Federico Imperiale – I was rapidly seduced by photography

Federico’s works have been published in our Street Photography 2021 book.

by Lina Elle Sea

The original language of this article is English. If you read it in another language, it means it is an automatic translation.

BAV Street Photography 2021

How did you select the photographs for Bruxelles Art View?

The photographs I submitted are part of my ongoing body of work Subveil, started in 2017, where I portray the Los Angeles subway as a surreal underworld to reveal latent visual facets of an everyday urban experience.

I selected the three images I consider more representative of the focal themes of the project. The man on the escalator embodies the shifting in identity between individual and character: due to the strong shadow completely hiding the lineament of his face, he loses his identity and becomes an expression of the underworld.

The photograph of the man and the hat manifests the revelatory mechanism I pursued: the position of the hat on the suitcase’s handle, which visually overlaps on the man’s head where the hat is normally supposed to be, makes this image a symbol of the ambiguity I strive to capture.

The girl in the wagon is completely unified with the environment: she has lost her individuality and is transfigured in an urban version of the Black Madonna, a religious icon. I decided to shoot on pushed high-iso color film because the organic feeling and the enhanced grain texture strengthened the complementary relationship between direct and mediated vision. I often exploit visible grain or noise, highlighting the minimum physical units of the photographic image to pursue an intentional unveiling and visual embodiment of its artifactual illusory nature.

Can you tell us about your background and how you got into photography?

My interest in photography developed in parallel with my interest in cinema. I have been a musician since I was young and in 2009 I began a Bachelor in cinema to become a music composer for film.

During those years I was rapidly seduced by photography as an extraordinary expressive form which encounters less barriers than the verbal language while embodying a fundamental component of ambiguity, two characteristics that I previously came across in composing music.

I felt intrigued to dive deeper into it theoretically and practically. The crucial encounter happened in 2013 when I met renowned photographer Giovanni Chiaramonte as my professor during a Master in Cinema at IULM University in Milan. I had the privilege of getting enlightened by him on the life-long adventure of being a photographer. Photography inexorably became the connective tool between the outworld and my mind: a means of manifesting ideas and perception.

Federico Imperiale

I saw your work for Loulou, how did you get involved with the project? Can you tell us about the specificities of working as a unit still?

I got hired by both the producer and the director, after working with them in some of their previous projects and positively impressing them with my movie stills ability.

Motion picture stills is a peculiar field of photography: it requires a specific set of hard and soft skills related to properly working on a cinematographic set while also possessing knowledge and abilities typically related to other genres of commercial photography, such as sport, portrait and event photography. The most successful stills are always the ones capturing the essence of the movie in a single frame, beyond their technical or compositional complexity. In this role, I instantly found the perfect fit for my mindset: it brings together my predilection for subjects not posing for my camera with the necessity of producing intriguing narrative images. The possibility of capturing manifestations of a fictional world excellently marries with my personal inclination to a revelatory photography. I live the set similarly to the method acting approach: I get completely immersed in the universe of the movie and become a sort of ghost observing the characters rather than the actors. That puts me in a position more similar to a street photographer, even if movie stills are essentially publicity and marketing tools for the production company.

Your portraits often have an eerie feel to them, either because faces are somewhat hidden, or because you’re playing with lights and contrasts. Is the search for people’s identity or true self something you’re pursuing through your photography?

My work is centered on researching the interrelations between perceived and represented reality and my approach is based on the themes and perspective of conceptual and street photography. I want to portray spontaneous moments of Beauty together with the unconscious aspects of vision that emerge in the mind when experiencing it.

More than the true individual’s identity, I look for representing the subjective hidden aspects of experience, particularly focusing on exploring the interpretative processes of the beholder. The eeriness visually connects to the oniric aspect of experiencing the Real, evoking the inexorable mysterious essence of being which lays behind the conceptualization of the conscious mind and make the hermeneutical process necessary.

Can you tell us about an unexpected moment while street shooting?

More than a specific moment, I would like to underline a tendency I noticed in the past five years.

The main difficulty of shooting in the street is to capture the spontaneity of an event; in the past many people felt uncomfortable in being in the presence of a photographer, often freezing or walking away as soon as the photographer was spotted.

In recent years I have noticed instead that many people react to my presence by striking their best pose while faking to not noticing you. It might be a consequence of the new social perception of photography with the total preponderance of social media: they think they could become famous by being immortalized in a photo. While it makes it easier to shoot from a quantity point of view, it removes all the spontaneity and authenticity which are vital to the quality of great street photographs. I find myself more and more taking my best shots from far away or from a moving car.

I saw the striking images you took during the Los Feliz flea or the photos for Reckless Magazine. How do you choose events you attend or moments you want to be part of for your photography?

I got hired by the Los Feliz Flea market to cover their weekly event for a couple months in the summer of 2021. It was an interesting experience as, by being an open environment event, it was more similar to a street portrait job than a classic event coverage.

The photograph selected for Reckless Magazine’s show about the underground musical scene was taken at an hip hop concert I attended in 2017 in Burbank, California.

I often have a camera with me when going out and the rapper’s performance was so vivid I decided to take a few shots of him and his crew.

Lastly, what are some of your upcoming projects?

I definitely want to continue working as a unit still photographer; it is a stimulating and rewarding profession and I always enjoy the thrill of being on a movie set.

During the next year, I also plan to expand and conclude Subveil. I purchased one of the last batch of Fuji Superia 1600 for it, since this film is now out of production and I noticed through testing that pushing an 800 ISO film that far doesn’t give me satisfactory results in terms of consistency. The new photographs will be aimed to amplify the surreal aesthetic of the body of work, strengthening the pervasive and reflective experience for the viewers. The plan is to bring the body of work to a total of 36 images; this would make the project open to being published as a book while exhibiting in galleries.

For the exhibitions, I want to produce a limited version of metal-prints: the metallic surface will create a physical connection between the exhibition space and the subway environment the photographs refer to.

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