A Conversation with Photographer Maurizio Cecchini with S.T. Quarles
In this conversation at the Italian Gardens in Hyde Park, Maurizio Cecchini discusses the social constructs and stories that he reworks and reimagines in his striking depictions.
Stopping for a coffee and croissant after a walk with the two elegant Italian Greyhounds who he and his equally elegant Anglo-Italian wife indulge, Maurizio shares some of the creative intent enmeshed in his work.
In my photos I create a story but first I always create it in my mind. Now I find I need to put my thoughts behind the works into proper written words.
Many times, people will say they can catch the meaning in my photos, but they want me to give more details, and they ask could I to write down something down.
So, what I am doing now is preparing a little presentation, dividing each type of story I created like my Alice and Beauty series and I am writing down my thoughts, how I achieved that vision, but I am doing this after I have finished the shoot.
Maternity for example was the most recent shoot, where I was a little more paying attention to capturing my thoughts.
In the future I will start right away putting my thoughts into words, instead of waiting until the end, to make a journal perhaps. But I am always the same when I write, I need to write in third person, from an outside point of view so it is different from a journal.
For example when I speak and tell you face to face, I feel I am really clear on story but when I write it down it doesn’t seem so clear, probably because it’s not written well or maybe my English doesn’t help me express my self well.
There’s part of the art in that though, in the expression, and certainly you are visual and oral in your ease of explanation.
Your craft is focused on telling an existing story, for example a fairy-tale or something biblical, and changing it from what people are familiar with but all through captured image, otherwise you would have become a writer and not a photographer wouldn’t you have?
Exactly! I’m creating 2 channels; one is the fairy tales and one is social commentary.
For the fairy tales my intention is breaking the cliché and trying to imagine what the storyteller told in the past but updated with current characters.
For example, in Alice, the Queen of Hearts is a drag queen.
Why? Because in in the past you couldn’t say that, queens were part of the monarchy.
But now when you talk about a queen its might be Queen Elizabeth, but otherwise there aren’t so many royal queens around London as there are drag queens.
As for the other characters, why does Alice have to be a white girl, she could be Asian or a black girl as I have done?
My imagination lets me update these stories and break the cliché and either you like it, or you don’t like it but, in any case, after you see my art you come out with a feeling, positive or negative.
But it is impossible to leave without any feeling.
If I ask “What did you see?,” I don’t remember”, that’s not what I want.
I don’t want to have neutral, if someone talks about me negatively, it is good that they talk.
I want to achieve this, to give an emotion, to create a feeling.
And the second channel, commenting on social constructs?
The other point I follow is social commentary, for what happens now in 2020 in our life and deconstructing social constructs of the past and applying present context. For example, with my series Maternity Man and La Pieta.
The intention for Maternity Man is to show what families are, not just what the earlier mores defined them as, they are mixed race, two men or two women. In Maternity Man the point is the women is physically able to have a child, but they can be more focussed on making money then having a family. Also, the man could want to build a family but physically cannot have a child. So, my vision is if they could choose, men could leave their job, have a pregnancy and build this family while women can have the opportunity to achieve outside of the family, apart from childbearing.
I have other ideas going in this way, for example when I did my Pieta Series, I started thinking, why is Jesus a white guy to so many people? According to the story Jesus is from the Middle East, it was likely his skin was darker, so I took that darkness further.
The story for Mary was she had a baby as a virgin but imagine the same thing today. You google it and pregnancy and virginity don’t match up and someone wants you to believe it’s a miracle, but you can see that is probably B.S. So today we have perhaps fewer believers than in the past because technology puts so information at your fingertips and helps you question more. So, let’s say if Mary could have a baby as a virgin possibility open that maybe there are stories that could be told, why couldn’t she be a man. How many men adopt children? -Plenty. So why can’t Mary be a man or transgender.
At that point the vision is very strong, because you have Mary as a man, Jesus as another man- this gives a high impact for the viewers.
