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Renzo Chiesa “’50 years of portraits of my music’”

by AdminAg

Written by Monica Landro

Renzo Chiesa is one of the most important music photographers we have in Italy since the 1960s. This means that he has had his camera in his hand for many years and has immortalised a lot of artists and music in his shots. We are talking about names such as Lucio Dalla, Giorgio Gaber, Paolo Conte. On the international front too, he has been responsible for important shots, such as Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones.
Talking to him is exciting, just for this reason.

Did you get into photography because you wanted to meet singers or because you loved photography?
Actually both. I have always loved photography but I grew up in a family of musicians so of course the primary interest was photography, but music has always been in my heart.

Have you always worked in the recording field or have you also shot in other areas?
In truth, the work done with music is 30% of the total but I was lucky that that percentage was the most important, thanks to the names I photographed. The remaining 70% is taken up by many sectors: tourism, culinary festivals, international chefs. Of course, music is what stays with me, what makes my heart beat and moves my emotions.

Is it better to have a technically perfect shot or a smudged but a creative one?
For me what matters is that the shot arouses an interest, that the photo is not banal. If it’s blurry and out of focus but says something, that’s it, it’s hit the mark. If it conveys no feeling, even if it is technically perfect, it goes nowhere.

Film or digital?
I grew up with film and only when the advent of digital became overwhelming I also switched to digital. But the truth is that there is no comparison between the two. Film wins 6-0 for quality, for warmth.
Just think that film has a gelatin, which light passes through in layers to enter the lens and those layers create colour and thickness. In digital this is not there. It is as if you were photographing on a mirror: everything is flat, there is no sense of depth. I understand that for a young person this doesn’t make sense. He sees the picture as beautiful and that’s fine, but only because he doesn’t know the concept of depth in an analogue image. However, one thing must be emphasised: by photographing in analogue, it can happen that you lose some things because maybe there is too much darkness that doesn’t come out. Whereas with new technology you take the picture but then you can reinvent it, lighten it, darken it. You make it more attractive, beautiful. Sometimes too much so.

Speaking of lighting: do you prefer black and white or colour?
Black and white for sure because it is full of colour! Chromatically, I like better to see a B/W print that encompasses a wide range of greys and makes you discover things that you miss in colour. With colour what I photograph, you see. With B/W, you interpret.
“50 years of portraits of my music” is the title of your recently released book. A work that encompasses more than 200 shots.

Who and how did you select the photos?
The selection, totally made by me, stems from the fact that I photographed those I liked.
Some are missing only because I never managed to cross them. Some are deliberately not there.
What is your favourite photograph in the book and why?
It would be easy to say the cover photo of the Dalla album, by Lucio, which brought me luck and fame. But there are other photos I like. In the book for example there is the one of pianist Bill Evans: it is a photo with three shots in one. The reason for this is simply related to a technical fault. I kept shooting on the same frame because the film had come loose. Besides loving it because it was my first jazz photo, I also like it for its symbolic value. Bill Evans was the first to use the technique of overdubbing in his record performances, and eventually, unknowingly, I did too.

This is not just a book of well-crafted snapshots. Here, leafing through from the 1960s to the present day, you ‘read’ a biography, you grasp the essence, the love, the evolution of a man: you.
Thank you! I am in the book. I like that it got to you. For me, this is not just a photo book, with the shots, the name of the artist and the date of execution. I tried, whenever possible, to have the protagonists of the photo write a caption of the picture. I wanted a book with little things to read, a memory, an anecdote.

What is your signature style? Something that makes you say: “This is a Renzo Chiesa shot”.
I work a lot on the character, on the eyes, on the expressions, I want my shot to jump off the page. I want the person I am photographing to be there with me, to play with me, to follow me. Otherwise it is a banal shot. The Renzo Chiesa shot must be a shot that speaks. You must be able to listen to it.

Do you feel like a photographer who shoots artists or an artist who shoots artists?
I tend to be a shy person but with the camera in my hand, in front of anyone, barriers fall. The camera amplifies me. For this reason alone I can say that we are two artists who confront each other.

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