Italian photographer Simone is a reflective young artist who attempts to use his lens to capture and share the truth, as he sees it. Read on for an engaging interview where we discuss what his artwork means to him, and how his new series ‘Masks’ acts as a metaphor for human interaction and the struggle to achieve equilibrium within ourselves.
Maybe you could start off just by giving us a few words about who you are?
I’m not so good at introducing myself. My name is Simone, I come from Italy, and I studied anthropology. I am a curious person, active in a lot of ways. For the past three years I’ve been in Berlin and I have just been accepted into photography school here, and I’m excited to see how that develops in terms of inspiration, connection and a new network. I am looking forward to seeing what it is like to be guided.
When did you first start photography?
During an Erasmus exchange in 2009, with an analog camera from my father. In the beginning I wanted to really understand how photography worked—timing, angles, and things like this. But then I started to find that there was something more that I wanted to express. Usually I wrote, but with the camera it was like I could capture the first layer of something, even before words.
I use photography to explain myself somehow. It’s all related—I never take the camera and go out [shooting]. I don’t find inspiration like this. Basically, I just observe until I start to feel that something has happened, something is going on around me. Afterwards I use my camera and try to analyze what has occured. I try to grab the moment and record it. Eventually I pair this with words.
Do you feel yourself drawn to certain elements in photography?
I love very much the interaction between human and structure. The two are not divisible, they are our reproductions. So definitely I am interested in aspects of human interaction, if we are talking about shape or behaviour. But all of this is also visible in a structure like a building, or even society in general. In our constructions. The connection between these elements is what interests me.
So when you see some interaction and you go to reproduce it through photography, do you have a vision in your head of what you want to capture? Or is it more a feeling you are trying to discover, and so you form a scene to foster this emotion in the viewer?
This is a big topic for me, and maybe what I am searching for. Regarding Masks—I am searching for the truth. This might seem silly, but I have this as a kind of focus in my head. For example, I notice it every time I see someone, or speak with someone who I don’t know. We start to like people because we design an idea of them. Where is the point where we really know someone? You can’t say you know someone; you apply features to them, as you think they are, but in a way this says more about you than it does about them. I think we are trying desperately to find ourselves in other people.
I would say I am seeking this super structure. Is the world as I imagine, or is there some sort of higher design. This is the real ‘truth’ for me. Photography is my religion, in a way. I am not religious in the usual sense, I don’t think God has a white beard. These are symbols. But there is a way to do art [photography] in that I use it as key to highlight what connects us all. In other people I see myself; this is like a little sign of God. I see this in other people, in myself, everywhere.
When I see a situation, first is my own interpretation. But then I need to recreate the scene and nobody knows the whole truth. So of course there will always be, in art, your individual interpretation. This is really important. I see sometimes where people try to explain everything with a picture or with a phrase. We have people on Instagram, influencers, flaunting their personal way as though it was the truth, and making money from this. Our society is getting very fast and everyone wants a quick answer. But [the answer] will always be coloured by interpretation. When I see a scene, I try to figure out my own reaction, in relation to my experience and culture, and then I try to reform it through my photography.
You feel this spark of truth that you want to dig deeper into, but when it comes down to actually creating an image, as you’ve gotten more experienced with a camera how have you evolved stylistically?
Photography is of course an art. You need to understand and learn a technique. I won’t say this represents everything, or is the last goal. Of course sometimes you want to represent a scene, and this is much easier if you have the technique, but it’s not everything. To me it’s very important to always express what I want to say. Some people do their work, and that’s it, it speaks for itself. For me (and maybe this will change in the future) it’s really important to explain what I want to say. And then I’m totally open to what people think about it—if you find something more or something less that’s great. If you see missed potential then that’s also helpful to me, and can allow me to adjust my technique. But that’s not everything. In the beginning it was very difficult to expose a picture to the public in the right way. And of course if you want to send a message you have to create it. And if you cannot create it, it is not there.
Can you walk us through your creative process?
I like when the subject is not aware of what is going on, or what I want to do. Of course the people I work with have fun, but I only show them the final result afterwards. Otherwise the person starts to act; it’s always a pressure to try to be someone else. I try to make it as natural as possible, and work fast. When I’m inspired I’m pretty fast.
What inspires you?
It can come from anywhere. It’s good when you take inspiration out of a lot of different things and use it to explore different parts of yourself, in different ways. Because in the end, what is the product of inspiration? We could say it’s ‘likes’ or money. Those who are successful in this way are inspiring some people for sure. But sometimes you see people suffering as they follow these lifestyle models which do not accurately represent them. They just see what they do not have. In this way, I see inspiration almost as a source of depression. But perhaps this is the difference between replicating versus using inspiration as a point of reflection. And inspiration should work to make you a better version of yourself. Should make you shine, I would say.
Specifically in ‘Masks’, you explore the duality between the faces you present to the world: real versus fake, constructed versus natural. Maybe you can tell us a bit about your personal connection to this theme of stripping back layers and authenticity?
At one point in my life, I stepped quite deep into depression and I basically couldn’t recognize myself. I don’t want to talk about this topic like what I am describing is nothing, as everyone can have this problem. But during this time I had the chance to realize that you can lose yourself, inside yourself. It was like swimming, struggling to stay on the surface. And that was kind of the beginning of this search for the truth. Where is the real Simone, where are the real people in front of me?
Even emotions somehow can seem like a fake thing, if you don’t let them unfold naturally. Because I realized that there is something so beautiful in sadness, if you see it as a way to discover another part of yourself. But everything needs to be in equilibrium, then you can deeply explore it. So I was searching for this balance—I could not just be a nice person to be liked, or a strong person, everything, even the negative, was valid. I began to wonder how many people around me were also struggling with this. And so this was how the topic began, and I think it will always be my focus. I use my photos to search for this layer of truth; even if I don’t find it, the search is enough.