A TASTE FOR THE SHOT

All About Italy (USA) - - Editorial - Elisa Rodi

Renato Mar­cialis is one of Italy’s most im­por­tant food pho­tog­ra­phers. Among his most well-known and in­no­va­tive projects is “Car­avag­gio in the Kitchen”: im­ages of food re­al­ized with Car­avag­gio’s sig­na­ture lighting.

Defin­ing him as a pho­tog­ra­pher is per­haps re­duc­tion­ist: defin­ing him as a painter, less so. Renato Mar­cialis is more than any­thing an artist of the image, some­one who com­poses works and im­mor­tal­izes them in photo shoots, trust­ing to the pre­cious con­tri­bu­tion of light, and ca­pa­ble of ren­der­ing a photo much more sim­i­lar to a paint­ing. Mar­cialis has de­vel­oped a part of his art by look­ing to the past and tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from Car­avag­gio’s ge­nius com­posed of light and shad­ows, and ren­der­ing the very warmth of light it­self the true pro­tag­o­nist of his com­po­si­tions, to­gether with the con­stant sub­ject which dom­i­nates the image: food. One of his most im­por­tant projects is in fact “Car­avag­gio in the Kitchen,” a col­lec­tion re­al­ized with the tech­nique of light paint­ing, which has al­lowed him to pho­to­graph still lifes and ob­tain works much more sim­i­lar to

Food pho­tog­ra­phy to­day is a trendy phe­nom­e­non. Renato Mar­cialis has made an art of it.

paint­ing. As a mat­ter of fact, Renato Mar­cialis is a pro­fes­sional food pho­tog­ra­pher, and took up this path when the ob­ses­sion for gourmet dishes and chefs was far from be­ing just a trend as op­posed to an orig­i­nal artis­tic vi­sion. Food in­sin­u­ated it­self into his life at a very early age, be­cause when one is sur­rounded by a grand­fa­ther, fa­ther and un­cle who all ex­er­cise the pro­fes­sion of chef, the push to­wards cui­sine in­evitably seems an al­ready traced path. Soon af­ter came pho­tog­ra­phy; all it took was en­ter­ing a dark­room to be­gin ap­pre­ci­at­ing the magic of cre­ation, be­fore he fell com­pletely in love with it in the sec­ond half of the 70s, when he started to col­lab­o­rate with his brother, an art di­rec­tor for a se­ries of com­mis­sions of gas­tro­nomic pho­tog­ra­phy. Then came a de­sire to break away and strike out on his own, with all the risks that en­tails; he opened a stu­dio on his own and in the fol­low­ing five years pho­tographed any­thing and every­thing: fash­ion, jour­nal­is­tic re­portage, pub­lic­ity, in­dus­trial shots. But spe­cial­iza­tion ur­gently beck­oned him and, by now fa­mous and the win­ner of nu­mer­ous prizes, he de­cided to make food the cen­ter of his artis­tic and pho­to­graphic ac­tiv­ity.

He thus be­gan to con­trib­ute his pho­tos to dozens of pub­li­ca­tions cen­tered on gas­tron­omy and the world of cock­tails, col­lab­o­rat­ing with chefs, food com­pa­nies and var­i­ous projects in­clud­ing pro­mo­tional ones, in the process be­com­ing one of the most tal­ented and rec­og­nized artists in the sec­tor world-wide. We in­ter­viewed him and ex­plored with him the world of food pho­tog­ra­phy, a com­plex art that goes well be­yond im­pro­vi­sa­tion.

The “Car­avag­gio in the Kitchen” project unites the sug­ges­tions of the past and con­tem­po­rary ideas in a wholly orig­i­nal man­ner: how was it pos­si­ble to unite these two ten­den­cies and what type of tech­nique did you use to bring your pho­to­graphic style close to Car­avag­gio’s pic­to­rial ten­sion? Nowa­days every­one talks only about the fu­ture, the avant-garde and moder­nity. Well, it’s only right that that’s the way it is, but my for­tune has been that, up to a cer­tain point, in­stead of look­ing for­ward I have cho­sen to look be­hind me, re­turn­ing to sub­jects and in­spi­ra­tions of the past which are still charged with beauty. I felt the need for com­ing up with com­po­si­tions, mostly food-based, and en­clos­ing them within the pho­to­graph; but in­stead of shoot­ing them “nor­mally,” I no­ticed

that these com­po­si­tions were more sim­i­lar and suit­able for a paint­ing and so I worked in such a way that the arts of paint­ing and pho­tog­ra­phy would be com­bined in a sin­gle cre­ation. The dif­fi­culty was in re­al­iz­ing the lighting typ­i­cal of a paint­ing and cre­at­ing that “brush­stroke” of light: the re­sult re­called the art of Car­avag­gio and be­came an im­por­tant chal­lenge. In or­der to ob­tain that de­sired ef­fect of light I could have used a small flash­light, but I de­cided on fiber op­tics, which give a small light that can be ap­pro­pri­ately con­trolled as to its bright­ness. That “light brush” helps us to un­der­stand how great Car­avag­gio was: in the era when he was work­ing, he used lanterns or glim­mers cre­ated on the ceil­ing from which he fil­tered the rays of the sun. In ad­di­tion to know­ing how to mix and con­trol col­ors, light is the true pro­tag­o­nist of his paint­ings: Car­avag­gio’s use of light and shadow are an im­por­tant gift to Ital­ian art.

