Let's start from the beginning. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born in 1959 in Brescia (Italy), where I live and work.
I have been living a very intense professional life in the medical field of dentistry, a part of which is dedicated to teaching and writing. But I find it hard ‘just' to feel like a clinician: the sense of art permeates my profession and all my life profoundly.
I consider my own profession to be an extraordinary mix of creativity (teeth are sculpted and their colour is created by skilful layering), of service to people and the sharing of knowledge, but my life is constantly nourished by various forms of art that occupy my every waking moment.
I am so immersed in Art that, with my wife, some years ago we started a project of hosting concerts, performances, theatre, screenings at our house.
We therefore have constant contact with artists from various fields and this is an incredible experience of exchange.
I have worked for several of them on CD covers, books, catalogues, posters. Some of them have realize musical works on my images or we have collaborated to create plays with images, music and words.
Lallibela, Ethiopia, 2020. (Cover for “Untold cities”, Ars Vulgaris, Barcelona 2021)
How did you get started in photography?
I started photography when, frustrated by literally not being able to paint, I found a way of capturing what I saw and what struck me. There are always two notebooks during my movements: a pen & paper and my camera (I am extraordinarily attracted to film as well, but I understand that the single image has a more radical, symbolic meaning, almost like a poem, unlike the novel which can be likened to a film. I love poetry, of course!)
How do you think your life experience affects the photographs you take?
I think these words that Florian Adler wrote about me in a beautiful article in the German magazine "Schwarzweiss" will help me to answer you:
"Giovanni Cavalli is a doctor and has worked all over the world with people he has met in the course of his profession. This has allowed him to get incredibly close to the people in front of his camera, which makes his photos so special. In contrast to tourists, who only experience brief moments in their travels and in some cases often surreptitiously steal photographic moments from the people they meet, Giovanni observes his protagonists in respectful and trusting harmony with them. It is clear that he is not concerned with documentation. His work is too aesthetic for that.”
How did other photographers influence your work?
Obviously some photographers have influenced or impressed me over the years (Mario Giacomelli, Cartier Bresson, Sebastiao Salgado, Martine Franck, Steve McCurry, Lee Jeffries, Eric Lafforgue, Rehahan), but in general I study, measure and explore painting from past centuries, from Italian painting, starting with the Roman imperial paintings, moving up to the Renaissance and then up through the centuries, but also Spanish or Nordic painting (I consider Rembrandt one of the supreme masters of light in portrait). The world is full of masterpieces that, in my opinion, a photographer must learn to know.
In a painting, no element is placed at random; in my photographic conception when it is composed, in the magmatic movement of reality, the shot immortalises the perfect moment in which every element is in the right place. This is the skill of the photographer, who cannot, like the painter, select and paint what he wants, but must sense, anticipate, wait, want the composition and always be ready for the unexpected.
How would you define your style in photography?
I consider myself first and foremost a street photographer. I never create situations, I look for them assiduously and, if I meet them, I shoot. Obviously, wherever I go, I study other people's images, habits, ask, enquire and observe.
The protagonist and inspirer of my works has always been humanity, I am attracted to ordinary people, for me they are the true representatives of humanity: they are my models, beautiful, to be admired and admired.
People, completely sponthaneous, natural and unaffected by the photographer, are the centre of my artistic research.Unprepared portraits, people surprised by the shot, resumed with the expression and in the moment they hit me, without having time to understand what I’m doing: the representation of unposted faces, with the subject suspended within himself; not a forced representation of himself or a photographer’s interpretation, but a snapshot of the person like I meet them, surprised by my camera, anticipating every possibility of giving me an interpretation of themself.
They are anti-static, natural, spontaneous, real, surprised and suspended photographs, taken in the real context identifying the person.
I photograph without artificial lights, I use lights and elements present, not as if it were an outdoor seating room, which constructs and orders the elements of the composition.
I almost always show my photographic works in black and white, in order to focus the attention on the expression, not being distracted by the sometimes superficial and strange emotion of color.
What equipment do you use?
I have practically always used Pentax cameras and lenses. Currently I shoot most of my pictures with a K1 full frame. I still prefer reflex in order to the visual sensation in the viewfinder. I also love telephoto lenses, I love their blur. I love the Pentax 70-200, the 100 Macro, the 85 f/1.4, the 200 FA f/2.8 ... Different flavours, different blurs, a rich and intriguing world!
