All the world's a stage, is an excerpt from Shakespeare's play, “As You Like It”. These are the words that precisely define Secchia’s work. Not unlike Shakespeare's, the acts of Fabio's plays are filled with whimsy, with illusion, with serendipitous moments... with delightful unscripted slices of life. Insatiable curiosity create his allegories. Masterful use of shadow and light invent each stage. Welcome then... to the mystery, the duality, and the ambiguity that are Fabio’s Milan.
My work focuses on street photography. The streets are those of Milan, the city where I was born, I live and where I work. I started with photography a few years ago. I’ve had no formal training but I always nurtured a passion for art history and visual arts in general. Not being able to devote all the necessary time to this passion, it was almost mandatory to start shooting during my walks in the street. I am affected by a bit of insatiable curiosity. I love capturing odd, serendipitous, truly un-staged slices of life. I am just an observer poking around at stuff. Being partially color blind, I have fallen in love with black and white photography."Fabio Secchia
Kujaja: Describe your photographic style. How did you develop your style?
FS: A bit of healthy curiosity for everything that surrounds me and the will to view my city from a personal perspective did the rest. Concerning my style, I tend to have an observer’s vision that leads to a photographic view "from the outside" without the need to be "inside" the scene. Ultimately, through my photography, I would like to represent, in a non-obvious way, small fragments of ordinary daily life.
Kujaja: Which photographers have influenced your photography?
FS: The list would be endless. But I like to mention at least three great photographers that I have had the pleasure to meet in person: Silvia Camporesi, Jessica Backhaus, Joel Meyerowitz.
Kujaja: Do you think a photographer must have ‘natural talent’ to become a great photographer?
FS: I don't know. But I know that all the great photographers that I've got to know have complex personalities, great cultural preparation and interdisciplinary interests.
Kujaja: How important is content versus form in street photography? Do you think for you one plays a stronger role than the other?
FS: All the projects of the great street photographers have the characteristic of containing parts perfectly balanced between form and content. I believe achieving this is extremely difficult.
Kujaja: You shoot almost exclusively in mono. However, recently, you’ve added color. Talk about your preference for mono street photography and the recent change?
FS: The decision to shoot in black and white is dictated by the need to be able to properly handle the inherent complexity of street photography. Pre-visualizing the result of a shot is much easier when you "look” excluding colors. This allows me to pay more attention to the composition and storytelling aspects. However, as you have noticed, I recently started to measure myself with the color. Observing my color work you'll see that I deliberately choose to simplify the image using strong light contrasts, deep blacks while limiting the color palette.
Kujaja: In many of your portraits, your subjects are shot from behind or walking away. Why this preference?
FS: I’d like to state that I am not a portrait photographer. I’m much more interested in the narrative aspects related to the urban context and the characters that populate it. Within my work I try to take advantage of the presence of unwitting actors to stage small fragments of reality that, being locked into a single image, can be interpreted at will by the imagination of the observer. The presence of human figures is therefore important, but not central to my images. For this reason, the characters that populate my shots are almost always seen from the outside, their faces are hidden by shadows or they are captured from behind. In this way they represent more "a presence" than an "individual".
Kujaja: Geometry is a strong component in your work. Is this a conscious choice or part of the natural process?
FS: Whenever I’m able to, I try to use the geometry of the forms that surround us to increase the tension of an image. So I would say that the choice is conscious. I believe that this kind of inclination to be attracted to geometry and perspective is connected unconsciously to my passion for the visual arts.
Kujaja: Your work also often includes illusion. Do you think it translates easily to your viewers?
FS: I hope so, although I suspect that is not so simple for those who look at my work to identify the visual illusions present sometimes in my frames. One of the most fascinating and funny aspects of street photography is to be able to play freely with the false impression of reality, with what Richard Kalvar once called "the ambiguity of appearance".
Kujaja: You have a photo project you call, ‘Mr. Parkinson’. Tells us a little about the project and the technical aspects of it?
FS: Mr. Parkinson is a little project that I started a few years ago. I wanted to create a collection of classic postcards of the most famous and representative places of my city (Milan) using the technique of quickly move the camera body during the shooting to see if these were still easily recognizable. Having then no knowledge of ND filters and having to work with slow shutter speeds to produce the results that I had in my mind, I found myself with overexposed shots. The choice of processing them in black and white and increasing the contrast to correct for overexposure, has produced a somewhat graphic result which I think is very unique.
Kujaja: You seem to have a strong preference for street shots that include shadows. What do you want this style to convey to your viewers?
FS: I'm totally fascinated with shadows for several reasons. The shadows seduce and threaten; they are mystery and duality. Shadows remain stubbornly stuck to the body and it’s a metaphor of our imperfect doubling, slipping to the ground on the opposite side of the sun. I use shadow and contrast as a way to subtract information. The more I immerse myself in the maze of photography, the more I sense a game of subtraction. I am interested in reducing things to their characteristic and distinctive shape.
Kujaja: The chiaroscuro effect can often be found in your work. Because you avoid post processing as much as possible, what are the camera settings that you use to produce this look?
FS: There are at least a couple of camera features that are useful to obtain decent chiaroscuro without too much post processing work. The first one is using the spot metering, locking the exposure values read from the area of greatest light. The second is under exposing at least half a stop. Besides this, I close the shades completely in post-production.
Kujaja: Do you think gear really matters when trying to make award winning pictures?
FS: No, but it is important to choose the most appropriate gear that best fits your way of doing street photography. In my case, it took me three years of "testing" to get to my ideal camera, which is a small camera with a fixed 35mm lens.
Kujaja: What do you think are some clichés in street photography you steer away from yourself?
FS: Life is a melting pot of clichés and street photography is a panoramic view of these. Even if the subject itself is a common cliché, I hope to photograph it in a unique and original way. Most of the times I failed but the trying to is funny.
Kujaja: What are your photography weaknesses?
FS: I still find particularly difficult dealing with color. Making excellent color street photographs is a true art that requires experience and skills that I do not have. I tend also to take 99% of the images horizontally, perhaps because of my penchant for allegory or narration. I'd like to improve my ability to see well in vertical. Most important, I struggle with focusing on photo projects and not just single shots.
Kujaja: Who or what inspires you other than photographers?
FS: I’m sure that photographs tell a lot about a photographer’s personality. In this sense, and in no particular order, my continuous sources of inspirations are: all my reading, my favorite painters, master photographers and the music that accompanies my days.
Kujaja: And, finally, what is your opinion regarding film vs. digital photography?
FS: Digital has made the world of photography much more "democratic". The quality of the images produced by non-professionals is there to witness it. Many of the photographs (and particularly those in black and white) that can be admired on Kujaja would be virtually impossible through a traditional process without skills of the highest level in development and printing. By contrast, in my opinion, photography is truly such only when it is printed. It is important to give a concrete, tactile form to what, on the contrary, is likely to remain an evanescent sequence of bits.
Kujaja: Thank you for this interview Fabio.