Phototalk with Sarina Finkelstein

1) What made you decide to start a project about the new wave of prospectors in California? 

I have always gravitated toward photographing “undiluted” personalities and the off-the-grid or alternative lifestyles of the passionate, obsessive, eccentric and determined.  This was what attracted me to photographing the new wave of prospectors in California.

Before I started the project, I had recently undergone a tragic loss in my own family, and I read a small newspaper article about a group living in the mountains of California, who had either given up everything (selling homes, farms, etc.) to move there to pursue their search for gold, or who had lost their jobs or retirement plans and were doing it as a means of support in the interim.

The idea that people—in a time of desperation or as a lifestyle choice to escape the chaos of modernity—were moving to the wilderness to pursue the self-reliant lifestyle of their predecessors some 150+ years ago was inspiring.   On an emotional level, part of me associated with the idea of people being stripped of everything and independently trying to work their way back toward finding something to sustain them.

2) Can you tell us more about this phenomenon and about your work “Prospectors”?

I started photographing the new wave of prospectors in 2009, when the country was in the midst of its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s.  Yet, while banks were imploding, people were losing their jobs and houses were foreclosed upon, the average price of gold between 2005 and 2010 quadrupled.  The increase suddenly made prospecting for gold seem to many like an attractive and lucrative venture.

In late 2009, I was reading a great book, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work by Matthew Crawford, which discusses the status of the craft or trade industry as it exists today in relation to the emerging information economy.  Crawford comments in his book, “it’s a bi-product of the hard economic times…a desire to be frugal.  And, this idea of being frugal requires some measure of self-reliance.  The ability to take care of your own stuff.”  I think that’s what they’re doing.  Many have fled a global economy based largely on abstract forces in order to become modern-day “pioneers,” living in tents or campers amidst some of the most picturesque scenery that exists in this country.  What they get in return is the simple satisfaction that comes from being able to pull something tangible like a gold flake or nugget from the ground with their own two hands.

I have been photographing communities and individual prospectors around The Golden State over the last few years.  In the time I’ve been photographing them, there have been a few changes.  The price of gold has continued to rise.  There has been quite a bit of environmental legislation passed to limit certain forms of modern mining equipment (suction dredges) used on the waterways.  That has had a huge impact on the prospecting population and mining supply store sales, but has also decreased income derived from out-of-state miners who came to California to prospect.  It has also driven many California prospectors to leave the state.  The ones that remain have reverted to more historic/traditional low-tech forms of prospecting like panning and sluicing.

3) The original prospectors, back in 1849, were basically moved by desperation, looking for gold to survive. Do you think the value of gold has changed for the new prospectors? 

Maybe?  It depends on which person you ask.  The majority of the people I have been photographing are still trying to survive off of the gold they find, and they recycle it back into their lifestyle.  Many don’t have a permanent home, no car payments, electric bills, telephone, etc., so finding even a small amount of gold can potentially sustain them.  

But, there are some who are doing it more recreationally in their retirement, who use it to make jewelry or art, or just to get outdoors.  

4) What does “the gold” stand for ?  

The gold itself stands for different things.  I already mentioned the ideas of “tangibility” and “self-reliance,” but it’s also an obsession.  It gives them hope, inspires them to take a risk, and the search appeals to their adventurous spirit.  Many are willing to gamble everything to find it.  Sometimes, their faith in their ability to find it borders on being “spiritual.”  They connect with nature and the energy of their environment through ancient practices like “dowsing/divining” for gold, or by trying to “read” the river to determine where gold may have been deposited decades or centuries ago.

5) What do you think this continuous search symbolizes ?

Throughout history, there are countless stories about some sort of character on a search for treasure, power or hoping to get rich…Ovid’s King Midas, the search for The Golden Fleece, The Holy Grail, Indiana Jones, The Goonies and even the search for the precious mineral “unobtainium” in 2009’s Avatar.

Throughout all of these—whether they find the treasure, whether they don’t find the treasure, whether it brings them satisfaction or whether it turns their lives to misery—what you’re really reading about are people who are on an archetypal quest for something they hope will bring them some sort of happiness.  It’s the same today.

6) I was very touched by the words of prospector Bernie McGrath who said: “All my life I’ve searched for serenity and peace of mind. Tried everything for that. When I found this, gee, here I am alone, not a soul around me…I thought it was as close to Heaven as I’d ever get”.  Looking for gold seems more a life choice instead of a choice for living. How was it like to live there with them? What where your impressions and feelings?

Gold prospecting is clearly a life choice, and Bernie explained it perfectly.  Where he lives, there is no cell service.  There are no computers.  He sits every day atop a river canyon with a view of rocky Southern California mountains in the background.  It’s peaceful.  There is a small group of prospectors who gather around him daily.  He is known as the “Unofficial Mayor of Nugget Alley” because he has been there since the 80s and has taught many of the newbies how to prospect.

