Federico Ciamei and Martina Giammaria make one of those well-matched couples that seem to have found the perfect balance, both on a personal level and work-wise. Their studio, located in the southern part of Milan, is incredibly cosy, well looked-after and bright. Here is where they conceptualise their projects, between souvenirs of their trips, plants and Scandinavian furniture. We have known them for a while and we have been following their work with much interest. Federico and Martina, although being very busy with editorial photography, still find the time to work on their authorial projects.
What does “planning” mean to you?
“This is the thing we argue about the most”, says Martina smiling.
MARTINA: As far as I’m concerned, I am very methodological. I always start off with an image or a concept, from which a very careful research phase begins. This research touches various references and suggestions, yet it always follows a path that is somehow marked. I reckon that for this matter Federico has an attitude that is more that of an explorer – sometimes he says “let’s experiment” and I am scared I am going to get off my tracks!
FEDERICO: I need to go through an exploratory process, which can indeed be detrimental; maybe that’s what prevents us from working together..
It is different when dealing with a commissioned project, where the approach tends to be more organised and consequential since it has to respond to some well-defined expectations.
Talking about expectations – what do you expect from your job? What do you “ask” to your work?
MARTINA: It’s more the expectations I cast upon myself rather than the fear to not please others – I often tend to be too strict with myself. My work has to represent myself completely – I don’t want to waste time with what could potentially work but doesn’t say anything about me.
FEDERICO: For me, my research work is a chance to deepen the subjects I am interested in and often an excuse to do things that would otherwise seem bizarre.
What is it that triggers your interest and never fails to inspire you?
MARTINA: I follow other photographers’ work a lot – it’s a continuous stimulus. However, this puts me at risk of being influenced by all these references and lose my own authorial identity. Having said so, I am very satisfied even when I manage to find inspiration from unexpected sources – for example, from commercial images found on a catalogue of weird objects.
FEDERICO: When I had to think about the answer to the question I realised that most of the times it was the title itself what gave the project its consistency and direction. The title is something that arrives at some point and taps out the route. Even in my latest project “Travel without moving” it has been the actual title to start the “trip”.
You moved from Rome to Milan some years ago and you also work a lot abroad. What is your take on the situation we are in at the moment?
MARTINA: You should be taking a picture to the faces people pull when you ask this question – it could be much more exhaustive than an actual reply!
FEDERICO: An example that shows the main difference between Rome and Milan is that if you need to do a shooting somewhere specific, in Rome, they will tell you yes or no depending on the people you know and the contacts you have, in Milan, they will tell you how much it will cost. It is not easy to compare Italy with the rest of the world – for example, I work a lot in the USA and they are a much bigger economic power. This means that editorial boards are allowed more resources and time to spend on each project and this, of course, shows on the quality of the work the photographers deliver.
MARTINA: And this means you are able to produce a much more well-thought and mature work, characterised by your style even though it is commissioned.
In Italy instead when you are commissioned a job often it feels as if, whether it is you or someone else to shoot it, it would make no difference to them.
How much does the word “compromise” relate to you?
M., F.: If we are talking about our research work, then it mustn’t be part of it and, in fact, it doesn’t.
When talking about commissioned project, compromise for us means not letting editorial and commercial requirements take over but rather highlighted by what we are actually interested in showing.
We see you agree on this! Last question – “elevator pitch”. You are in an elevator with a famous art critic – what would you tell him in those few seconds?
M.,F.: We tried these scene out and we figured that only by telling our names we would be running out of time. So we would need to hope for some sort of malfunction or hitch to happen. Anyhow.. we don’t think we would be using our time wisely!