Just outside the traffic of Corso Casale (Turin), a quiet street flanked with tiny cottages, is where Achille Filipponi lives – photographer, teacher and co-founder of Yard Press publishing house. In his studio/flat there are books and vinyls, a few items out of place and loads of notes left on the living room table from the night before. There are very few traces of what you would typically find in a photographer’s studio. Achille uses his domestic space as a place where he can think – a small sanctuary, the starting point for his photographic peregrinations. In this think tank’s walls, Achille starts talking about his way of seeing and approaching things, between numerous cinematographic references, a bottle of wine and a unique and refined music background.
Let’s talk about your Modus Operandi – how would you define your way of constructing, designing and planning your research?
Generally speaking, what I usually do is frame my conceptual starting point from which then I draw my image production. The production doesn’t have a standard formula – it could be something accurate that doesn’t last long or it could turn into something more time-consuming.
I don’t think the amount of time spent on a project has something to do with its worth. I reckon that the most important thing about my “modus-operandi” is the absence of a fixed behaviour or the presence of criterions in which lock yourself in – there are no good or bad subjects per se.
The photographs are what holds everything together – they should be able to coexist effortlessly and without any type of complexity in their assembly, whichever visual product we are talking about – a photographic series, a book or a video. In fact, this is what I love about photography and about cinema too. They interest me as actual starting points. When I look at the house halls or the beaches in Rohmer’s films I perceive a natural way of proceeding without the need of any artifice.
What do you expect from your work?
I don’t expect my work to be “liked” – I don’t have any market obligations. I find it fundamental to start off with the presumption that personal artistic research should be unbound from that type of constraints. The only thing I ask my work is for it to not arouse regret at the very end of the creative process.
Photography is a still and silent discipline which I picture like a direct tunnel connecting the photographer and the viewer – a projected space between the author and the consumer, bidirectional. However, it happens sometimes that the artist opts for a different way of looking at things, more horizontal so to say, that functions as a mechanism of social inclusion in a specific community – the one that regulates the market, the sales and that states what is good and what is not.
This is the reason why most of the times the portfolios look all the same and the photographs more and more alike. I guess we all went through this phase during our “artistic adolescence” before managing to reach out to our own “authoriality” and freeing ourselves from all those norms that smother it.
What does compromise mean to you? Which are the things you can’t and don’t want to give up?
As I was saying before, I think that when talking about artistic research compromises cannot exist. For all the other matters in life, compromise is inevitable, but it must be an act directed into turning a problem into a point of strength – it always has to be positioned in the right places. For example, as an editor myself, compromise can be made in the budget or in the time frame, but never in the editorial line.
When talking about compromise we always think about Italy. What is your experience? What is missing and what is valued instead?
I find the government, the law and the obligations very fascinating – cultural reins should definitely be held by someone, which for me means that the government should regulate and give structure to culture. For example, look at North-European countries where this system works – the government is the direct interlocutor of the art world, for which it functions as sponsor and promoter. All of this is missing in Italy. However, it needs to be said that here 99% of the artists are wealthy; so this lack does have effects but doesn’t certainly stop artistic production.
Despite this, when the institutions are very present, even in a totalitarian way, great art proliferates; when they are absent, it becomes tedious. As far as photography is concerned, we are missing the founding institutions, like the ones that existed when Micheal Schmidt and the other German photographers were around. In Italy, what the ISIA does with graphics, should exist for photography as well.
The education system should be part of a bigger apparatus that allows to make a difference on a cultural level. Without this structure as a background, we find ourselves in a state of chaos where everything and nothing is possible – there are no major powers to fight, no friction. The avant-garde movements were born when and where there was something to distance oneself from and someone to fight.
Italy then seems to be missing a “group”, a sort of movement. Why?
I reckon it doesn’t exist due to the historical period. Again, there are no schools – we don’t have a major Italian photography school like it was in the 70s and 80s for the realists, whose photography already was conceptually strong and which was later destroyed by the photojournalists’ agencies.
In this historical period we witness an image surplus – could we talk about image culture and which direction do you think are we heading towards?
Image culture, especially in fine art photography, has to sweat its relevance out in order to be considered of any importance. I actually think that what we call “image culture” has little or nothing to do with fine art photography, but more to do with cinema, for example. However, in regards to this medium, I find the “ancient” much more interesting than the “modern”. I am fascinated by the years of photography’s birth when it was considered a scientific invention and the distinction between professional and artistic photography was very well marked. It was an extraordinary yet useful medium. With the advent of photography agencies, we slowly distanced ourselves from image culture and started a phenomenon that I would define as “the art of professionalism”. This is why I consider the photographs shot by an anthropologist in 1909 in Egypt much more interesting than the ones taken by a photojournalist trying to give his take on the war in Afghanistan.
Our usual question – elevator pitch.
I thought a lot about my answer and this is what I would actually do. If forced, I would give him a photograph if I had it in my pocket. Otherwise, I would invite him over for lunch without even saying anything about my work – I am unable to approach someone in a concise way.