Interview with Lorenzo Martelli, Juror’s Pick, 2011 Daylight/CDS Photo Awards Work-in-Process Prize

Interview with Lorenzo Martelli

Juror’s Pick (Stacey Clarkson), Daylight/CDS Photo Awards Work-in-Process Prize

“‘I am not my home,’ he kept telling me over and over, but one day he decided to let me in,’ explains Lorenzo Martelli regarding his endeavor to portray the private, melancholy world of Charlie, a disinherited Milanese count. Intimate and respectful, these thoughtful black-and-white photographs of the count in the mysterious, dark rooms he shares with multitudes of dogs and cats are a promising first chapter to a project that already has a quiet poetic strength.”—Stacey D. Clarkson

During your time with [photographer] Ernesto Bazan, you were quoted describing your opportunity, that “to simply photograph daily life gave [you] some of the most beautiful surprises.”  Did you find any “beautiful surprises” while working on Charlie?

While my experiences with Ernesto originated from being a student, this work developed within a very personal dimension.  I knew Charlie way before I started thinking of the photography project.  What a great surprise to realize that the most interesting story I could tell with my camera was already part of my life!

Paraphrasing Paracelsus, I can say that the best herbs to treat your own illnesses are those that grow in your own backyard.

About your series Does It Go Beyond?, you said, “I have no intention of repeating things that have been said by others, no matter how important the emotions and the sensations can be.” What new emotions and sensations have you tried to bring out in Charlie?

With this project I am trying to frame the fragile balance of Charlie’s condition, characterized by extreme loneliness within an urban context.

How did you meet Charlie, and how did you get inside his “fortress that [had] remained sealed for decades?”

We grew up in the same neighborhood in Milan. I always saw him by himself because he himself is a fortress. In spite of being perturbed by his messy appearance, sometimes I stopped by to pet his dogs and eventually we began talking.  I managed to “get inside his fortress” because over the long period of our acquaintance I believe I earned his trust.

In many of the photographs Charlie isn’t present. Did you find as much or more meaning in the atmosphere (apartment/animals/décor, etc.) as you did in Charlie’s physical being (attire, body language, etc.)?

Absolutely.  Home, being a person’s most intimate part, reflects precisely the spirit of the one who inhabits it.  Before allowing me to enter, Charlie invariably kept repeating that he was “not his home.”  It took me a while to understand his reserve: his own home reveals aspects of Charlie he is not willing to share. What a gift from him to let me in with a camera between the two of us.  He must have decided that I was fit to understand him.

What are you trying to communicate with the audience through Charlie’s physical interaction with his animals and surroundings?

While I believe that the accumulation of stuff in the home and the proliferation of his feline and canine community were means to overcome his lack of human affection, somebody said that photography shows, but doesn’t explain, and I agree.  My photographs show Charlie interacting with his animals and at best demonstrate only that I was there to shoot.

Do you think that Charlie’s appearance in your pictures, including the way he dresses, is symbolic of the “fragile remnant of the baronial title that would be his right?”

I find interesting those photos in which I detect a conflict between the state of decadence, for example of the apartment, and the dignity of his bearing. His present state reveals a fickle memory of his aristocratic past. But the most difficult part of a work like this is to try to avoid sharp judgments that would dim the power of the photographs.

Read more about Lorenzo Martelli’s work

CDS undergraduate student Katy Colas conducted this interview as part of the “Multimedia Documentary” class in the fall of 2011.



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