One of them, Martin, lives in a tent less than a mile upstream.  He sold his farm in Missouri (ten miles from my own hometown) to move to California with his friend to prospect for gold.  Where his camp is located, on the banks of the river, it catches a cool breeze through the trees, and the only sound is the current over the rocks.  The last time I visited, he said to me, “it’s all about the digging, the work, the search.  And this…[waving his arms in all directions]… is my front yard—the river, the mountains.  You’re on my porch.”  

Having experienced just a taste of the life they experience every day, it’s clear why they love it.  I always find it difficult to leave.  

7) In your works, you seem to combine documentary photography together with an artistic vision, is that true? 

Another photographer told me recently that what she enjoys most about my photographs is that she gets a sense of how I specifically see things, how I feel and the details I pay attention to in a place or in a moment.  She said that even if the subject matter of my work is not inherently about me, I still make it feel personal and intimate and that is what makes it distinct and unique from other documentary work, which often strives to be more objective.

My working process is slower than most traditional documentary-style photographers.  (Some people call this “slow journalism,” I guess.)  It is purposeful, considered and—above all—more involved.  I spend a lot of time just talking to people—holding my camera but never pressing the shutter—watching their body language, learning what is important to them.  I only start photographing when they are comfortable, aware and accepting.  The photographs are our exchange, our connection.  I don’t generally pose people, but I will ask people to freeze in the moment in which they are.  I feel like my best images achieve a sense of quiet strength.  

 8) What does photography mean for you?

What I love most about photography is that each day is always different from the next, there’s always a new adventure or person to meet.  Get a group of photographers together in one room, and there’s no shortage of great stories.   

Do you know the phrase, “Sometimes, you do not really fully understand something unless you take a walk in someone else’s shoes?”  That’s what I do every day I’m photographing, test-driving what it is like to live as they do, experience what they see or how people see them.  Photographing teaches me to always be open to something new, to never be judgmental, to read people and to appreciate details.  

Above all, I finally have an excuse for staring.  

9) I know your husband is also a fellow photographer. How is it like to share your life with someone who’s in your same work?

We started dating by going out together to photograph while we were in college.  Eleven years later, we are one another’s biggest cheerleaders and harshest critics.  I respect his opinion.  We often edit one another’s work because we each know how the other person thinks and sees, what we want our work to achieve.  We are equally driven and we challenge one another to be better photographers. He shares my obsessive love for the medium.

All images © Sarina Finkelstein



1. First off, tell us a bit about how you got started in photography. Who are some of your biggest influences, and where do you find your inspiration?

«I guess I’ve been interested in describing things visually from an early age. Photography seemed to be the most practical way for me to do that.  Although, I didn’t really feel confident in what I was doing photographically until several years after college. I suppose my main influences in the photo world come from exploratory photographers such as Carlton Watkins and Joel Sternfeld.  I like the idea of exploring the world and photographing along the way, not knowing what you might find.  Other inspirations come from all over including friends».

2. Your project, Sansaram, or “Mountain People,” documents hikers within the Sobaek Mountains of South Korea. Your method of photographing them describes them  as dignified and proud, and it seems that there is more to this story than simple recreation.  Talk a bit about the significance of these mountains, and what they mean to those who undertake them.

«I’m not sure what the mountains mean to those individuals who climb them, but the mountains do have a spiritual, folk, and religious history that goes way back. I think it boils down to an individuals respect for the mountains and nature in general and what they get out of the experience.  While I was living in Korea, I could tell that that the enthusiasm and enjoyment in hiking up mountains was high. The amount of people on the mountains at one time, the amenities at the base of the mountains, and the serious hiking gear being worn, led me to believe that this was something important for the Korean people to do».  

3. Another similar project you shot was of Haenyo, or Female Divers. Please explain their story. What drew you to photograph them?

«The Haeyno, or female divers, project stemmed from an assignment, but what led me to really embrace this project was similar to the reason I was drawn to the hikers, the commune with nature.  Whether it be the climbing the steep incline of a mountain, or diving into the cold depths of the sea, there is a challenge to overtake these elements, but there is also a beauty in it.  The Haenyo dive without oxygen tanks for seafood such as sea urchin and octopi as a way to support their families.  It’s a role reversal compared to the typically patriarchal dynamic found throughout the rest of the country. The tradition is dying out though as the younger generations are not interested in this extremely demanding profession».

4. How did your experience in photographing these two groups affect your perceptions of South Korea as a whole. Did you leave the country with things you did not bring, so to speak?