In the last few years, great at­ten­tion and sen­si­tiv­ity have been de­vel­oped in re­la­tion to the theme of food. How im­por­tant is it that this be ad­e­quately com­mu­ni­cated, even in a cre­ative man­ner, as hap­pens with Food Pho­tog­ra­phy?

To­day there is a real ex­ag­ger­a­tion: it’s not pos­si­ble for every­thing to re­volve around gas­tron­omy. Un­doubt­edly there are in­ter­est­ing things go­ing on, but it’s an overly in­flated sec­tor. Pho­tog­ra­phy as well has dived head­long into the world of food, but one can’t just im­pro­vise in this field: a cou­ple of de­cent pho­tos aren’t enough to con­sider one­self a pho­tog­ra­pher spe­cial­ized in food. Pho­tog­ra­phy is not sim­ply point­ing and shoot­ing, it is above all cre­at­ing, devel­op­ing a project around the sub­ject. It means get­ting one’s hands dirty and en­ter­ing into direct con­tact with the pro­tag­o­nist of the photo. To­day, im­ages are pro­duced con­tin­u­ally, but if we re­ally an­a­lyze them, very few are valid.

Will you con­tinue to pho­to­graph food in the fu­ture or will you ap­ply your tech­nique to sub­jects other than food?

I al­ways want there to be a food el­e­ment in my pho­tos. Some of my com­po­si­tions, for ex­am­ple, have kitchen ac­ces­sories at the cen­ter of the photo, but in every­thing there is al­ways some bit of food, whether an egg, a pear, or a bunch of grapes. Even other shots with hu­mans at the cen­ter show food in the com­po­si­tion. I de­cided that food would be a com­mon el­e­ment in all of my projects, and that it will be the leit­mo­tif and un­der­ly­ing theme of my oeu­vre.

Ob­tain­ing ex­cel­lent re­sults and mak­ing a name for one­self in a sec­tor such as art is very com­pli­cated: in this con­text, how much does nat­u­ral tal­ent count, and how much does pro­fes­sional spe­cial­iza­tion? Con­sid­er­ing the cur­rent state of af­fairs, is it enough nowa­days to have a dig­i­tal cam­era or an app like In­sta­gram to re­al­ize a good photo?

You can take a photo with just about any­thing, but it all be­gins in the head, in re­flect­ing on how to com­pose the shot. You have to think about the idea: the cam­era can’t do that, be­cause it’s only a means. And there’s no use in hav­ing a great cam­era if you don’t know how to use it. Even so­cial me­dia such as In­sta­gram—that at the be­gin­ning I thought was some sort of dis­ease—are of lit­tle in­ter­est for the art of pho­tog­ra­phy. Tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion are all well and good, but the im­por­tant thing is to give space to ideas.

Do you re­mem­ber your first photo? When did you un­der­stand that this pas­sion would be­come your pro­fes­sion?

As a child I was al­ready the one in charge of fam­ily pho­tos and I have to say that even at that time I had a cer­tain ca­pa­bil­ity in com­pos­ing shots. The real turn­ing point came when my fa­ther, in or­der to curb my rather mis­chievous char­ac­ter and be fully aware of what I was up to dur­ing the day, put me into a pho­to­graphic stu­dio: af­ter a few days in­side as an ap­pren­tice, when I saw the neg­a­tive trans­form it­self into an image, I un­der­stood that it was a sort of magic. That was my first sign, and since then time and ex­pe­ri­ence have only in­creased my pas­sion and tal­ent.

You also work in pub­lic­ity: how do you man­age re­la­tion­ships with the clients to in or­der to guar­an­tee the artis­tic in­tegrity of your work?

In the field of pub­lic­ity I work with those who give me sat­is­fac­tion. I no longer ac­cept rou­tine work and pre­fer to not work with some agen­cies where I have en­coun­tered in­com­pat­i­bil­ity, which may also be gen­er­a­tional. I look on new play­ers with in­ter­est, but find lit­tle propen­sity in them for lis­ten­ing and learn­ing, which of­ten causes them to as­sume a peev­ish and high-handed at­ti­tude. I’m more at ease with pro­fes­sion­als of my own age, and al­ways in­sist that they be ca­pa­ble of putting art be­fore the com­mer­cial re­sult.

The fu­ture of Mar­cialis?

I’ve got a lot of steaks on the grill, but pre­fer to put them out there one at a time be­cause I’m afraid they might get burned.

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Renato Mar­cialis, one of the great­est sig­na­tures in Ital­ian pho­tog­ra­phy

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