Interview with Photographer Patrizio Di Renzo
You started your career as an industrial photographer. Only later did you start working in the fashion world. Could you tell us about some of the challenges you faced during this transition?
At that time, training as an industrial photographer was definitely one of the best ways you could train from a technical point of view. Technically speaking, after my training there were no photographic limits; I was able to do the job intuitively without having to think about and wonder how to do certain things. This meant that I was able to express my ideas easily. Yet I quickly realized that technique is only the first step. Developing your own taste is absolutely essential and it is purely related to your own life. Today, I would say that taste and confidence in your style are connected to a certain age and degree of experience. There is no development unless you can go beyond your limits or so-called mistakes that you have to make.
As a fashion photographer, you can incorporate different components of your own character and life. Every decision about casting, make-up and styling has a major impact on the result. At the same time, I am dependent on so many people, so there has to be a lot of trust in the team -and I would also maintain that I’m a control freak and leaving it to chance isn’t really my thing. Yet despite the control, you must not stand in the way of improvisation in the moment. It’s always like an experiment and each time I go down a new route. Many people ask me what my style is. My answer is: punk today, classic tomorrow…I really have no idea, it’s my perception and that changes constantly and with it so does my team and my work. The difficulty as an industrial photographer was trying to gain a foothold without any contacts; my mother wasn’t exactly Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Italia ; – )
What are some of the advantages when producing your fashion work? Your artwork? Do you set out to create one or the other?
That is a valid question as it is a different approach if I’m producing a campaign fora brand. If it’s a fashion editorial, then these two worlds merge. Campaigns must serve a purpose. Art must be without compromise. Yet in the middle between there are fashion houses that have realized this and they try to bridge this divide. The time has come to bring good taste to the general public. Art and commerce have never been so close. As a result, the concept of art is disappearing, so how can we still differentiate it today? In my view, there is no distinction anymore and if there is, it is put there by art critics, yet they’ve never produced art themselves, therefore this question is superfluous. It is a question of taste and everyone defines art for themselves; both the public and also the artists define it for themselves. If you sell a picture and the buyer feels it is art, that’s all there is to it, or am I too simplistic in the way I view it?
You have successfully completed two art books, Portraits of Illusions and Merlin’s Dream. Could you explain the process of them and their reception?
Portraits of Illusions is my first book and I worked on it for several years. It was in 2002 when I decided to get closer to myself and my photography. They are one and the same, you can’t separate them. It was a difficult process as I didn’t really know what type of components my new photography should include. It is like cooking; what shall I eat, how do I prepare it, how should I set the table. It’s an internal approach, a philosophy of life. Therefore I tried to weed out what I didn’t like in many of the fashion magazines. This was at the time when Jürgen Teller and many of his contemporaries had invented ‘reality’ ; – ) For me, there was something repellent about it. As I live in reality every day, I didn’t want to capture it yet again.
For me, it was about fantasies, not the ones I would like to realize, but rather fantasies that can be everything. It is an inner journey through your own feelings. I felt it was too mundane to simply depict reality. Where is the charm in that? I then showed my work to Gabriel Bauret in Paris, who is a renowned photography critic. During the process, he opened my eyes at our first meeting by telling me that half of the work was too normal. It turned my world upside down; of course he was right, they were not distinct enough. Anyone could have been the photographer. Consequently I had a lot of work to do, in terms of myself. A wonderful time. A time every photographer should have. This time was the most important period of development in my photographic career. Yet I had very little success. I lost almost all my clients as they could no longer get a handle on my photography. Not only my clients, but the whole environment changed, and the reason why is obvious. Every change is an opportunity and this is now my philosophy of life. The photographic process was very interesting, I was able to work with a variety of well-known artists in New York, such as Chloé Sevigny, Devon Aoki and Path McGrath…people who I greatly admire. I went with my team to Namibia, Ireland and New York and photographed myths and fairies there. A portrayal of an inner reality….a reality which exists.
The book Merlin’s Dream was a work which I was able to make at the same time as doing my commissioned work. Completely according to my own whims, I allowed these wonderful flowers to wilt in the studio and if I liked it, I then portrayed them by questioning ‘what would Merlin dream?’ This was my question. I have always had a great connection to flowers. A critic said to me, ‘Patrizio, photograph flowers only at the end of your career, that’s what everyone does’. One more reason not to do it like that. Therefore, even my decisions are always a bit rebellious. Go with your gut feeling, everything else is bullshit.
A lot of the subjects in your work seem to be part of a performance. The viewer can see the photographer’s hand at work in the composition of every image. Your work has been noted to move away from reality. Could you explain some of these elements and why you return to this theme?
Theater has always fascinated me. Life is a big stage and, like a stage director, I try to give my stage light and characters. Purely fictitious or derived from themes that interest me. The Dann Tape was inspired by a Geisha. First of all, I always envision a story, and then I move on to creating it. They are always surreal worlds. Worlds that you don’t encounter every day. Not being able to dream would be my idea of death.
When logging on to your site, http://www.patriziodirenzo.com, the visitor is greeted with the profile portrait of a Rick Genest and a quote, ‘Illusion is the first of all pleasures.’ How does this line reflect your work? How does pleasure enter into your shift away from reality?
This phrase is by Oscar Wilde and could be written by me. It moves me every time I read it as illusion gives me the opportunity to indulge and to travel. How I would love to meet a fairy or to be able to touch the stars. Or to spend an evening with a Geisha. My fantasies give me wonderful moments which I wouldn’t miss for the world. This power has always fascinated me. This part is the magician in me and I try to share these moments with others. The mystical aspect of life has lost its place in European culture.
While remaining connected to your distinct style, there are clear developments throughout your body of work. How do you feel your work has evolved throughout your career?
I always find it nice when people find a certain style – it is basically a summary of my taste. I simply see my fantasies in my work. My next works will become more futuristic. Ethical questions and future-oriented imagery will be part of my new works. So much about my future ; – )
Along with your photography, you create videos as well. What attracted you to the medium?
I’ve seen myself more and more as a kind of director. Someone who wants to realize ideas with other people. So video formats or films are a natural development. The advantage of a film is its musical support, which I have on my website. Music is the only art form that has the power to bring you to tears in milliseconds. Therefore this combination is incredibly fascinating. A couple of videos are to come and perhaps even a short film…
From Istanbul to LA, you have worked in many different cities. Do you have any advice for artists looking to do the same? What are some of the challenges you have overcome?
For young artists would I simply recommend looking at the map of the world and asking themselves, ‘what is my dream destination’? Just go there and start working, the rest will sort itself out. Nobody knows you, nobody is waiting for you, yet there is always an opportunity anywhere. The big challenge is always culture and language…The unpredictable is part of the whole. Improvisation is a must. And your gut tells you where your journey is going……..
Thank you very much for this much appreciated interview.