«It certainly did change my perception of the country, or rather added a lot to it.  I didn’t really have too much knowledge about South Korea when I went there, besides a bit about the food and a small bit about the history, but to see all the subtle and profound differences in everyday life was really interesting.  I’m kind of glad I didn’t know what to expect as it allowed me the pleasure of discovery».

5. Lastly, what are you looking forward to in 2012, photographically or otherwise?

«I’m looking forward to a change in scenery. It’s been way too long since I’ve been on a nice long trip.  I’ve got some domestic projects in mind as well, but It would be great if I could photograph hikers throughout the world. Feel like that must have been done already though.  Still it would be nice».

© urbanautica | Ian Baguskas

[Trans] 130129 Photo talk

Q : ฝาแฝดมีความสัมพันธ์ที่น่าอึดอัดใจกันใช่ไหม?

YM : ผมควรที่จะเป็นมักเน่! ใครเป็นคนปล่อยข่าวลืออย่างนี้? เอ๊ะ?! นี่มันจะออกอากาศไหมครับ?



1. I have been following your practice for a while now and have admired your approach to photography but as I read you actually originally studied painting. Tell me about your journey to photography.

When I moved from Belgium to Australia I was overwhelmed with the newness of the place I found myself in. Celia and myself were living in a small granny flat in a small town close to Wollongong and being unemployed for most of my first year here, I had lots of time to explore my new habitat. Shortly after moving here I had the idea to start sharing my experiences on a little blog, just so family and friends could stay up to date. On there I used to post pictures of things I discovered. There are so many similarities between my early paintings and what I do with photography these days. There is virtually no difference in the moods and locations (although I’m physically rather far removed from my original stamping grounds.) As long as I can remember I have been driven by a strong urge to explore my surrounds. As a child I often wandered off in the field behind my parents’ house looking for a abandoned shelters, shotgun cartridges, ponds etc. In my head I made like a treasure map of all the cool spots and whenever a friend would come over I would take them to the places I discovered.

© Wouter Van de Voorde, Canberra ACT, 2014

2. A lot of your work revolves around travels around the Australian landscape, what is it about the landscape that captures your attention?

The world is made up from landscapes, to me landscape is everything. People merely scratch the surface of this planet, although some of these scratches become scars that never heal. Landscape often seems more present, especially in a place like Australia. All the traveling I have done in this island is all about getting a feel for this place to get some sense of belonging. I always been more of an explorer than a traveller. I have a firm belief that anything can be photographed given the right light and state of mind, I’m never looking for anything in particular in a landscape. Often you need to get lost a little bit or take a bunch of shitty photos to get in tune with where you are. In the past two years I’ve had the pleasure of having Jamie Hladky as my faithful partner in crime, together we’ve driven literally thousands of kilometres, fuelled by a similar urge to see stuff. It’s great to to share a love for things like palmtrees and country towns that are barely alive. It probably helps that we’re both from ‘the old’ country (Jamie is from the UK).

© Wouter Van de Voorde, Araluen NSW, 2014

3. Your photographs are generally devoid of the figure but the suggestion of the presence of humans is evident in the things that are left behind or the industry and growth that you have captured – is there a particular reason for the lack of a human figure in your photographs?

Every trace left behind by humans is human presence: a mound of dirt, burn out tracks on bitumen, quarries etc. To me these are all very strong reminders of human presence making such pictures of such locations almost portraits in my eyes. Actually there are quite a few humans in my photographs if you look closely (usually they are very small and lost in a larger context). I don’t shy away from photographing people per se I just prefer it when they add something of significance to a landscape. Locations off the beaten track are per definition devoid of wandering humans.

© Wouter Van de Voorde, Lake Burley Griffin ACT, 2014

4. How do you approach each shoot, is it intuitive or do you have a plan of where you would like to go? Do you have shots in mind?

Google earth has been my go to place for planning expeditions, interesting textures, colours of the dirt etc. There are a few obvious things I know are worth-while like sunset and sunrise light, fog, fire, smoke etc. Generally I work very intuitive. The only thing that is a constant is the ever-expanding physical area I cover to create my images. It’s a constantly evolving thing, my photography is very intertwined with my life. Now, as a new father, my life has become much more sedentary and I am forced to look on a much more micro scale at my surrounds which is quite challenging. Some weeds against a fence, a neighbours house against a sky coloured by a sunset. Really looking and seeing things is not something that just happens, you work on it every day, training the old eyes to stay sharp and take nothing for granted that projects on their retinas.

© Wouter Van de Voorde, Old Parliament House ACT, 2013

5. (hume) sunrise is showing as part of the Photobook Melbourne Festival in February at Colour Factory. The images have a quiet beauty about them, you have captured the true stillness of a moment a lot of us don’t get to see. Was this area of Canberra of particular relevance to you? What is the reasoning behind the project?