These depictions do stray from the stories as I know them, but I find them intriguing, beguiling even, how do others react?
I had the situation in an exhibition that someone said of La Pieta “Oh this one makes me want to throw up.” I was happy with this because this was a feeling.
You know what I told him, I said to the man “Sir I understand, but later on, maybe tomorrow, you go to the bar and you talk to your friends and you say, ‘I saw some bad art’ but at least you are talking.”
From my point of view, marketing happens when the discussion comes forward. I’m not looking to be commercial, but I want to achieve starting the conversation.
My Pieta also addresses the issue of immigration.
At my Bologna exhibition, two older Italian ladies came to me, they were schoolteachers, and it was just after the man who told me my photographs made him want to vomit. They came to me and asked “Who is the Photographer?” and I was expecting again something bad but the funny thing is they said “We want to thank you because you got exactly the point of the meaning of “Pieta” in Latin, you demonstrate acceptance of someone coming from another race.” In Italian its accogliensa, hospitality, here to the immigrant. So, they saw in my shooting this very current social moment.
The other vision I had in Pieta was questioning why Jesus had to be a man, why couldn’t he be a woman. I spoke to about 15 women but only one would agree to the shoot, and we shot the series. But later she came back and asked me to rescind her agreement to have the photos shown. Many think this version of the Pieta would be too controversial. To me it’s a statement of how deeply religious images are rooted even in someone who is not practicing religion.
So, tell me this Maurizio - part of the process of your photography is for the commercial aspect to art.
You have to protect your brand, you have to defend your art.
How do you do that?
This is something, I cannot protect it fully. When I first exposed my art in a high visibility space it was Arte Contemporanea Bologna, in February 2017. I had an exhibition with more than 4000 visitors and 2 pieces sold. Then a couple of months later, a famous Italian tire company comes out with a Calendar showing a black Alice in Wonderland. And this was all trackable on social media, many people called me who saw the exhibition. So, I talked to a lawyer and he says, “well what are you going to do, first you see the Disney Story and you tell it in your own way, then they see your story and they repeat it in their way.” Their shooting was simply amazing though-they had a large budget, but they were saying the story in exactly the way I had told it.
On one hand that is an example of how the oral tradition of storytelling progresses, without copyright protection but here it with images in a visual way.
For me, I can tell you, they gave me a boost because probably my vision of the art can be used for marketing so perhaps, I can sell myself to companies that are making a campaign that I can help work with. For example, one family saw my art and asked me to shoot a family portrait for them in a similar style. So, I don’t know at the moment that I can protect my art, but I can protect my style, how I am shooting.
With the type of light I shoot with, I see myself as following Caravaggio with high light in one place surrounded by dark. I like Caravaggio’s lighting, there is a lot of shadow but the colour is emphasized. And I work hard to achieve this light in my work. In black and white photography contrast is accentuated easily but I want to stay with colour and have this depth of contrast with all the high exciting levels of the colours. Additionally, I am very fussy with my shooting, to portray what was present during the shooting with very little post-production. The only thing I do in post-production is I bring my colour to the level that will catch your eye, that will grab your attention without taking it into the comical. This is my style and I want to keep this in my production.
Let me ask you one last thing before I head off. You are in a consulting job for your supporting income, your photography is your passion, what do you want to achieve as you look to spend more time pursuing your passion and building a path to help it support you?
I do take commercial photography engagements that allow me to bring my creativity to the shoot. I enjoy portraits, because I want to capture that moment as a good moment worthy of memory, worthy of holding a good feeling, which is different from my creative work where I want feeling whether it is good or bad.
Sometimes creativity can scare people because your vision is too far distant from what they can see, and that is something that when I can leave my consulting job and can focus more on my art I want to expand and share.
One day I would like to have a map with pins that show where my art is and who has it both the commercial works I do and the more creative images. I’d like to see that it is enjoyed in many places across the world.