Portraits for dialogues

by Eleonora Caracciolo di Torchiarolo, ph. Nicola Gnesi


Nicola Gnesi first put his eyes to a lens at eighteen years of age on the beaches of Versilia. It was his father’s camera from whom he learnt some technical notions, and with film. Twenty films a week. 720 shots and stop. This is what the editorial staff at Il Giornale gave him. It seems incredible if we think that, nowadays, with digital photography, we take a few thousands in a few hours. “Photos were taken at 10 o’clock in the morning and you had no idea of what the photo was like until 5pm when it was developed. And it had to be the right one”, Nicola remembers. Then America came. And with it, some closed doors. “I did not make my dream come true in America, but I found it”, he declares, meaning that the American period helped him to realize what his aims were. It took some more time to make them come true, other slammed doors and lots of film rolls.

Not only. Although he grew up surrounded by art, it was at the great American museums, with their impeccable publications which Nicola leafed through again and again, that made him think that his road could be that of art photography. A form of art in art. Confirmation arrives once back in Italy when one of his masters pushes him in exactly that direction. “I started to offer artists my photos for free: I used to go to their studios – something I adored and still adore doing – I shot and gave them the photos. If they liked them, they knew where to find me and ask me to do a real job”. The stratagem worked and Nicola is today amongst the most appreciated and acknowledged art photographers. Sculpture photos are those which fulfil him most and let him express his point of view, as well as that of the artist: “Reproduction photography, the one which portrays a painting on the wall, for example, takes lots of technique and you must be very clever. But when you shoot a sculpture, you must understand it, interpret it, turn around it, try to find a sense and find a way to communicate it”. Going to ateliers, frequenting artists in their daily life, handling their tools, witness their small quirks leads him, however, also on another road, more authorial, that of portraits. “I like taking portraits because it enables me to go out from my comfort zone, from what I know and what I am sure I know how to do”, the photographer explains. The insecurities of who is in front of the lens are the same of those who are behind them, at least in the case of Nicola. A portrait is fruit of a relationship, which can be very short because sometimes you only have a few minutes at your disposal, or it can linger on for some days and in a relationship, you get involved even if you are the photographer and you lead the game. “Being weak is the best way to do art”, says Nicola quoting Damien Hirst. And with portraits Nicola gets into trouble, he looks for difficulties. “How do you look for them?” I ask him. “By not following esthetics at all costs. But looking for the truth”.

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