It started one misty morning as I dropped Celia to her early shift at the hospital and I had some time to kill before going to work myself. I went to this place between a few busy roads where horses and some cattle graze, just because there were some nice mist-banks. There was no particular relevance to this location at all before I went there time after time and constructed some sense of meaning. Very organically it became a small body of work, initially exclusively containing images from the same place. The reasoning behind the project is the absence of reason, it’s being in a landscape and embracing it with open arms, wide open eyes and losing yourself in it 100%. I walked across those paddocks with tears in my eyes, squinting into the emerging sunlight. These don’t even feel like my pictures, it’s like I got given a glimpse into something, like the earth broke open under my feet and emerging gasses clouded my thinking. The landscape as an oracle.

6. Do you have any recommendations of photo books that you are interested in at the moment?

I’m not a collector of photo books but I come across so many amazing publications online, magazines like Selektor or publishers like the belgian Ape (Art Paper Edition) do really exciting things. It’s a bit daunting, to say the least to do your own thing in the midst of all this photo book madness.

© Wouter Van de Voorde, Queanbeyan NSW, 2015

7. What other projects do you have on the horizon or any other plans for the future?

Besides my upcoming show I’m working on two books. One, which should hopefully materialise in the near future is a publication about the Wasteland by Jamie Hladky, William Broadhurst and myself. Another book is a monogram of my work from 2013-2014. I’ve also been picking up the paintbrush and doing some painting like back in the day, it’s quite a cathartic experience struggling with actual colour pigment in oil that gets your hand dirty. But it’s not more honest or real than taking photos it’s just the same but different. In the end the focus is always, getting out, seeing stuff, seeing the same stuff in a different light, and slowly building an archive of stuff that might make sense eventually. But I don’t have many plans besides staying alive for as long as I can while not fucking my time in this place up too much.

© Wouter Van de Voorde | urbanautica Australia



1. Tell us about your approach to photography. How it all started? What are your memories of your first shots? 

My interest in photography started when I was at the university. The school gave students unlimited access to a photography studio and to a darkroom. I really used to spend a lot of time there. After long hours in the darkroom I used to be coming back home late at night – or even early in the morning – happy with fruitful work done, with a bunch of fresh, just developed, still wet photographs to be dried later on my bedroom cupboard. When I think of how my photography interest started, my memories definitely go back to this period of time, when I was learning the magical procedure of developing pictures. It was a gorgeous view when you observed – in the magical ambience of red light and late night radio broadcast – how the images appeared on a blank sheet of photographic paper.

© Łukasz Biederman from the series ‘21 Rooms’

2. How did your research evolve with respect to those early days?

My first pictures were completely random shots of anything that seemed interesting to me. I would shoot people in the streets, landscapes, cars, animals, and many more accidental things – actually with no common denominator.
Nowadays I perceive photography rather in series than in single works. I do not have a habit of taking pictures of everything and everywhere, neither do I carry my camera always on me. I also developed a habit of composing an image first in my mind before I reach for the camera in a bag. Before I shoot, I also need to decide which series or what topic the image is going to fit then. This approach enables me to focus on a particular subject so I can avoid collecting lots of totally redundant images. Nowadays I am shooting definitely fewer pictures than I used to years ago.

3. About your work now. How would you describe your personal research in general?  

I am fortunate to live in a very interesting country. For hundreds years Poland has been always entangled with complex geopolitical changes. The history of this region is very multifaceted – and particularly the last 25 years has been a time of unbelievable changes. After the fall of communism in the 90’s, the country started to develop in an unusual way. The grey, communist country transformed into a free, multicolored world, full of ultramodern structures, places, shapes and possibilities. Additionally, all these crazy things have been happening just before my very eyes. I grew up in a reality filled with a weird mixture of styles and designs – medieval ruins mixed with WWII remains, communist buildings or ultramodern structures, wealthy property adjoining directly poor estates, big city structures contrasting with post-rural remains, everything covered with all types of patchy outdoor advertising. This world looks absolutely surreal to me and I like perceiving it this way.
In general, my photography interest lies in a field of changes mentioned above. Especially I prefer to depict places gradually disappearing from our cityscape, spaces that reflect this intricate history. Year by year, the Polish cityscape is changing so I hope that maybe in quite a short period of time my pictures will be a powerful record of the unusual cityscape that we currently live in. On the other hand, I do not perceive my pictures in a straight line as documentary photography. I think that most of them contain a lot of various elements, which let the viewer imagine numerous fictitious stories coming out from the image.

