Falling in public is embarrassing, but it can also be inspirational. That’s the case of Sandro Giordano, who were to become an actor but has finally made it as a photographer. After suffering an accident when riding a bike in Barcelona, he needed to exorcise the trauma. And photography helped him do it. Now, five years later after the event, he’s still working on the ongoing project In Extremis, where he masterfully recreates falls of everyday people (in the cinema, in a hospital or at the hairdresser), with tons of wit, humour and irony. We talk with him about art as a therapy, copycats on Instagram, and his favourite fall.
You studied set design in Rome, and after graduating, you started your studies as an actor. How did you end up in photography?
My adventure with photography began five years ago with the project In Extremis. Before that, I would have never imagined becoming a photographer. I started a bit for fun but now it’s my main job. Life is really surprising. Evidently, it was written in my destiny, nothing happens by chance.
You started In Extremis (Bodies with No Regret), in 2013, when you suffered an accident with your bike. After that, you started recreating the scene and, suddenly, you realized that you needed to develop it further. Why did you want to portray people that way?
That year, I was going through the darkest moment of my life and that accident was a clear sign of how I was falling down. Slowly, I felt the desire to tell that specific moment, the crash, to exorcise my inner falls. Each picture tells a story, and that story could concern any of us. I analyse myself through them and this helps me to not repeat the mistakes I made in the past. In Extremis is absolutely therapeutic for me.
Seeing your pictures, I assume that you love portraying accidents and what we would consider dramatic/tragic situations in an ironic, humorous way. Because that’s kind of what you show us. You were just telling me now about it, but you also posted a photo on Instagram a few days ago explaining the story of the project, saying that you started it as a way to exorcise the accident. But now that it’s been five years since you started it, do you have any other goal? To warn people? Or to make them laugh?
In Extremis, in addition to being therapeutic, has become like a drug; I can no longer live without it. If I don’t take pictures, after a while, I go into abstinence – just like some drugs do. But unlike them, which cause a temporary, toxic and distorted pleasure, my project fills me with happiness never felt before in my life. I think that the great success of In Extremis is due to the fact that ordinary people are reflected in these photos, which I imbue with a great dose of irony. There is nothing worse than being serious.
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You portray shameless people in any daily situation. So you are showing that anybody could fall anytime doing the most absurd thing. What is a fall for you?
Just two questions ago, I mentioned the ‘inner falls’. I believe that bumping into things, sliding on the ground or accidentally falling from a ladder are all consequences of an inner discomfort that we are underestimating. Often, we don’t have the ability to understand that something inside of us is not going the right way, but the body speaks to us, sends us clear signals that we should learn to understand. As I said, nothing happens by chance.
All your pictures are faceless, meaning that we’ve never seen a model’s face – you like to keep them anonymous. That way, do you think people can see themselves reflected in your work or can relate more to it on a personal level?
Exactly what you said. Hiding their faces means allowing people to identify themselves with my characters. If we saw their faces, this would immediately take us away from them. We would laugh at them with due detachment, without experiencing real empathy. But anyway, I think seeing someone crashing in their faces is the most exhilarating thing in the world. Just think of Charlie Chaplin’s and Laurel & Hardy’s films.
You take care of every single detail in each shoot: the mess, damage and dirt of the location, models, etc. Guide us through your creative process, from the first idea and sketches to preparing the whole set for the final picture.
I don’t follow a specific method, the creative process changes from time to time. I can tell you how I made the last six photos of the series. I came back just last night from a long shoot that lasted four days in a beautiful farmhouse in Arezzo, in Tuscany. I went there at the beginning of September just to make an inspection. I took pictures in the spaces that seemed more interesting but without having a clear idea of ​​what I wanted to do. Then, looking at them on my computer, the stories I wanted to tell were born. Usually, I look for the right location for the idea I have in mind, but in this case, it was the location that inspired me.
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So, how did it go this last time?
I started building the set, imagining the position of the models, how they would be dressed, and what were the props I had to find to tell their stories. When everything was clear in my mind, I started to make a detailed storyboard on my notebook. Later, I started looking for everything I needed for the photos: I rented and bought clothes, wigs and objects. I organized the trip and called the assistants and models. We left Rome and we closed ourselves in that beautiful place for four unforgettable days. I also called a director to make three backstages of the six pictures I took. We made two photos a day, running from one space to another on the farm. And they are all beautiful!
What’s the most difficult part of this process?
The most complicated step is to turn what I have in my mind into something material, concrete. I imagine things that are sometimes difficult to achieve in reality. Regarding this last shooting, for example, in one photo, the main character was hit by a massive painting suddenly detached from the wall. We found the greatest difficulty in making the impact credible. For a moment, I thought we would not make it, but thanks to the physical tolerance of Gabriele Guerra, the model, we managed to complete the job. I am very lucky to have people around me who believe so deeply in my work.
