At the beginning, photography was a pastime. My father died at the age of forty, I was fourteen at the time. In the last years of his life, we often went skiing and walking around, and he used to take pictures all the time. When he died, I found his camera in a drawer, a Zeiss with fixed focal length, one of those classical film cameras where you could only set up the kind of lighting, and I started to take photographs. At the time, there were small charts with reference periods and apertures, you looked at the chart and thought, today the sun is shining, so 125 and 8. Film speed was measured in DIN, not in ASA. I used to take photographs of my friends. I used to travel a lot at the time, walking around and photographing details of Amsterdam, groups of people smoking joints, stories of Reggio. Then I started working as a house painter and I did it for fourteen years. I worked for others at the beginning, then I started up my own business, but I never gave up my passion for photography. I used to bring my films to develop to a photographer’s shop and he noticed that I had a keen eye, so we became friends and whenever he was very busy he would ask me, would you go and take four or five pictures of this christening? You have to stand there by the column which is the best spot. He would give me a camera and send me to take pictures at christenings and holy communions. I simply pressed the button, the camera was already set up, I only had to frame.
This is how I started, at the age of twenty. I was still working as a house painter, but one day I had enough of it. I have always been an unsettled person, unable to do the same thing for too long: I grow restless, I need to do something and to change, I need to improve. So I read an advertisement PHOTOGRAPHER’S SHOP MANAGER WANTED and I made a run. It was the end of 1982, I took out a bank loan and hanged a sign outside the shop which read: WEDDING PICTURES, INDUSTRIAL, STILL LIFE... and passers-by used to think I was a phenomenon, even if the truth was I still wasn’t able to do anything. My first commission was a black and white catalogue for Confesercenti. I had to leave the shop after one year because of the debts, I went bankrupt and had to sell away my equipment, but I had a friend who was a photographer and used to lend me his own if necessary. I had two jobs for two years: I worked as a house painter on the weekends and every evening, and I spent the rest of the time, when opportunity arose, working as a photographer until I paid my debts. Then I started working, I took advertising and industrial still life pictures, company pictures. I didn’t have a studio because I didn’t want to pay for it, I couldn’t afford it, so I started to collaborate with some advertising agencies. For many years I took photographs of faxes, the first mobile phones, heaters... not for the beautiful catalogues whose photographs were taken in Milan, but for the accompanying pictures. I worked at fairs, took photographs of pigs, of slaughterhouses. At five o’clock in the morning I had to go to the slaughterhouses and take pictures of the slaughters, I took countless of them, I witnessed things that were not pretty at all. Then in 1985/86 I started working for a modern art gallery owner. I had done reproductions before, my father used to paint and so did a few of his friends, and I liked to photograph paintings, reproductions.
I believe all the most important things happen by chance, when a series of events comes together, there is always something happening. This is what happened to me. In Reggio there were a few of the best restorers in Italy, and they had never answered the applications I had sent by post, then one day when I had nothing to do I called the restorers and accidentally their photographer had left for a religious retreat and they needed to take black and white 13x18 pictures of two or three paintings. I had never developed a 13x18 picture in my life, but I went to the shop and asked for some information, then I went back home and spent all night developing the photographs. The day after I ended up with some rubbish work, but they trusted me, in part thanks to Stanislao Farri, a great photographer of Reggio Emilia, who is quite old today, whom I had met in the meantime. I had called him and said, Farri, I would like to meet you. And he answered, vin chè*. He knew the restorers because he had worked with them, so he called them and said, if you take him in, he will become better than the other one. So I did some rubbish work for a few months, but I worked hard to try and learn and get better and little by little within a few months I started to handle that kind of work. I would go visit Farri to show him my pictures and he would tell me, They suck. Can’t you see that they suck? To this day Farri says that I have been his only pupil. After joining this workshop, I spread like wildfire thanks to their contacts. Digital cameras still didn’t exist, we used to work with flat films. I started working for many important clients, even outside the region, and started to make investments, to buy the equipment I needed or to build it with the help of a blacksmith or other artisans. For many years I took out a mortgage after another. I had paid off all the loans when digitalization came and it took me two years to understand something of it.
This is not about taking simple pictures to post on facebook, I have to reproduce paintings and sculptures. Digitalization has butchered the photographer’s profession. If our profession was very selective and professionalism respected before, digitalization has brought about the idea that everything is quite simple, although thanks to digitalization and the diffusion of photography today, much more people are aware of the difference between a photograph taken with an iphone and one taken with a professional camera and technique. A photographer is not just somebody who shoots, he needs some expertise, he needs to be able to improvise in difficult situations, his experience and technique lead him to solve problems and to be able to take pictures even in almost impossible situations. And the familiarity with the profession leads you to acquire a perspective of your own, your own style. With a digital camera you can take incredible pictures, in the Sistine Chapel for example, where I have taken pictures recently, I did a gigapixel, which means that I took a 1:1 ratio still, taking a lot of pictures with the same real ratio that I composed afterwards using softwares, until I created a big, not resampled wall, whose size was not enlarged but real. A huge work.
Sculpture is my favourite subject of all. People talk, move and – worst thing of all – are alive. People who ask you for a portrait already have a high self-esteem, a particular self-perception and can’t see whether the photographer has interpreted them well, and I am fed up with dealing with people who say, I look bad. If I see you, I interpret you and portray you, and maybe I want to photograph you with a hard light, why do you need to tell me, I have a wrinkle here and a wrinkle there… a portrait is something delicate. I need to take my time, to create a small set with particular conditions, and people are not patient enough to wait. I think that everybody has to do what they do best to keep the quality high, and fashion is not my world, I don’t like it. I love sculpture, I love to work at night, in silence, slowly. Sculptures are motionless, they don’t talk. I love to take pictures. My photographs are art reproductions. carlovannini.it
I also believe that nothing happens by chance. One day I went to visit a friend of mine and saw some pictures on the walls of her shop. I asked her who had taken them and she gave me a few books. Photographs of sculptures and objects or very special lifeless animals. A strange light wrapped them up and whispered. Lately, when I had the idea for the Bizzarro Bazar series with Ivan Cenzi, I immediately knew who should be in charge of the pictures. Who else could have fully captured and conveyed the beauty and the atmosphere of the Morgagni collection? Reading again the chat with Carlo makes me better understand that light after two years. The launch of HIS ANATOMICAL MAJESTY, Museo Morgagni di Padova will take place on Tuesday, november 22 at 5.30 p.m. at the Morgagni amphitheatre (Cagnetto room) of the Anatomical Pathological Institute in via Aristide Gabelli 61, Padova. Carlo Vannini and Ivan Cenzi of Bizzarro Bazar will be present, along with Prof. Gaetano Thiene, Prof. Maurizio Rippa Donati, Dr. Alberto Zanatta, and Dr. Fabio Zampieri of the Institute who have kindly collaborated with #logosedizioni at the production of this awaited volume. For more information, please follow the events on our #ILLUSTRATI facebook page or on the Bizzarro Bazar facebook page.
* come here in the Reggio Emilia dialect