WORK 10 / SOCIETY / PEOPLE

PEOPLE 01/12 Every month I take on average eight head-shots of new acquaintances, people I just meet in whatever occasion but don't really keep up a relationship with. It can be people I meet on the road or at a party and to who I briefly explain my life project. In these occasions I ask them if they want to be included in it. I make sure to highlight the fact that I am not active in social media and their portraits is not going to end up in platforms like Facebook but rather in a more literal book of faces I am keeping as yet another way to represent this period of time. After the photographic portraits have been taken I start a daily process of manually removing the background using an image editor. The process of background extraction is done every morning for about 10 minutes and it takes approximately three days to complete a head. The resulting portraits are vectorized and printed on a 30 by 90 centimeter panel. Initially the idea was that the resulting panel would actually be a light-box with in fact eight bulbs lighting respectively behind each of the headshots (Fig. Screenshot of a month of headshots. It shows some interesting folk such as a gypsy man who used to be a professional boxer, some researchers and some artists but also a black illegal migrant I helped with food and money during a cold but sunny winter day in Stockholm).

PEOPLE 02/12 I started capturing headshots with a Nikon D5000, a rather heavy digital reflex camera. I used a fixed 35 millimeters optic particularly suitable for portariat pictures but also less invasive then normal telescopic optics. Over time however I began looking for less obtrusive options that I could carry around without so much burden. Prior a trip to Southern India I finally switched to a pocket camera. As smartphones became more advance and with several camera sensors for higher detailing I at last started to take portraits using a Huawei P20 Pro. Even though the overall resolution of the headshots decreased, I soon realized that the quality lies in the very extraction I do of the background. This extraction I do on a daily basis has become a skill I have masterd over the years of constant training even though the image editor I uses is, like many of the other software used to edit the other works, from my university time in the 1990s (Fig. Picture I took early in the morning while removing the background of each headshots. With more recent image editors this process can be easily automated but I do not want to invest in heavy and expensive softwares. I enjoy my digital craft and see myself like a hairdresser cutting out the background from each of the hair of a subject. To help me maintain a certain shape the portraits I initially inserted into an oval mask that is 22.5 by 15 centimeters).

PEOPLE 03/12 I initially started the project by making a painted portrait of my new acquaintances. I did so also to vary the kind of technique I adopted for this work in relation to the others. While living in Shanghai I consulted a neighbour the art dealer and James Cohan Gallery representative Arthur Solway. The latter found most of my work too brainy but really enjoyed the drawings. The painted portraits however were not of his like and I from that moment on switched to photography. The first photographs then were taken of my new Chinese friends. Their Asian faces fully filled the oval mask that I use when extracting the background of each headshot. The verticality of the project also borrows from Chinese culture. Living in North America and later in Europe I had more trouble to fit the longer Caucasian faces in such oval templates. Beside being a hairdresser then I also became a plastic surgeon digitally removing excessive chunks of a face. Later when the hipster became in fashion I also had to deal with excessive beards and hairs which I have always managed to cut out. Not so much the style of people is in fact telling in the portraits but their gaze towards me the photographer and subsequently towards the viewer of this work (Fig. Screenshot of the first headshots I took of my Chinese friends. The oval masking become some sort of a billboard inviting people to put their heads through it).

PEOPLE 04/12 While taking my time to extract the background from each headshot I get to rethink about the people I had photographed. Given the long process, several years can pass between the background extraction and when the photograph was actually taken. Nonetheless while extracting the background I can remember details of the very character I have portrayed even if I met he or she briefly and I had fully forgotten about his or her. In this respect a face for me work as a trigger to a burried memory. Faces are like the fingerprints that enable me to access many different stories and like a storyteller I could narrate the life of Rami, the Palestinian who attempted to climb the Dome of the Rock and was shot or the life of Sangye, the dancer working in a Tibetan restaurant who lost his mother in an earthquake and cut his beautiful hair, or the life of apparently ordinary people like Frangetta building a secret castle in a forest. These stories are partially told in the account I write of each month production of the project including the headshots. In some cases however I am fully unable to recall the memory associated behind a person, possibly because he or she did not so much stroke me at the time I met him or her (Fig. Detail of headshot of a person I am unable to remember even if the actual reflection of myself photographing him in a certain city can be seen).

