Nicholas Gentilli is a photographer with over 30 years’ experience of shooting places and spaces. His professional genesis lay, until 4 years ago, in the architectural photography that has quintessentially represented his career, before he laid down his commercial toolbag in favour of a pursuit of his more artistic urges. Gentilli’s photograph Au bord de la Mer was longlisted for the Aesthetica Art Prize. It comes out of a visit to Vancouver where the sense of East meeting West is very powerful. We speak to Gentilli about his photographic practice.
A: Tracing this life-long pursuit back to its roots, what was it that first grabbed you?
NG: It all began in my university’s darkroom. The patience required by that early photographic method saw a clash with expectation that still inspires me 35 years on. The power of an image tentatively emerging in the semi-darkness was enough to convince me of my career path.
A: How does your career in architectural photography inform your art and the concept of ‘Imagined Places’ that is the central thread of your work today?
NG: Both the time-consuming nature of working on large format cameras and the intrigue of constructed spaces form the nucleus of my artistic work today. On any given shoot over the last 30 years I might take just four or five images. Unlike the volume-heavy approach found in fashion photography, I have always valued a more thought-out and measured style.
At the beginning of my artistic journey I struggled to break free from the brief-heavy parameters that formed much of my early photography. As I grew into my work as a liberated and autonomous artist I found that these ‘imaginary places’ enabled me to express my fascination with both architecture and image-making via repetition and reconstruction. My art shares the same interpretation of setting through light, shade, mood and colour that brought me such acclaimed results during my professional career.
A: How would you describe your artistic method?
NG: Well, the initial challenge is to find a space that offers something beyond its bare physicality or constructed form. The key here is my commitment to assimilation, which informs my perceptions going forward. This practice of assimilation always used to terrify my clients, as I used to spend at least 35% of their budget ostensibly doing nothing at all, just a slow and meaningful attempt to grow my personal interaction with the project!
Once this key process comes organically to its end, the camera work comes into play. This involves an attempt to encapsulate my most earnest response to the space. Generally I now use high-end digital cameras or 35mm hand-held cameras. Once captured, I retreat to my studio for a lengthy review.
This acts as a filtering process. Sometimes, if required and the opportunity presents itself, I will return to reshoot. Slowly – and ever so rewardingly – an idea concretises and I will move onto Photoshop, which represents the next stage in my artistic process. In all, the process can take up to 10 weeks to produce the finished article, of which I make an edition of 10.
A: Why have you moved to a more panoramic form in your artistic photography?
NG: While photography has always been my lifeblood, I have come to recognise the limitations of a still shot. They have never truly satisfied me artistically: all too often the viewer will find them all too fleeting and shallow to truly inspire response or reflection. The panoramic shots allow me, through repetition, to create a sense of a world unravelling and the multiple perspectives nourished therein will (I hope!) force the viewer to remark, wonder and eventually discuss the work in front of them.
In a sense I am breaking down my perception of the chosen space and reassembling it into a visual puzzle that catalyses the viewer’s engagement. I think by the very frenetic nature of our existences, the profundity of our surroundings does (quite understandably) pass us by. The very fact that viewers are forced to reconcile the ‘real’ with the ‘constructed’ creates a tension that surges forth from an art form working along the lines of ‘the more you look the more you see.’
A: To finish, tell us about your latest piece and any plans for the future.
NG: I have recently been able to fulfil an ambition of mine, and have just returned from my first visit to Japan. I spent two weeks in Kyoto shooting the environment there and have worked up my first artwork, Cardboard fusion : Kyoto, Japan.
This piece grew out of the somewhat removed sense of space that exists in Kyoto and the fusion of Western and Asian culture. It has a somewhat spaced out feel that I am really keen on. Going forward, my ambitions are simple – to continue my artistic evolution. I suppose I would love to exhibit abroad, and would welcome any contact from a Japanese sponsor who could help me create more ‘Imaginary Places in Japan.’
To see more of Nicholas Gentilli’s work head to www.nicholasgentilli.com.
1. Nicholas Gentilli, Au bord de la Mer.
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