I have always been attracted to what happens behind the curtain, where things come from, and “the hidden.” The camera is a tool for me to explore my curiosities, myths, childhood desires, and wishes. It can be a complicated visual process or something as seemingly-simple, as making portraits.
These are photographs of Florentine artisans. Not the typical inner-city artisans that are sought by tourists, driven by the Siren Song of the Instagram feed. Those artisans work in shops in small side streets that tourists safari into, hoping to catch a glimpse of “real” artisans working at their craft. Those interactions change the relationship between artisan and art, and between craft and consumer.
The artisans in these images aren’t working in the city center. They are found somewhere just outside the center. In this sense they are pure, untouched by the desire that someone will walk in and discover them. This is no back-lot film set designed to create the illusion of authenticity. Pampaloni and the workers are authentic. They are the real deal. They work in precious metal, create works of subtle beauty from a process that is anything but delicate. Fire, machining, ancient, roughly-hewn techniques bring about objects of refined and polished loveliness. The portraits are of the men who combine both labor and aesthetic, every day.
From pre-production to the final product of silver objects, silverware, goblets, candelabras, to awards/trophies made for the Oscars, there is always a touch, or better, a sense of whimsey or jest in their work. Even in the operation of their restaurant (yes, they also run a fine-dining restaurant at the same location), there is that game-play of Pampaloni art.
My approach to making these images was to be as formal as possible reverting back to images made by August Sandler in his portfolio, People of the 20th Century, but without claiming to represent “photographic neutrality,” which, as Susan Sontag rightly indicated, is pseudoscientific at best. Instead, I wanted to ensure that the point of view of the subject was communicated as clearly as possible, through Sandler’s idea of “exact photography” without retouching or any other manipulations of the images so that the viewer could ‘read’ the portraits as easily as possible. In so doing, I decided to make these images using positive film and a large format camera. The process took me personally back to when an image was made at the moment the shutter was released. E6 film doesn’t allow for any mistakes in exposure, and the large format camera does not allow an image to be made using methods of last-minute improvisation. There is no post-processing. Everything is done with intent as the shutter is pressed.
David Andrè Weiss