PEOPLE 05/12 Generally speaking I have noticed the increasing unwillingness to be photographed particularly by the civilized white race and more particularly the Germanic people among which I mostly lived all my life. The awareness on privacy issues certainly influenced this unwillingness however there is also something more personal and ethnically rooted. While other races particularly Asians are very willing to be portrayed I have discovered that those who decline their portrait are mostly those who are hiding something or feel at least they have an impure soul or they are just very conscious on how they want to appear publicly and want to be in control of it. The great exception among the civilized races are the moments of catharsis like for example during parties when folk get drunk, at gallery openings or better during carnivals when the strong libido is lost. In this respect it has become most inappropriate to even ask some white person to get photographed unless there is a festivity going on (Fig. Headshot taken of a Dutch woman at the last carnival right before the coronavirus pandemic which has put an end for over a year to any form of socializing and particularly any form of festivities. The pandemic also affected the project and my usual life. Suddenly I was confined to a small village and did not make any new acquaintances for a long time).

PEOPLE 06/12 The resulting columns of faces act like totems staring at the viewer. The work in itself is similar to August Sander's "People of the 20th Century". As in the German photographer's work, my work marks the end of an era in which the photographer's free roaming and documenting ceases. With the increasing political and social turmoil the people photographed might cease to exist. To some extent then the work is a collection of Gogolian Dead Souls, a Nietzschian Zarathustra-like encounter with people retaining different social positions, faiths and points of view. On top of it however these idols become themselves the potential victims of modern transformations. Their characters and personalities are swiped by changes that at last confine them in their own private sphere and disable them to express themselves in the physical world (Fig. Headshot of a South American worker met in Northern Italy during the coronavirus pandemic. If August Sander photographic project depicted a reality soon to be destroyed by wars, my project to some extent anticipated the changes occurred during the during the 2020 pandemic. The pandemic occurred right in the mist of my project and limited the physical socializing that this work so much draws on. In the edition section of my project I have also created different collections like this one showing people wearing masks during the pandemic).

PEOPLE 07/12 During my time spent living abroad I was able to encounter many people of different classes, from American homeless and Vietnam veterans to Finnish boxers and Cuban dissidents. Only in very few occasions I met important people like the Boston major and the Harvard GDI director. The most people I have met were on the road such as with my friend Davide traveling across Southern India. As in other trips we traveled according to our intuition reaching local communities and blending with them. Other prolific encounters occurred during exhibitions and conferences I took part to. In particular I have been meeting people like me tracking their daily lives. By photographing them then I quantified the quantifiers (Fig. Collage of people met in a journey with my friend Davide. We traversed southern India where the Tamil race prevails. There however we also met westerner such as rich drug addicts searching for spiritual guidance in ashrams where, beside, photography was not permitted. After many years, looking at this image I come up with a strong narrative for each of this folk. I concluded then that life on the road is easier to remember and communicate. After a time spent growing my kids my intention is to also pursue such life and seek a more organic and spontaneous diversity than the one imposed by the ideological schemes of folk who were barely on the road).

PEOPLE 08/12 In the later years of the project the world became far less open than I have experienced it at the first years of the project. New conflicts and pandemics got my life limited to Europe alone. For a time then I lived in the Netherlands while building the project museum in Italy and staying in a Swedish hostel to finish my doctorate studies. It was mostly in this hostel that I got to meet many new acquaintances from all over the world. If I no longer traveled intercontinentally, I anyway got to meet many backpackers such as two lovely sisters from Alaska, a Bulgarian chess champion and many other interesting characters. Becoming a bit too old for that kind of backpacking lifestyle I anyway was able to refresh my view of the world and break the prejudice one have of people at first sight (Fig. Sequence of backpackers met from all over the world. Living in a dormitory and sharing the room with them I got to year their life stories. Unable to travel outside of Europe I was then able to get in touch with people from all corners of the world, a possibility that the later lockdowns and travel restrictions between countries have very much hindered. After been used for over two decades to hang out with international people especially during my studies I had to readjust to a more nationalistic lifestyle).

