The first thing that catches your eye is the colours, an explosion of vibrant hues finely juxtaposed to strike the viewer without creating any discomfort, only surprise – is the world really that vivid? For Italian photographer Arianna Lago there has never been any doubt, although she took quite a few twists and turns before finding the courage to translate her kaleidoscopic vision into stills. But if photography is a relatively new career path for her because, as she says laughing, “coming out of the closet took a long time,” her fascination with images, colours and light has accompanied her all her life, a fact that becomes evident once you see her effortless visual compositions. Nostalgic and poetic, Arianna’s photography is deeply influenced by her yearning for Italy’s landscapes, nature and atmosphere, but it’s also an instrument to capture new and unexplored places through candid travel reportages, and to narrate new stories combining fashion and art.
Can you tell me a bit about your background? How did you approach photography?
I’ve always been interested in photography – my uncle was a still photographer and I think my curiosity probably arose from there. However, neither of my parents was particularly artistic and they didn’t encourage any activity of the kind. I always knew I wanted to study and work in the visual arts field, but since I didn’t have any artistic background or any kind of support from my parents, I ended up studying Music. When I first moved to London I really wanted to start studying Photography, but I didn’t have the portfolio of work required to be admitted – I didn’t even have a camera! As a consequence, I decided to study Sound Design, which I considered as a way of getting closer to visual arts. You know when you like two very different things and you try to combine them, but you end up in a sort of grey area that doesn’t really satisfy you?
Because it’s neither one nor the other?
Exactly! So I started taking some photography short courses and I found a job in post-production. The real outing came about three years ago, when I admitted –to myself and others– that what I really wanted to do was photography. I think I felt very self-conscious about it, not having a degree or a professional training. But I started to tell people and to promote my work online, entering a sort of transition phase from post-production to photography.
Still life, reportages, portraits, and editorials – your photography encompasses all of these categories. Is there one you feel more at ease with?
My inspiration comes from travelling and when I do reportages I always feel at ease. I think there is a particular freshness and novelty in seeing a place for the first time. I also like fashion photography because it gives you the opportunity to play and create stories. Ideally, I would love to combine the two, taking inspiration from the colours I discover abroad or trying to re-create some of the things I see while travelling, although it’s difficult to have that creative freedom. London also lacks colours and light – I love to work with them and they don’t exist here.
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I noticed that the way you portray colours is a strong connection between all of your photographs. Is it something you specifically focus on? What draws you to it?
I’ve been drawn to colour since I was little, when I used to paint. I think we have an emotional connection with colours, they are a way to express feelings and ideas. Colours and the way they interact with each other are also the first things that I notice with my eyes. Many photographers focus on creating balanced and neat compositions, but I can’t express myself that way. Using colour gives me more freedom and comes more naturally to me.
How do you create your life-style compositions?
There isn’t a particular logic behind them, they’re instinctive and natural. Actually, every time they seem too neat, I try to make them look messier. Once, while I was cooking, I spotted some colours I liked, I threw in a dress and took the picture.
I first came in contact with your photography through Instagram. How involved are you with social media? Besides promoting your work, do you use it for inspiration?
I definitely use social media to promote my work and I think it has been incredibly helpful. However, I’m completely against the idea of using Instagram as a source of inspiration, because it’s too easy to spot something you like and copy it, continuing to recreate the same themes. It’s probably an unconscious phenomenon – you see something you like and convince yourself it was your idea in the first place, when in reality it was another person’s. I also think many people create specific posts only to receive a certain amount of likes. They are like pop song-posts, you know they’re catchy but they don’t have any depth. I do follow some curated accounts and I do sometimes discover new photographers through them but, in my opinion, Instagram remains too superficial to be a research tool or a source of inspiration. I prefer to look somewhere else.
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Aren’t you afraid that publishing your work on Instagram someone could copy it – consciously or unconsciously?
Absolutely. It recently happened that someone saw one of my pictures, liked it, and then recreated the exact same composition, with the exact same details, and published it on her account. My friends started to message me about it, so I decided to face her. She replied that she had no idea of who I was and then blocked me, my friends and the account where she first saw my picture. I mean, there is nothing really that you can do. I think in one way or another everybody copies, but one thing is being inspired by someone’s work –which can be flattering–, another is brutally reproducing someone else’s photograph.
What does photography mean to you?
I think it’s connected with my passion for cinema and my uncle’s job, which I have always found really fascinating. I remember when I took my first photograph, I was at a friend’s house studying. At some point I saw the light hitting my hand and I thought, “I want to remember this moment,” so I took a picture with my friend’s dad’s camera. Developing it felt like magic. From that moment I realised I wanted to take pictures.
You said you would like to work in fashion photography. What is your opinion of it?
I like fashion, but I’m not 100% into it. I see it as an instrument to express certain ideas and I would like to combine it with art. I think that fashion photography can easily become boring and it’s sometimes an end in itself, so I appreciate when photographers create interesting and aspirational stories with it.
“I think we have an emotional connection with colours, they are a way to express feelings and ideas.”
As an Italian living in the UK, how has living far from home influenced your photography and your career? Do you think living in London has given you more possibilities?
From a career point of view, absolutely yes. In London there are endless opportunities to collaborate with any kind of people and creatives. In terms of location, I would like to be in Italy though – there are so many beautiful landscapes, especially where I used to live. I prefer to shoot on location than in studio and I have a much stronger connection with nature than any urban theme.
And what do you think living abroad has given you? What changed?
Well, I think living in the UK has changed my perception and understanding of Italy. I miss it very much and, because of this, nostalgia influences my vision. With my work I try to recreate this nostalgic theme.
In what way?
I try to find it in objects and materials, through a particular use of lighting and looking at Italian painters such as Morandi.
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Is there any contemporary photographer whose work you appreciate?
I usually try to focus on photographers from the past, because I believe that if everyone is looking at the same sources it’s very easy to end up doing the same things. However, I really like Viviane Sassen – who doesn’t like her work? Another I really like is Eamonn Doyle, an Irish street photographer whose subjects are all old and weathered. His framings are always stylized, and the result reminds me of Egon Schiele’s paintings. I admire Yoshinori Mizutani’s poetic language and different approach to photography, especially in his book Tokyo Parrots. Finally, I really like Elspeth Diederix’s work. She’s a Dutch photographer with a visual language similar to Viviane Sassen’s, but she focuses more on still-life. Her compositions are slightly absurd, made with plastic bags or bottle caps, and they don’t simply capture a specific moment, they all represent ideas.
You said you are fascinated and inspired by cinema. Have you ever thought about combining photography and film? Would you be interested in videography as well?
Yes, and I have been thinking about it a lot lately. When I was studying Sound Design, I created a lot of ambient, drone and field recording compositions. After I changed my career course, initially I sort of rejected this kind of music, but after many years I started to listen to it again. When I listen to it, harmoniously juxtaposed images come to my mind. I feel inspired by this music and I think that one day I would like to combine visuals and sounds, but I believe that I should first find my own visual language.
How would you describe you current visual language, even if you are still developing it?
One of the things I am sure of is that I prefer chaos to order. I obviously like to work with colours and shadows, and I have a recurring nostalgic theme. I also like to work with a nocturnal theme.
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