Portholes & Totems

Interview with photographer Massimiliano Camellini


Where About Now Where are you right now reading these questions?

Massimiliano Camellini I am at my desk in my studio in Italy surrounded by my materials (photos, books, briefings on future projects ...).

WAN Where would you like to be while reading these questions?

MC My most inspiring place would be a terrace in a medieval village, having a view on the coast and on the Mediterranean Sea... this is the best way to think about the future.

WAN The title for your series AL DI LÀ DELL'ACQUA is also the title for your solo exhibition currently shown at the Perth Centre for Photography. Can you give us some insight into the significance of the title?

"Corridor", Hanjin Yantian 2/05/2014, Terminal Sech, Genova
"My family", Hanjin Spain 25/05/2015, Terminal Sech, Genova

MC The title of the project derives from the phrase "Lòt Bò Dlo", a Kreyòl expression of the Haitian people, which stands for promise (of a better future) and peril (of Black Atlantic Ocean), hope and despair, and seeking different answers on the other side of the water. I chose such a title for the series because the images are taken inside cargo vessels and they are like little islands. They share with the islands' inhabitants the same glance towards the horizon and the water, a landscape continuously showing and hiding the future for the sailors who decide to spend their lives on board.

WAN How did you get the idea for this project?

MC The idea started also from the literary inspiration of the novel "Novecento'' by Italian writer Alessandro Baricco. The novel tells the story of a sailor (he was a jazz pianist singing for the passengers) who decides that a life entirely spent on board, although far from the earth and from its guarantees, will be the best choice, always and forever. Afterwards the novel became a film, "The legend of the pianist on the ocean" by Giuseppe Tornatore, Italian filmmaker, who transformed in images the story. It captured me, inspiring a photographic project dedicated to the eternal human dream and ambition to travel and discover new territories.

WAN How long did you work on the project and where did it take you?

MC I have worked on the project for 4 years spent on cargo vessels of different nationalities, either when they stand inside the ports of the Mediterranean Sea or sometimes sailing on board, living together sailors in order to feel the same emotions and perspectives.

"View", Jolly Cobalto 9/08/2016, sailing from Marseille to Genova
"Compass", Jolly Cobalto 10/08/2016, sailing from Marseille to Genova

WAN What can you tell us about water as a medium in your work?

MC The water and the exterior is important just to be seen (or imagined) beyond the porthole, the window; just to give a dimension of "new house" to the interior, like "islands" which enclose internal rules as though they were city-states awaiting new geographies.

WAN The series does not feature any human subjects; the lives on board are depicted through the objects and settings in which they are lived. Was it your intention to leave the characters of this narrative as an absent presence?

MC I excluded the inhabitants (sailors) from the photographs, so we can discover them (or imagine their characters) instead through objects, in little totems or amulets which are used to create a connection with dry land. The oxymoron (like Andrea Tinterri, project curator wrote) lies in the existence of daily normality made up of small rituals which is in a state of continuous movement. The project is also a reflection, through photography, on the anthropology of material things, a science studying the possibility to give presence to absent individuals through their objects and the arrangement of places where they live, even travelling platforms such as ships.

"Officials' table", Jolly Cobalto 9/08/2016, sailing from Marseille to Genova
"The Galley", Hanjin Yantian 2/05/2014, Terminal Sech, Genova

WAN One recurring image in the series is the porthole and the outside world beyond it, surrounded by sailor’s personal items or ship hardware. The window is also an emphasis in your 2010 series Tram Frame, although in that instance from the out looking in. Can you tell us about what role windows play in your work?

MC Yes, the windows in these two projects are an important element of construction of the images: in Al Di Là Dell'Acqua the porthole or window has the role to create a physical threshold between the exterior (slightly imagined and not visible) and the interior reconstrued by the sailor as a new world (the reality given by the structures and the objects); in Tram Frame it’s different, the frame of the window is a sort of common code to see and deem more visible the emotions of the portrayed passengers, to create a common scene representing the city where each person in the daily life of movement -using the more "circular" mean of transport like "tram" - is a different interpreter and actor.

TRAM FRAME, 2010, Massimiliano Camellini
TRAM FRAME, 2010, Massimiliano Camellini

WAN The constant flux and changing scenery of the oceans are constantly grounded with memorabilia and small rituals, reminiscent of life on solid land. Can you tell us about the juxtaposition of continuity and movement in this series, between sea and land?

MC The story basically begins inside the ship, where exchanges between individuals are translated into the accumulation of sensitive objects, rooms where a smartphone left on a window sill describes the distance between people who are far from each other, so an inevitably difficult relationship. The journey is left out, a presence-absence, something existing, but which must not be spoken about. Because what matters is what happens and what could happen inside the house: the rooms, one after another, describe a division of roles, of tasks assigned, an inevitable hierarchy which needs a structure, even architectural. A daily but peaceful routine is shown more evident by the emptiness, by those elements capable of reconstructing an idea of living space, a domestic stability sought and obtained. It is peculiar to see that some of inhabitants of the cargos used objects and memorabilia remembering their house on land but shaped as ships or nautical items, so the two worlds interplay continuously with each other.

WAN Does the future hold any more marine travel for you or have you exhausted your nautical fantasy for the time being?

MC Maybe the marine travel is finished by now, but on the occasion of the next exhibition of Al Di Là Dell'Acqua in Venice there will be exhibited also a little new photographic project being an exploration of a little nautical space found out inside the exhibition space, having furnitures and facilities coming from vessels...

WAN Where and when can we see your work next?

MC The project shall be exhibited further September 2020 in Venice at *SPARC, Space for Contemporary Art, and next year (end of April 2021) in Tokyo, at Place M Gallery; during 2020 there will also be some book presentations in Milan (Italy) and elsewhere. The aim of Al Di Là Dell'Acqua consists in touching different coasts and oceans, and be hosted in places belonging to the history of navigation worldwide.


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