© Łukasz Biederman from the series '21 Rooms’

4. Do you have any preferences in terms of cameras and format? 

I usually photograph without hurry and the number of pictures I am used to taking is not a great deal. Thus I can afford to work with analogue negatives – medium or large format. There are two cameras I love using: Hasselblad 500 and Mamiya 7.

5. Tell us about your latest project entitled: “21 rooms”. What is it about? Could you explain the link between these rooms and landscapes that accompany them?

The series ‘21 rooms’ depicts abandoned rooms at forgotten hotels in mountain resorts. The rooms have remained vacant since the last guest left long ago and then have became untouched –like hibernated – for a dozen years, until now. This state of hibernation has truly fascinated me. Moreover, it has inspired me to see a bit wider picture of sightseeing and traveling in general – the process that I observed years ago while living and growing up in a mountain resort. I saw tourists arriving and leaving, visitors with their vacation plans, hopes, expectations but often with their disappointments, too. Actually this state of disappointment became the dominant feature in ‘21 rooms’. The pictures of rooms in combination with cold, solitary landscapes are intended to be imbued with moisture, snow, frost, fog and wind – and at the same time filled with dissatisfaction, disenchantment and disappointed hopes.

© Łukasz Biederman from the series '21 Rooms’

6. Your series “The city sleeps” is a close investigation of the suburban landscape at night. We noticed on your photoblog that you started taking nocturnes again after some time. What is so tempting about this nighttime scenery?

Towns at night have their special energy that I really love. It is extremely quiet, streets are completely empty, everybody is sitting at home, watching TV or sleeping. The presence of people in the neighbourhood is only indicated by lights looming in house windows, TV flickering from insides or cars parked in backyards.
First of all, taking pictures at night is a great pleasure for me. Although the process of searching for interesting locations means long hours of driving; the whole action is a nice escape from everyday activities.
Apart from the pleasure factor, it is much easier for me to depict the peculiar beauty of the Polish cityscape when shooting at night. I think that a rough image of the town – the boring, uninteresting image that we observe every day – seems to be much more interesting when portrayed in the night illumination. What emerges from the nocturnal cityscape is an illustration of a magnificent, mysterious, magical and solitary city. In reality, the human eye is not able to notice the unique play of light – only the photograph can illustrate that. So in that sense you can take a fresh look at everyday surroundings.

© Łukasz Biederman from the series 'The City Sleeps’

7. What kind of a role does your photoblog play in your photographic activity?

The idea for the blog Rewiry Paranormalne was always to illustrate grotesque, surreal elements of seemingly ordinary reality. Hence the name of the blog which translates from Polish as Paranormal Districts. I tend to believe that the spirit of the blog has not changed so far.
Sharing my works on a regular basis seems really important to me. I do not want my pictures to be lying ‘in the drawer’, waiting for further publication in no definite time. The possibility of publicizing the images gives me much motivation to work on new pictures.

8. You are a photographer living and working in Poland. Could you comment on the Polish photography scene?

When I watch American films I appreciate the large number of photographs hanging on walls at their homes. I think that in this sense we are still far from the USA. Actually it is quite unusual to find the photographs hanging in the average Polish home – and the photography in general is not perceived as an art by the Everyman here.
On the other hand I believe that the Polish photography scene is rapidly developing. We have a lot of photography events, festivals and first of all we have many great photographers who promote this art in Poland – and out of the country. I can name tens of Polish photographers who are truly inspiring me – like for example Rafał Milach, Wojciech Wieteska, Jan Brykczyński, Ula Tarasiewicz, Szymon Rogiński, Nicolas Grospierre, Maciek Stępiński, Tomasz Wiech and many more. Moreover, the number of young people who are interested in photography seems really promising.

© Łukasz Biederman from the series 'The City Sleeps’

9. Is there any contemporary artist or photographer, even if young and emerging, that influenced you in some way?  

Of course, there are many of them. The favourites that come to my mind at the moment are for example Lynne Cohen, Alexander Gronsky, Todd Hido, Rafał Milach, Alec Soth…

10. Three photobooks that you recommend?
- ‘Disco’ by Andrew Miksys 
- ‘Play Ground’ by Jerohen Hofman 
- ‘Swell’ by Mateusz Sarełło

11. Is there any show you’ve seen recently that you find inspiring? 

One of the most memorable shows I saw last year was Wiesław Rakowski’s ‘Zoological Archive’, curated by Michał Sita. The photographs taken between World War One and World War Two depict unique zoological exhibits from Poznań Zoo, including tens of dead, stuffed animals. The collection takes the viewer to a different world, full of strangeness and inexplicability. The animals look like weird figures from a dream although they existed in reality and in fact the pictures were probably taken for documentation purposes – as opposed to the intention of being a piece of art.