PEOPLE 09/12 Approaching the middle of my project my life got far more sedentary. I got far more poor and almost as in the Muhammad saying “if he doesn't go to the mountain the mountain goes to him”, I no longer went around the world but the world started coming to me. This has been particularly the case after I started building the project museum in my native alps. The people venturing there have been some sort of pilgrims facing not only a long trip and a steep mountain but also the hostility of local hunters and politicians who sided aggressively against my project. In this respect these pilgrims have been those who have brought positive energy in a surrounding charged with negativity. To some extent then in the era of a Facebook creating much social distress I have been able to create my bricolage of the social media giant with actual characters unmasked of their social media profiles. While I do not have Facebook but right on Facebook the most fierce attacks against my museum have been taking place. My Facebook, the book of faces I am compiling is thus an antithesis of social media, showing individual detached from all the personality cult and opinion making they try to do of themselves (Fig. Headshot of girl coming all the way from Normandy to visit my project under construction).

PEOPLE 10/12 After resizing each headshot within a 15 by 22.5 centimeters oval mask the latter is placed in a 30 by 90 centimeters layout of 2 by 4 headshots. Given that the process of manual background extraction is time consuming, it might take even up to two years from when I photograph to when I actually start to edit a layout. Working briefly every morning on it I manage to complete a panel in approximately a month, removing the background from every hair of a headshot, taking particularly a long time to do so for people with beard. As the background is fully removed I use the program Vector Magic to smoothen the colours of the resulting faces. This is a particularly needed procedures since the headshots of a panel are captured under different lights and at time the pictures are blurred given the precarious moment in which they were taken. In this respect the vectorizing process smoothen through the differences. In the vectorizing software I use an unlimited colours scheme with the highest level of details. The result is then exported to .bmp format which is resampled to 300 dpi and resize to 30 by 90 centimeters. At last the .bmp file is converted to .pdf format (Fig. Screenshot of the software I used to vectorize each panel. Such a vectorization brings more homogeneity among the pictures. It was also meant to give more of a painted effect to the final result).

PEOPLE 11/12 Throughout the years I have experienced an increasingly harder stand on diversity. From the beginning I find that its enforcement has been only dictate by fear of being accused of racism. Under this scheme of social representations minorities, especially black people have become the more important form of representation and the one that should be not left out. In this respect I believe that my sort of social representation is far more authentic in that it truly depicts the faces of humans I meet, especially outside these institutions as people making it inside, the “included” ones are most unwilling to be photographed. Perhaps then this instance of my project truly represents the excluded thus not only the black migrants or the brown refugees but also the white artists critical of the social system (Fig. Collage showing several headshots of people met in north east Europe and Russia. While predominantly white these people are going against the stream attempting to build their own cultural identity. This occurs while they are young; failing to do so with time they inevitably become more conservative. The grass root promoters I have encountered bring to the world a real diversity, a spontaneous one and one that can create racial and cultural syncretism. Paradoxically this syncretism is hindered by the very politicians who advocate for a more controlled and literal type of diversity).

PEOPLE 12/12 In an ideal exhibition context the light-box panels representing one month are placed on a column of 11,6 meters by 60 centimeters. In this respect they act as the artificial light of the whole exhibition. At the end of the project, in 2040, the final installation will comprise of 12 columns, each column displaying 72 panels corresponding to three years work and a total of 288 new acquaintances which is a grand total of 3.456 faces staring at the viewer from every corner. Given the distance between the spectator and the columns, also for this work the headshots can only be experienced as a rather abstract pattern from which several faces emerge without so much distinction other than their actual race, gender and age (Fig. Rendering of the ideal exhibition in which the columns with the headshots are highlighted. While in Poland I was able to print a whole role of acquaintances but never had the chance to actually exhibit it. Often I thought of unrolling the print down for example a bridge as an illegal public intervention. If put in a line the total number of headshots captured throughout the project would make a 777.6 meters long print of unique individuals show in full scale. Perhaps this could be also made part of a public intervention where the actual print is unrolled down a building of the same height or horizontally in a passage of 518.4 meters at the height of the passerby).