In Conversation with Alessandro Zuek Simonetti

From NYC 08-10. All images by Alessandro Zuek Simonetti.

I met Alessandro in Milan while he was preparing a photography exhibition. He’s a sort of Al Pacino-looking guy who grew up in Bassano del Grappa, a little Italian city near Venice, and moved to New York in his twenties, eventually finding his professional footing as a photographer for brands like Carhart, Pierelli and 55DSL and magazines like GQ, Rolling Stone and Tema Celeste. Here are some bites of our conversation, recorded in the bathroom.

On being a photographer…

Elisa Simi: Let’s start with the easy questions: What is a typical day for you in New York?

Alessandro Zuek Simonetti: I don’t have an everyday schedule… I’ve been working a lot on personal projects. So in the last few years I’ve been spending a lot of time in front of the computer. Let’s say that half of my days are “wasted” answering emails, etc…

Elisa: When you’re shooting are you quick?

Alessandro: I usually take a lot of shots, but I guess I’m fast…probably because my attitude towards photography is informed by the nature of the pictures. I really work in the moment.

Elisa: When do know “this is the picture?”

Alessandro: When I see a picture that I really like, I usually think about what Roland Barthes says… I’m looking for the “punctum” of the image. If a picture has got that thing that gives you a shock inside. That’s the moment when you can say, “This shot is perfect.”

On digital versus analog…

Alessandro: Digital was not present when I was a teenager. I started taking pictures around [the age of] 17, when I was [interested in] graffiti and the skate culture. We were spending our days at train stations, waiting for the trains to arrive and to paint [them].

I’m not against “digital.” It’s just a different approach… I shoot in film, but basically I believe in the power of the image, not in the media that you’re using. You know, you can do an amazing movie with a professional video camera, but some of the best work can also be done with a mobile phone. And yes, I like the analogic way of shooting. I find it’s a completely different attitude. I like to wait a few days to see the pictures—this is probably because I’ve grown up with film.

Above images from PASSPORT SERIE

On intimate thoughts…

Elisa: Well, let’s change the subject. You’re sitting on the toilet. What thoughts come to mind when you’re normally sitting here on your own?

Alessandro: It’s the first place I go in the morning to pee. I’m actually surprised to see a bidet next to me, which is impossible to find in New York City. Even when I’ve been in huge, beautiful houses, they don’t have one. I guess it’s surprising from an Italian point of view.

From NYC 08-10

Elisa: But what do you think about? Life? Travel? Love? Politics?

Alessandro: I normally read the commercial brochures from the supermarket, the electronics section, to see if there are any sales…

Elisa: Cameras?

Alessandro: I look for refrigerators or heavy garden tools…screwdrivers or chainsaws…

On Haiti

Haiti from Above. Below images from HAITI 2010.

Elisa: Ah, right. I wanted to ask about shooting in Haiti after the earthquake.

Alessandro: That happened because a friend of mine wanted to put together three photographers, a videographer, a writer and a creative director for a project in Haiti. We went there with a relief organization to bring water… Delivering water while shooting our project was actually amazing.

Elisa: How was it seeing all of those beautiful places destroyed?

Alessandro: When you’re in the places, there’s only a sad feeling… and I was asking myself, ‘I’m going to that place a month and half after the earthquake. What will be my role as a photographer? What am I supposed to witness?’ I thought about how I didn’t want to shoot how much this place was fucked up; I tried to separate myself from that feeling. If you see my pictures, you can see it’s an unlucky place. But I decided not to shoot the painful scenarios, to not to shoot the death.

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