© Łukasz Biederman from the series 'The City Sleeps’

12. Projects that you are working on now and plans for the future?

I am going to continue the series ‘The City Sleeps’ and I would like to make ‘21 rooms’ a more complete and coherent body of work. It is also possible that in a foreseeable future I will release a photo book with The City Sleeps images.

 Łukasz Biederman | urbanautica Poland



1. What are your earliest memories of the relationship with photography?

The first photographic memories coincide with my personal visual memory. I am very far away, inaccurate, out of focus. Innocent, pure, emotional. The first album of family photographs, pictures of grandparents on the walls, those of my family on documents and passports. The first seeds of the construction of a nascent personal visual grammar and selective formation of taste and style.

2. How has this relationship evolved over time, and at what point are you today?

Subsequently, things have changed a lot through the academic training in architecture, the visual culture fueled by photo books and direct relationships with the Italian and international masters of photography. With time everything changes. Today photography is to me so many things together: a profession, with all its rewards and annoyances, a challenging and interesting research and a passion, alive and exciting.
The pleasure of surprise always feeds my intellectual curiosity. Today I find myself as at the beginning of my path, feeding an unchanged desire to learn, to discover new, exciting, and surprising things. Citing Marcel Proust: «The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes».

© Gianpaolo Arena - Ha Giang, Vietnam, 2014

3. Can you introduce us to your project ‘My Vietnam’. How have you developed this work? Tell us also of the publishing project you’re working on?

The photographic project was born from a trip of 30 days in Vietnam. Venice - Ho Chi Minh extremes of a journey. My cultural imagination had formed with the tragedies of war films, by the images and visions of Coppola, Stone, or Kubrick up to the most recent Tran Ahn Hung. My Vietnam was very different, a trip across the country, steeped in the personal, beyond stereotypes. I found a welcoming country, open and intriguing. Greatly enigmatic and mysterious. A door to the Orient.

Many pressures towards modernity, with so much positive energy and a lot of contradictions. I remember very intensively an episode… I spent the first night in Ho Chi Minh City in the heart of the ancient city, where the houses are stratified and where they find space as they can.
It was late at night but I could not close my eyes a bit for Jet Lag and a bit for the deafening noise of traffic and the music coming from a room at the base of the building of my hotel. Suddenly, after hours of junk music, I recognized immediately “Go Bang” by Dinosaur J in the remix of François Kevorkian, with its syncopated and spastic rhythms and its BANG, BANG, BANG. Epiphanic apparition! In those moments the former Saigon seemed New York, plus the colored and 'sweaty’ neon, the sticky and clammy air and the sweetish Eastern atmosphere. A window to explore alien territory with new eyes. 

The difference between the little that I knew before, and all that I have seen, lived and that excited me later, formed the main body of my photographic work. In part, my approach was documentary, part travelogue and, to a lesser extent, a narrative description. Coming back after a year having gained the experience, depth readings, and new visions, had a different meaning. The desire was to try to finish what I had started. The look was different, the search was more targeted, the reasons were more accurate. I have gone to the extreme border of China, crossing the mountainous region of HA Giang. The material produced in a total of two months of time is equal to 100 rolls of film in medium format. Hence the work of selection and editing developed in several months with the idea of building my publication on the topic. From the wilderness and desert areas liminal to the urban textures, from the great empty silent to chaotic urban densities.

© Gianpaolo Arena - Ha Giang, Vietnam, 2014

I am looking for an international publisher able to believe in this type of project and to make the best of what was produced in 3 years of research. Part of the work was presented at the Fondazione Fabbri, Villa Brandolini, Pieve di Soligo, TV, within the festival “F4 - An Idea of Photography” by Carlo Sala, then in Rome by Camilla Boemio at Galleria Anteprima d’Arte Contemporanea and during the International Festival of Rome at Macro - Museum of Contemporary Art, where it is on display until 11 January 2015. A good representation of the latest new images is available in this interview and on this blog, curated in collaboration with Camilla Boemio.

4. Tell me about a place that you would like to photograph sooner or later?

They are many. All those where I’ve never been. Greenland, Patagonia, Mexico, Cambodia, Japan, China, Nepal, the Caucasian territories of Azerbaijan… For their possible future developments in different fields I find interesting the exponential growth of suburbia and the improper forms of environmental resistance and ecological resilience in place. The most frequent question I ask myself is: how the medium of photography is important in giving us the ability and the knowledge to decipher our relationship with the contemporary world?

5. You are one of the founders of Landscape Stories, online magazine of photography. Why was this experience started, and how has it evolved?

