Giulia Bianchi - Interview
Giulia Bianchi is a narrative photographer who uses a large format view camera to tell complex, powerful stories of women and girls through the medium of profoundly intimate and immediate portraits. Bianchi's technical skill, her narrative skill and her ability to connect with her subject on every level combine to give her images the feeling of profound and absolute Truth. In them you feel the total emotional investment of both photographer and subject.
Congratulations on the really great article in National Geographic which showed some of your wonderful images of Womanpriests. I loved reading it, and your work is electrifying! what do you love about film and what keeps you shooting it?
I take many photographs with a 4x5 large format camera and kodak portra 400.
I’m not going to lie in this interview: I hate to shoot film and 4x5 film. I hate to be forced to shoot only a few frames, that I can’t see the result that I’m getting, that it is technically difficult and sometimes impossible (with long exposures, artificial lighting, reciprocity failure and bellows extension factors). I hate that I must carry a tripod with me all the time.
I get crazy every time at airports and with the police and I must pray in tears for a manual check in order to avoid X-ray damage. And more fatigue and money when I get home: I hate to pay for development and then go through expensive and time consuming scanning to digital. I hate that it took me 4 years to understand how to color balance properly my images.
I hate to do spot removal on every single picture by hand because the scanner has scanned the dust on the negative as well. And then I end up sleeping with giant boxes of negatives on my side, with the little fear of a possible fire in my apartment that would destroy the work of a life time. (Sometimes sitting on the subway I will find myself dreaming to bring my negatives to a bank in Switzerland that could save them forever from some planet disaster.)
I hate when you travel and work and than the negative get destroyed by an unlucky accident: because you opened up the wrong holder, or you had a hole in the changing bag, or the local lab did a big mistake but nobody really knows... the work is simply vanished in the air.
I hate it.
I think of tourists taking tons of photos with their compact cameras. What the hell am I doing? Next time I will go digital as well.
Finally, I’ve said it!
And now I’m setting my view camera again. Then I start watching, observing things through the fresnel glass. From a distance first, then close up, from the top, then down, I turn the lens and use the limitations of the lens to darken a little piece of sky as if a storm was coming, obscuring the blue. It’s an olive tree. I focus on a cut, a stone, a root. I focus on the bark, while the leaves are open blurred against the sky.
I feel happy, I feel like Sally Mann.
Until I photograph it, I've never really seen a thing before. It’s on the fresnel glass that reality emerges for the first time as bright, alive and present. The fresnel glass, showing the world upside down, it’s more real than reality. It’s romantic, melancholic, dreamy, spiritual.
With my digital camera, I always tried to imitate what others do. With the view camera I realize that I do not have time to imitate anyone.
It’s the image that guides me, it’s the world to decide how it wants to be photographed by me, and so the camera twists on a twisted tripod, focusing crosswise details, looking up than down and never leveled, never cold. Looking through the fresnel glass frees me of all the images I've seen so far in my life in order to create new ones.
As with the oil painting where the artist continues to move and change colors until they make sense in his mind, so I continue to move my lens, my focus, my perspective, and then the front and the back, I keep moving it as long as the image makes sense to my soul.
And suddenly it appears, like seeing myself in that tree, like seeing one of my dreams. My heart beats faster, like the one of a lover.
I brought my view camera from the U.S. to Israel with me, for six months. Together we traveled up and down from Israel to Palestine to Egypt, inside and outside settlements and checkpoints to end up in the holy city of Jerusalem.
I own a digital camera too, a Fuji with adapters for different lenses. I use it and I think it’s a great 35mm digital camera, but every time I can I certainly pick my view camera.
Do you develop and print your work yourself?
I develop my black and white and rely on a lab for color work. I do the digitalization and printing on my own. I could outsource it, today is absolutely possible, but I love to be in charge of every single aspect and think about it and develop it my own way through times. I always thought that what we call style is actually practice, and that both our talents and our limitations/mistakes are going to create our signature in the work we make.
What is your mission? Photographically speaking?
It always came natural to me, since the first day I picked a camera in my hands, to work in a project-based manner.
I’m not a street photographer. I work and live and research around a project, a story or an idea, that I have in my mind and that seems to me the most important for my soul. I can be pretty obsessive. All my life goes around the project I’m working on. The only thing that matters to me is to bring forward that project until is complete and ready to be donated to the world.
I think always in terms of stories and content. I am aware of the contemporary fine-art discussion about the medium of photography but I’m totally bored by the investigation of the medium itself. I ask myself a lot how I want to represent something, and I’m not naif about the aesthetic and meaning of the representation I choose, but I don’t want this to be the content of my work. I don’t do photography projects about photography. I do photography projects about stories. In particular I’ve been very interested in women and spirituality.
Photography is like a pen, it’s just a medium for me.
I want to be standing more and more in that point of the reality or experience, where things are not completely logical, but are powerfully charged with emotion and beauty and richness. I want to be standing where the grammar of what we know is falling apart and new thoughts are created. I want to be learning about life and human beings. I want to find myself in the middle of a truth.
You mention Sally Mann. Are there other photographers whose work or methods you have been inspired by?
Yes, Sally Mann is one of greatest artist photographers, in my opinion. If you have the chance you should look at documentaries depicting her life and her process. This quote from her was remarkable for me as photographer: "I look, all the time, at people and places I care about, and I look with both ardor and frank aesthetic cold appraisal. And I look with the passions of both eye and heart, but in that ardent heart, there must also be a splinter of ice."
Another photographer that had an unforgettable impact on me was Alec Soth. I adored his work so much. The way he was editing his projects, the beauty and poetic qualities of his images. While I was studying I could spend hours deconstructing the works of Rineke Dijkstra, Viviane Sassen, Katy Grannan, Sarah Moon, Tierney Gearon. And then I could list many others that equally became part of who I am: from my former teachers Elinor Carucci, Suzanne Opton and Rob Hornstra, to Larry Sultan, Doug Dubois, Christian Patterson, Latoya Ruby Frazier. I used to see the projects of thousands of photographers (old and young) every year.
Then things completely changed.
I remember a friend of mine prophetically commenting about a colleague: "He studies too much about photography. How can he take his own photographs when he has always somebody else's work in his mind?"
This isn't true for all, but I understood that it was true for me.
In order to make my own work, I needed silence and an empty canvas.
I can still see in my work all the people that influenced it, but now I have the space to develop and go my own direction.
If I'm allowed to give a suggestion: copy only from the best. Look only at amazing photography. Discard the mannerisms and the trends of the most. Then give yourself 5 years.
Thank you so much, Giulia.
Giulia Bianchi teaches photography online. Contact her via her website to find out about mentoring or to buy limited edition prints of her work.