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Shifting away from the – at times – frustration of painting, Stefano Marchionini delved into the world of photography, finding solace in his ability to experiment more freely and more ‘instantly’ with the photographic image. Stefano talked with us about how he builds narratives around his photographic series; the way in which he translates more intimate, personal, starting points into universal and often ambiguous images; the non-religious presence of religious imagery; and how composition affected the structure of his projects Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea and, most recently, Regrets.
For those who might not be completely familiar with your work, could you tell us a few words about yourself?
I was born in Italy and I've been living in France since 2008. As an artist, I work mainly with photography. I am fascinated by the idea of awakening other people's perspectives on common and universal experiences through the photographic image. Whether they derive from an autobiographical, factual or fictional context, the images that form the narratives around which my photographic series are built are open to every possible interpretation.
When and how did you first start getting interested in photography?
I got interested when I met Vivien, my partner (also a photographer), who was then doing photography as a passion and hobby. At the beginning of our relationship, I found myself attracted to the photographic image much more than I've ever felt before. At that time, I guess it was a matter of falling in love both with him and with photography.
Your first degree was in painting. Why did you decide to shift to photography after? How do you find the two disciplines differ in expression?
I was constantly frustrated with painting, not getting the results I wished after many years. Seeing photography as an artistic medium wasn't that obvious to me when I was younger: although I evidently considered photography as an art form it just didn't click in my brain as something I could work with. Getting to actually experiment with it gave me a form of instant gratification that I desperately needed. In a way, it was a breakthrough and I quickly became passionate about it.
In my personal experience, the amount of work and the kind of dedication necessary to do photography and painting is just not comparable. Even if I spend a lot of time creating a photographic image, considering all the process from shooting to getting print-ready, I still feel like photography has a way to work for itself and getting most of it done only thanks to its intrinsic technicality. Painting is much more of a labour of passion and extreme concentration, at least that's how I've always seen it and why I find it infuriating, in a sense.

You like to combine personal, autobiographical images with more universal, ambiguous images. Why did you choose this approach? What does it mean for your storytelling process?
I often think of it as a limit but I simply cannot do otherwise, everything must start from a personal and intimate place for me to be able to work. At its core the work contains parts of me, whether it's my point of view on something or a feeling, a story I create or one I decide to tell. Being somehow unconcerned of the truthfulness of the photographic image, I think my aim has always been to translate those personal experiences and the photographs that depict them into ambiguous and unrestricted narratives, which I find more relatable and less confrontational.
Some of the pictures in your series are quite surreal, especially those in Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, featuring red-tinted pictures of people with their faces blotted out and a street with a dark blue road in the middle. What was your process for Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea to convey this feeling of suspended reality? How do you show “reality and fiction” in your photography in general?
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is kind of a short story series of photographs devoid of an ending where all of the elements that form the narrative are blurred, both literally and metaphorically. Formally, the starting point was the idea of being able to tell a story, to establish a new and self-sufficient one while dissimulating the original. Through pretended facsimiles, unverified exhibits, symbols and un-sourced archive material I wanted to give an illusion of biographical information, separating myself from the need to show something that exists. The initial facts are very real but, as no explanation is given, the photographs don't act as a collection of data but more as a recollection.
In your most recent photo project Regrets, you say you want to create an “open space” between the images you capture and the meaning they might convey. How do you try and create this feeling through the composition of your shots? Is the combination of portraits and landscapes, as well as the way each picture is positioned in a series, structured to better facilitate this open space?
I think that as the series itself deals with the ramifications of a somewhat distinctive feeling more than anything else, the photographs must have an openness to them. The notion of “regret” can be as personal or universal just like anything else, I felt no need to exclusively explore my subjectivity but I wanted to relate it to the outside, to unknown landscapes while still punctuate the narrative with an intimate imagery composed of objects and portraits. These subjects and their repetitions throughout the series act like landmarks and I consider their juxtaposition as a way to reconnect what is spatially and chronologically separated.

This photography series, you mentioned, is a way to “express part of [your] subconscious”. Does this collection of images feel more personal to you than the other ones you have curated throughout the years?
I see them as a natural evolution from my previous autobiographical and fictional work. Everything happens in an organic way so I really didn't plan this shift into a more free approach to the construction of a coherent photographic work. I think that these images are as personal as all the others. In a way there is always a correspondence to a particular time in my life, and to what I consciously or unconsciously put into them, whether it is a desire to tell a story or to express things that I feel the need to let rise to the surface to then deal with.
There is a recurrence of religious imagery throughout your photography. Could you tell us why?
Although I don't come from an inherently religious background I'm very accustomed to religious imagery, it's just part of my culture: religious art and architecture are unquestionably a big part of the foundation of my visual history. I don't necessarily value them the same way a believer would do, in fact I relate to them for what they objectively represent more than for what they mean.
In my work there is a certain fluidity of meaning that I want to obtain, for example when I associate this religious imagery with the natural world or with the banal, I feel that they often have the power to amplify something within the other images and, vice-versa, more trivial images can soften what could be seen as assertively sacred.
What was the end point for Regrets?
The series is done, I stopped taking photographs for it when I left Arles in 2017. Regrets is not geographically exclusive to that place but it is temporally related to the three years I had lived there. I still have to finalize a bunch of photos from the last few shootings but the way I intend to complete the work is to do a book. I've always believed that one day Regrets would become a book. I am currently working on the layout and the sequencing, because of the substantial number of photographs I want to take all the time I need to build it in the most coherent way. Not having a publisher for now and not planning on doing a self-published edition, I am only giving closure to the series in a form that is first and foremost fair to the work itself.

Sophia Archontis
Vivien Ayroles

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