The magazine was founded by the ideas and discussions of three friends to see something that was not there yet. Landscape Stories grows and develops with a new approach, open and interdisciplinary. With Claudio Bettio and Andrea Gaio we decided to present a series of thematic proposals, which could involve in addition to photography also literature, art, music, cinema, architecture, following only our elective and editorials preferences. Quotes, references and tracks become red wires functional to the development of the narrative. A story in pictures in the form of collection, accompanied by an editorial and extracts from literary texts that reinforce the theme and help to frame the cultural climate in which the photographic project develops. Currently, after 18 monographs, we published in the pages of Landscape Stories, through magazines, directories, forums and social networks, thousands of photo projects and editorials. Among others, we presented the following international authors: Thomas Stuth (Germany), Mitch Epstein (U.S.A.), Nadav Kander (U.K.), Roger Ballen (U.S.A.), Alec Soth (U.S.A.), Guido Guidi (Italy), Larry Sultan (U.S.A.), Michael Wolf (Germany), Frank Gohlke (U.S.A.), Jem Southam (U.K.), J H Engstrom (Sweden), Adam Bartos (U.S.A.), Mona Kuhn (Brazil), An-My Lê (Vietnam), Mark Steinmetz (U.S.A.), Joachim Schmid (Germany), John Gossage (U.S.A.), Massimo Vitali (Italy), Mike Brodie (U.S.A.), Raimond Wouda (Netherlands), Raymond Meeks (U.S.A.). Among the featured interviews: Axel Hutte (Germany), Richard Rothman (U.S.A.), Simon Roberts (U.K.), Olivo Barbieri (Italy), Hiroshi Watanabe (Japan), Lise Sarfati (U.S.A.), Ferit Kuyas (Turkey), Francesco Jodice (Italy), Peter Brown (U.S.A.), Max Pam (Australia), Spencer Tunick (U.S.A.), Karin Apollonia Muller (Germany), Valerio Spada (Italy), Hans-Christian Schink (Germany), Doug Dubois (U.S.A.). 

© Gianpaolo Arena - Hanoi, Vietnam, 2014

6. Is there a number of Landscape Stories that you’re more connected with or that you want to tell?

I am bound to each issue of the magazine, really. Each selection monographic was born in a different way and is designed and developed long before. Sometimes the red wire is dictated by literary texts, most often by the quality and quantity of photo projects. Those who remember more, for the strength of the theme, are: LS 07 | TREES, LS 09 | ADOLESCENCE, LS 12 | RIVER, LS 15 | MOUNTAINS. The last LS 18 | FAMILY has involved an extraordinary sequence of authors, among others: Trish Morrissey, Thomas Struth, Doug Dubois, Sage Sohier, Larry Sultan, Laura McPhee, Joanna Piotrowska, Leonie Hampton, Alex Cretey-Systermans, Bertien van Manen, Nicolai Howalt, Alain Laboile, Raymond Meeks, Susan Worsham, Fred Huening, Petra Stavast, Lesly Deschler Canossi, Martin + Lindsay, Seba Kurtis, Julian Germain…

7. Through Landscape Stories you also worked on educational activities, in particular workshops. This way you met important photographers and especially many people eager to improve themselves and to confront. What lessons you learned from this experience? Of all the photographers who surprised you the most?

The organization of the workshop, organized together with Giorgia Sarra, are an important reality for the exchange of ideas and discussion on photography, today and tomorrow. The last, curated with Tre Terzi, Vincenzo Castella, Simon Roberts, Francesco Jodice, Raimond Wouda, between Venice and the Dolomites, places of excellence where you are surrounded by the beauty and Sublime, accounted for the extraordinary opportunities for debate and discussion between talented photographers from all over Europe. I have learned from each experience different things, each in its own way precious and unrepeatable. The greatest wealth lies in human and professional exchange, and hence the seeds for the cultural growth of tomorrow are thrown. Humanity, passion, generosity and energy of teachers as the opening, the interest, the desire to get involved and the curiosity of the participants have been surprising. Some memorable episode … talk to Francesco Jodice and find that we are both fanatics of Italian detective films by Fernando Di Leo and Enzo Castellari. Feel Vincenzo Castella remember his relationship with Luigi Ghirri and Lewis Baltz or tell the blues of the Mississippi Delta and the field recordings of Alan Lomax.

© Gianpaolo Arena - Hanoi, Vietnam, 2014

8. In addition to photography you are a big fan of music. Urbanautica houses successfully your editorial 'Undercover’. It’s extraordinary the bond that over time has united influential photographers with bands and songwriters. An example for all William Eggleston who is also musician. How did you get to this?

I am a curious, passionate and 'omnivorous’ music consumers since I was a teenager. My discography has 10,000 albums but curiosity about the origin and transmission of sound remains an irresistible attractor. Of course the interest and love for alternative musics were vehicles for introducing me to different cultures and worlds. Seminal experiences generate insights in all art forms. Undercover allows me to make room for these plots, indicate paths, suggest hypotheses. William Eggleston, among others, weaves his name with those of Big Star, Alex Chilton, Primal Scream, Chuck Prophet, Silver Jews, Joanna Newsom.

I like to think that the glossy perception of the color and light of the American master favors somehow a special joyous musicality where the irrational chaos of things magically takes shape and becomes accomplished. One of the insights that I would like to do next on 'Undercover’ is on the covers of the albums and aesthetics of a musician, not a photographer, always shrouded in mystery and existential hermitage, Jandek. All of his albums, published by his own label 'Corwood Industries’, describe in the blurry covers indistinct faces and shadows, details of a house in suburban Texas or musical instruments. A thick visual and audio corpus, monotonous, disturbing. A poor poetic to describe a disturbing and obsessive microcosm.

Of course the incestuous relationships between photography and the arts are numerous, promiscuous and indefinite. Think about how the cinematic visions have influenced the work of photographers and vice versa. I think of Wim Wenders, Werner Herzog or Godard. In other fields: Jeff Keen, Harry Smith and Kenneth Anger. We could go on forever and continue to shuffle the cards. In this regard, there are two phrases indicative «You have to listen to the eye before looking» - Jean-Luc Godard and «I talk in pictures, not in words» - Peter Gabriel.

9. One of your recent projects is CALAMITA/À. An initiative that is gathering a large interest and a number of significant photographic contributions.

The project in its editorial format, and design exhibition is curated by Marina Caneve and Gianpaolo Arena. Photography is the medium of choice to investigate the urban landscape and identity of the northeast Italian. Art, sociology, urban planning and photography combine to define the identity of the territory with a multidisciplinary open approach. CALAMITA/À aims to ensure that the area in question will become a laboratory and a privileged place of observation. The platform was created as a tool of territorial investigation, which through a planned research, wants to deepen the ongoing changes, to generate debate, to revealing and critical points of view, to attract interest and knowledge around a nodal place still to be defined, that of Vajont.

The wave of the October 9, 1963 suddenly marks an instantaneous and irreversible change in the landscape. The catastrophic event clears places, memories and destinies. The identity of these places were wiped out, leaving room for a new and chaotic urban layout. The morphology of the territory, the topography, infrastructure networks, the architecture, the social context are some of the subjects of analysis examined. Currently about 50 authors with different scopes are involved. Artists, writers, musicians, graphic designers, filmmakers are developing their own site-specific project. An important role is played by the residents and those who live on the territory, with their experience and their experiential memory.

An important part comes from the new editorial 'Collateral’ which currently houses the works of international photographers like Céline Clanet, Richard Petit, Bärbel Praun, François Deladerriere, Yannik Willing, Pascal Amoyel, Pétur Thomsen. The section devoted to interviews issues will become increasingly influential. The interviews are designed as insights and windows on the world and have as their object: the catastrophe and calamity, the territorial and urban changes, mutant identities, geopolitics, climate change, the global market, the architecture, the tourism industry, ecological issues, migration and social marginality, minorities.

© Gianpaolo Arena - Hanoi, Vietnam, 2014

10. Could you name three books of photography that you are very fond of?

'Early Color’ by Saul Leiter
'The Democratic Forest’ by William Eggleston
'Hidden Islam’ by Nikolaus Degiorgis. And here you can find 10 other books.

11. What are your plans for the future?

The launch of the new monograph of Joël Tettamanti “Works 2001-2019”, where I wrote an essay. The book was published by the Swiss Benteli Verlag in various editions and the graphics design by Onlab. The first months of 2015 I will be part of a couple of juries of international photography awards. In February, with Landscape Stories I will participate on the exhibition of Italian photographic publishers at 21er Haus, a new contemporary art space in Vienna. From March 2015 the programming of new workshops will bring LS to collaborate with numerous international photographers. 

I will continue to curate the projects 'My Vietnam’ and 'CALAMITA/À’ and trying to accomplish the editorial publications for both. An editorial collaboration dedicated to Australia, between Landscape Stories and Heidi Romano and Photobook Melbourne Festival, will see the light in the coming months. And of course the new issues of the magazine, new interviews and the new editorial Dream books and Books reviews.
In the immediate to find, buy and listen to the box of 44 CDs of Glenn Gould: 'The Complete Original Jacket Collection’. Reading the full interview on the 'Abecedario’ by Gilles Deleuze, the complete set 'Heimat’ by Edgar Reitz and 'La Jetée’ by Chris Marker… The end is just a new beginning.

© Gianpaolo Arena | urbanautica Italy