragic tale indeed, one in which he eventually succeeded to materialize his ambitions but only through the lingering effects of his alcohol poisoning and subsequent coma. The story hits me especially hard as I’ve been hospitalized with alcohol poisoning myself as well, but I thankfully managed to get through the experience without any lasting consequences. What is essential to point out though is that his problems with speech and memory did not cause him to ‘think more freely, unchained from words’, but that they came as a result from intense trauma that surely impacted his perception of the world as a whole. If anything, his mission to achieve the results he was looking for was only completed when the ‘human’ in the ‘human camera’ was physically and mentally limited. In the same way that he inadvertently showed in “An Illustrated Botanical Dictionary” that the human itself is dominant over the camera (even subconsciously), in his last works he showed that the camera only becomes the master when the human mind is caged.
The most important thing to take away from his life and works is that he sacrificed a lot to show us that as fully unimpaired humans ‘objective photography’ is not a feasible goal, but that we can make gravely impactful work by tapping into the parts of our minds that mostly remain dormant when we shoot with goals. To make the most human work, we have to take in the world as if we are just the camera itself. Then, only by silencing our conscious mind, our subconscious mind is allowed to speak; a paradox in which an attempt at objectivity allows for the most subjectivity. Retrospectively we can conclude that the real ‘human camera’ had already always been Nakahira himself, although he did not realize it before it was too late.
If Takuma Nakahira, with his paradoxes, was a revolutionary, can we say, that Daido Moriyama had a reactionary, or at least conservative approach?
Most definitely! Moriyama is more concerned with the act of taking pictures rather than the possibilities of photography itself or any philosophical connotations attached to it. Where Nakahira was groundbreaking through is fascination with what photography can be, Daido simply said ‘I take pictures and I like this aesthetic because it’s visually strong and gives me what I need’. Nowadays we tend to treat Daido as an innovator, but although his images are visually incredibly strong he didn’t introduce any new ideas. He mostly popularized instinctive photography and the ‘Provoke aesthetic’, whilst also making it acceptable for photographers to shoot without ideas and still value the images. This is also why he’s more popular: his work is easier to sell (explain) on one hand and easier to mimic on the other hand. In a way Daido’s nonchalance even played in a role in the misinterpretation of Provoke, as many Westerners turned to him for answers about the project.
If it wasn’t for Daido I wouldn’t have had the balls to start photography without knowing what the hell I was doing, thus learning about photography by doing it. Being introduced to photography through Daido is a common thing for many photographers, but it is very dangerous to get stuck in that vision. Even Daido himself couldn’t really built on his own work, so people shouldn’t expect themselves to be able to do it. Embrace Daido’s nonchalance when practicing and finding your own language, but if you want to know what photography can be and contribute to photography, it’s important to pay more attention to people like Nakahira.
Let’s start with a small presentation who is Igor Pisuk?
The guy with a small pocket camera in one hand and electronic cigarette in other who drinks too much coffee nowadays. His blood is full of caffeine and nicotine. He doesn’t eat too much but feels too much. He is trying to find a balance in life even when he know that It’s not possible in his case.
When did you start taking pictures? Do you remember what it felt like?
When I was in high school my father gave me my first camera. At that time it didn’t mean much. Everything was unreal because my blood was like a river of alcohol. It was in high school when I started drinking and got lost in it so much that I got robbed by some skinheads and lose it. After that I lost a lot of other things and at the end I lost almost everything. My life became a hopeless spiral so I decided: either I will go mad and I will die or I will go to therapy and will try to quit drinking. As you can see I chose the second option.
How much is photography in your daily life?
All the time. My camera (Mostly use phone these days) is ready in my pocket whatever I do: in the bathroom, when I go to piss, when I go to throw away garbage, have sex. Even when I’m not taking pictures, I edit them, I’m sequencing them. At the moment I just started working on my new book. I went thru my whole archive of the last 15 years. It was a pretty wild experience, to encounter myself from the past. The idea for the still unnamed book started during the Coronavirus pandemic, when we were stuck at home with nothing to do and my girlfriend suggested I should do something more about the everyday, not just the high pitched drama like in my first book. This doesn’t mean the new book will be rid of emotions, oh no! But it will be more about the world and other people than myself or my private life. It will tell a metaphoric story about life and death present in the most mundane everyday experience and about the empathy towards people and the world that I feel.
Deceitful Reverence is a tough book. Would you like to tell us some of the dynamics behind it? Was it a natural process or was it hard to put you on the line?
It was very natural and organic. When I finished my rehab, photography helped me on the everyday basis to maintain the effects of the therapy. It’s become an obsession, the extension of my feelings and emotions. It was liberatory, I never censored myself, I was telling about my new beginnings, of tasting life, on the pains if loneliness and isolation but also love and hope.
I see Poland as a country full of contradictions (which country isn’t?), What is your relationship with your country?
It’s a love/hate relationship. I love a lot of people, music, art… but at this moment I see a lot of evil. It’s more and more an authoritarian government. Censorship is stronger and stronger. And soon if there won’t be any positive change it will be a really hard place to live.
Photography is a tool that builds other tools. Did you use photography to build an awareness with a pickaxe to get out of a tunnel? How much has photography changed your life?
I’ve always said that photography saved my life. And I know that it sound pathetic but it’s actually true. It gave me courage to live to breathe, see things, see emotions, be empathetic and be more like a dude from Big Lebowski. Take it easy and life goes on…
Which photographers have influenced you? If there are any.
No doubt about it: Daido Moriyama. He is the most pure, amazing photographer for me. I see his work not in particular pictures but as an art of living. His approach in photography is always fascinating to me. His curiosity, nerve, obsession. It’s very inspiring.
A photo you’re particularly fond of? Show it to us.
I don’t have any in particular. But can show you one from my new book it’s probably mother and her child. I was 17 or 18 when I shoot this. I discovered it last month. Its from my hometown Bielsko-Biala. I don’t want to analyse this pic. too much but it shows this what fascinates me in photography, what I’m looking for. The thin line between real and surreal, ordinary and extraordinary, beauty and ugliness…
How much courage does it take to be a good photographer?
It’s very individual. Personally I’m always looking for what fascinates me, makes my heart beat faster, and even if It’s scary or could be disgusting or inappropriate for someone I go through that. But I always have my kind of compass. I’ve never took pictures if that could hurt someone. I never pretend to be someone better and I never look for something drastic or exploitative of other people. So I will never respect guys like Salgado…
In a hypothetical podium, where would you put honesty? And what would be the other two values that you consider indispensable in a photographic work?
2) open heart
One or more obsessions. If you have any.
I have a lot: Coffee, smoking, photography, gekiga (japanese comics), watching films, sexuality, dreaming…
Thanks for the talk!
Thanks to you who have read this far and Agata Pyzik for help with translation! If you want know some more about my photography and my books you can find me here: