The above interview is in Italian. Here is the English translation:
Mauro Benedetti was born in Palermo in 1960. In 1964, he had a serendipitous first encounter with photography, when his grandfather, who was passionate about photography and Super8 films, gifted him a camera for his birthday. It went to immediate good use. In 1970, his family moved to Syracuse; and in 1973 to Rome, where he has lived since.
During his high school years, he began to learn the art camera oscura on his own – developing and printing black and white photos made with his Yashica reflex film camera. This period of exploration of the photographic process ended when he began college. After graduating, his career in finance took off; his work for various companies in his early career allowed him to live in Amsterdam, Milan and London and immerse himself in different European cultures.
Each year, Mauro also embarked on extended trips to other parts of the world – his sole objective to get to know other cultures and places as different as possible from his own. This is where his passion for the camera re-entered his life. His travels inspired him to cultivate a personal style in his shooting. He wanted to capture that which he observed as a way to recall them exactly as he had originally seen them, undistorted by limitations in his technique. He journeyed in Africa, Central and South America and the Middle East; but the vast spaces of the West and Southwest United States captured his spirit the most and became the recurring destination of his summer adventures. There, he travelled thousands of miles, often in total solitude.
In 2006, he met and later married Claudia Palmira, artist and digital designer from New York, currently also the director of the Italian Journal magazine. He credits her ongoing encouragement with the evolution in his artistry and photographic vision. After 2006, his photographic style began to have more definition. Claudia’s presence and experience was a catalyst in his forming a website and in participating in workshops with professional photographers. He had his first one-man photo exhibit featuring his work from Israel/Palestine (maurobenphoto.com/galleries/riflessi-di-confine-the-show/); self-published a book about his hometown (Rome: Stone and Story, (www.italianjournal.it/mauro-benedetti); and began teaching workshops on street photography, urban landscapes and documentary photography (romephotographyworkshop.com, http://vimeo.com/42896531).
During his expedition to Palestine, he formed a collaboration with the Italian documentary photographer Livio Mancini, based in New York. They later became partners in the agency Makro Press (makropress.com), which promotes photography, contemporary documentary work, as well as provides workshops and shows for photography and multimedia.
In 2010, Mauro and Claudia’s son Ludovico was born, which motivated them to travel frequently back to her native New York, where Mauro has focused much of his latest work. He continues to be based in Rome, where he can be found most Saturdays on self-designed shoots in the City’s rich, urban scape.
2) How did you discover photography ?
Growing up with a famous soccer player for a father (often surrounded by paparazzi) and a world-traveled, diplomat grandfather who loved technology, I always had some familiarity with photography. Along with music and traveling, photography was my main interest for a long time. When my studies ended, my intense work commitments took over, and my afternoons spent with my camera oscura came to an end. However, I’ve always documented my trips on film and recently with digital, which is the most expedient method when time is limited.
The presence of my wife Claudia influenced the evolution of my photography. She inspired me to define my personal vision and to have more of a professional approach in developing themes and expressing these in my final images. She also encouraged me to show my works – something I had never done or thought to do as a self-taught amateur photographer! Without this support, I’m sure it still would have never occurred to me!
In 2011, in a documentary photography workshop in Palestine, I met Livio Mancini, the documentary photographer. We became partners in the visual communications agency Makro Press. From Livio, I began to understand the techniques needed to truly express a personal style that reflects vision and emotion – and how that comes together at the moment of shooting. He taught me about transmitting the powerful component of storytelling to capture the attention of the observer.
Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a week-long workshop with Alex Webb in his Brooklyn studio. Alex urged me to consider the expressiveness of color, to seek complex compositions where many elements coincide to produce a harmonious aesthetic of what might even be a simple scene. More than anything, through Alex’s teachings, I began to utilize the geometry of color and shadow to create more depth and sense of enigma in my shots.
Photography, which began as a weekend and holiday pastime, has become an ever-present passion for me, despite my intense daily work schedule in the completely unrelated field of finance. This binary existence probably seems strange to most. This kind of contradiction does have a precedent, however – with greats like T.S. Eliot who managed to write his poetry whie working in a London bank.
3) What does photography represent for you ?