What was your favourite scene to recreate so far?
It’s really hard to answer this question, every scene is always a wonderful experience. Perhaps, the one that I remember with more enthusiasm is the construction of the set of Un giorno qualunque – my favourite one by the way. In that photo, the main character, a wife exhausted by the constant betrayals of her husband or tired of being just the lover of a married man (I let the audience choose), decides to kill him by chopping him with a saw and eating some parts of his body – I believe that cannibalism is the most extreme act of love that one can imagine.
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What was the hardest part of this specific photo?
The most important challenge, and at the same time most exciting, was to recreate the body parts so that they turned out to be revolting and sickening in the eyes of those who looked at them. We spent hours to set the scene, but I am extremely happy with the final result.
Also, could you tell me any fun fact or anecdote you remember from a shooting?
This question is difficult to answer as well because something funny happens every time. But to make Pronto intervento buonasera, for example, I needed a hospital – but it wasn’t easy to have access to it. Thanks to a friend who is a nurse and let us in secretly, we managed to achieve it. I remember she put me and my assistant in a very small medical room. She locked the door (nobody could know we were there), and we had very little time to take the picture. 
It would have been so risky; how did it end up?
About twenty minutes later, we heard someone unlock the door from behind; that was the signal to go out and leave. Quickly, we gathered our things and left the room, but in that moment, two watchmen passed by. I pretended to limp and my assistant helped me to walk like I was a real patient. We walked slowly to make the scene as believable as possible, but we couldn’t stop laughing. Fortunately, no one has discovered us.
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As I’ve seen on Instagram, you work with several models regularly – at least, they’re tagged in most of the pictures. Despite each photo tells a story, is there any connection between them? Or do you feel they relate to one another somehow?
Having been an actor for twenty years, I almost always work with my former colleagues. We are a large group of people and I call them cyclically to get them involved in the project. Working with actors makes things easier: they know how to handle their body and this helps me to make photos where their limbs seem decomposed and their necks broken.
Would you say ghoulish fascination plays an important role in your work?
If it were for me, I would always take pictures like Un giorno qualunque. I'm a nerd of horror movies and this inevitably affects my photos. I've been thinking for some time now to dedicate one picture to my favourite TV series, Dexter – of course. In any case, I believe that this macabre appearance gives a touch of extra charm to my work and satisfies the sadomasochistic side of each of us.
Obviously, your work stands out. You do something different, which people are not used to seeing. And it contains tragedy, accidents, but a lot of humour as well. What reactions do you expect or wish the audience to feel?
My project is based on a deep concept of discomfort concerning the whole world. I tell stories about characters exhausted by a weight of life that they can no longer support, obsessed with their material goods. I like to think that people can identify with my characters and their stories. Also, I thank you for what you wrote because a challenge called #fallingstars exploded on Instagram a couple of months ago, in which there are people crashing in every part of the world.
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It really does resemble your work… How do you feel about other people doing stuff like yours?
This honours me because it means that I have created a trend that many people like, but at the same time, I feel raped by this. I'm a little jealous of my work, and to see it profaned and copied without any sense, I have to admit, annoys me a little. But the thing that strikes me the most is that important newspapers such as La Repubblica, Daily Mail, New York Post and The Guardian, which in the past years have dedicated ample space to my project, talk about this ‘new trend’ without mentioning me.
I can totally understand it. On a more positive note, you like Barcelona and you lived in the city for some months, if I’m not wrong. What’s your favourite thing about it?
I lived several years in Barcelona and almost a year in Madrid as wel. I love Spain and the way its people face life. I feel at home when I am in Barcelona. I love its liveliness, its colours and its multi-ethnicity. Among other things, In Extremis (Bodies with No Regret) was born right there in October 2013. The first official photo I shot was in the balcony of my flat in Joaquim Costa, in the Raval area, where I lived at that time.
Just to finish, what are your plans for the future? Are you planning to work on another project, maybe, or will you keep taking pictures for In Extremis?
As I told you before, I'm addicted to In Extremis. I think they must knock me down to make me stop. As long as I have stories to tell, I will go on my way. Let me tell you something: when I come home after creating a new photo, I feel butterflies in my stomach like when I'm in love. Why should I stop?

In the meantime, as difficult as it is to reconcile both things, I'm shooting a series of Italian TV documentaries called The Dark Side. During twelve episodes, I will go around Italy to explore houses and villas that seem to be populated by ultra-earthy presences. I'm a kind of ghost hunter. The series will air from mid-November.
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