My passion for photography began with landscapes and “records” of my travels. Now it has extended into “human behavior” as well – street photography and documentary photography.
Beyond being a means by which forces me to look around me with heightened attention, I consider photography the best vehicle for describing and interpreting in a personal way, the aspects of reality that awaken my curiosity. This includes for me seeking irony and emotion in a scene that might add dimension – instead of my just making a replica of the visual facts.
Photography freezes moments in time that otherwise vanish suddenly : I’m convinced that this alone could be why I have held on to photography all these years.
4) What are you communicating with your pictures ?
If I had to respond quickly – I would say simply that life is full of suprise and moments of beauty and emotion exist inside the great chaos that surrounds life.
Our reality is dense with contrasts of every breed, which I try to highlight or suggest in my images – especially through humorous or ironic moments.
My photography is mainly spontaneous. I capture the flow of unrepeatable instants – perhaps because this is how my eyes perceive my surroundings. Sometimes my message is sensation of the vastness and majesty of natural landscapes; or the intrinsic humor that we overlook in formal situations and familiar scenes; or the characters that people project, often unawares, in urban existence.
5) How do you come up with your ideas ?
In the shower of course! Just kidding. In general, I like to revisit the same places again and again to observe if new visual or emotional moods arise. I study the evolution of shapes and structures over time. Between observation, continually reframing and ongoing photo editing (and editing), I begin to define a theme – or at least an emerging pattern. I enjoy attaching words with images (speaking three languages helps). While I’m in observation mode or editing my photos, I often let my thoughts wander to allow for free association of words and phrases with the images in front of me.
Some projects, however, are predetermined – for example, when I went to Palestine solely to create works about the tensions between the two cultures in constant conflict. For this project, I defined three parallel themes that I intended to develop once I was on site. I had an idea of the story I wanted to tell and the places where this story occurred, as well as its “protagonists”.
In the case of landscape photography, I try to set in advance the imagery that I would like to create and I pinpoint the precise itinerary and timing based on the geography and the angle of the sun. I do this especially in places that are difficult to reach, like certain areas of the Southwest US; or places I know I won’t easily return to. Sometimes, this phase of organization and planning is long and even boring, but it’s always worth it, because despite the plans, there are always surprises when I’m actually on location.
6) Black and white or color ?
In general, I choose between black and white or color on the fly in the moment I take a photo, depending on which best represents the scene. If I’m photographing a subject that seems abstract or emotionally rich, black and white is my choice. In the case of major structural complexity or vivid contrasts, color expresses my vision better here. For some time, I’ve been working on two series about Rome, temporarily named MonochRome (black and white) and EktachRome (color): Rome is expressed in two personalities, and I cannot manage to limit myself to one style or the other.
I usually develop themes and projects in a uniform voice, that is either black and white or color, trying in each case to construct a sequence that has a certain amount of tonal or chromatic similarity.
7) What project are you working on now (if any)?
One project that is currently in development is the construction of a retrospective voyage about my father, Enzo Benedetti, soccer captain for the Palermo team from the end of the 1950’s until the mid ‘60s. The places in Palermo that he visited when he was famous are the backdrop of this series of portraits, in which both he and his surroundings will be photographed as they are now – with all the signs of transformation and time that has passed. I had the honor to receive the support and the suggestions of Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb on my outline of this project.
8) Of the masters of photography, who are your favorites ?
Of the contemporarys, Alex Webb (clearly!), Daido Moriyama, Anders Petersen, Trent Parke and Gueorgui Pinkhassov for documentary and street photography; David Muench, Luciano Monti and Luca Campigotto for landscape. Also Joel Meyerowitz, Garry Winogrand, Elliot Erwitt, Mary Ellen Mark, Letizia Battaglia and, last but not least, Philip-Lorca DiCorcia.
I selected a series of photographs that represent my recent works and give an idea of my approach to street photography in black and white, color and my landscape photography.
All of my street photography in this portfolio are “reactive” – in other words, I spontaneously snapped those pictures in the moment that I was in the middle of the scene and in front of the subject. They were neither staged nor planned. The landscape images, on the other hand, are the result of a precise decision based on the timing and light of the place, though I tried, when possible, to include a dynamic element.