What software do you use to process your photographs?
Photoshop is my main editing tool along with Camera RAW and the Nick Collection plug-in. I manage my photos with Adobe Bridge.
What is your favourite photo and why?
It is always very difficult to choose!
I call the one I am proposing 'Saved'. I think it is very appropriate for the historical moment in which we are live today.
We are in Gondar, Ethiopia, during the Timkat ceremony (the remembrance of the baptism of Jesus Christ in Jordan) and I still don't know why this man, dressed in a white vest, was lifted up by his companions. This does not usually happen. The man was lifted up and rescued from the water by friendly hands. This arouses uncontainable joy not only in himself but also in all the people who contributed to the rescue.
This is symbolic of how our world should evolve: no one can be lost. In the image shown, a few responsible people raise the man. Of the responsibility of every human being has towards everyone putting the future of humanity at stake.
(A technical and procedural note about this picture: the previous day I had been to study the place, I had understood where the sun would rise from; I then went to the place at 4 a.m. to take the place I wanted among the immense crowd present, about 100.000 people were expected around the pool; at 8 a.m. people jumped into the water, the light cut obliquely through the diving area, in order to my forecast.
The white vest was totally unexpected … but this is the real sense of photography).
What turns an image into a good image? What makes it stand out?
It’s a complicated answer. The first impression is at the moment I take the picture, and it sticks in my memory as well as in the sensor.
Then my analysis become very very severe: composition, focusing, unwanted details, something I missed (expression of the person in particular), rendering of the blur.
If I like it, I leave it aside, it becomes “4 stars” and I let some time pass for the final editing. At that point I've lost the love for it and I see it with more objective eyes: it has to tell me, it has to be "worth" working on. So if it becomes “5 stars”, it will be worked on, printed a first time and then, sometimes, reworked and reprinted, perhaps several times. I am chronically dissatisfied.
When selecting the best images I always have a question that nags at me: "Is this image among the best 10, maximum 20 of this year?". I am convinced that it is very hard to produce more than 10-20 outstanding images in a year and more than 200-300 in a lifetime.
One more note: I always print my best images, the effect on paper is sometimes different from the effect on the screen and, for me, images have value only if they are printed.
I take care of the whole cycle myself, just as I did with the darkroom: shooting-editing-printing.
What are your tips to beginner photographers?
Study, read, watch, listen, stay away from aseptic social contacts, meet people and listen to them, take your time, go to cafe, to markets in remote villages, reduce your distance from people, fall in love with those who seem different from you: you will take beautiful photographs!
Go out very early in the morning and come back only when the light is gone. Maybe stay put in the middle of the day because the light is almost always worse.
Be moved by the light, look at it even when you are doing something else, look out of the window, get angry because you are closed inside four walls doing something else, your frustration will become the strength to understand the light and use it.
What are your plans and ideas for next projects?
Recently, I have been collaborating with anthropologists and digital engineers to develop a complex project on human migration, entitled 'Travel documents’. It is a big project that uses digital image data to trace the ancestral origins of people using biometric measurement software.
For me, artistic representation means the possibility of provoking thought, destabilization and sometimes even triggering a shift in the viewer's original world vision. This work goes exactly in that direction: each of us is a random expression of a very long mix of genes ("ethnic mixture"), with certainly common ancestors. For this project I want to underline that there are no races, no divisions between people. We are a great, heterogeneous world that, because of the ancestral common derivations we have, we are called to work together for the good of everyone. No one can be lost.
Why did you decide to join 100ASA?
Andrea asked me to become a curator. Initially I was very reluctant because my life is super busy, but then I studied the gallery (which I did not know), I liked the idea and I agreed.
I think it's one of the very few places, virtual or real, where you can still create a discussion. It reminds me of the first photography club I grew up in and I learned a lot about photography. Photographers grow up not by likes, but if someone criticises your images and makes you see and understand what you are doing. You don't get anywhere on your own.
Then, among us curators, a wonderful climate of very respectful confrontation was created, and I really must say that I am receiving more than I am giving. It was a wonderful experience, even if I find it very difficult to be present with sufficient continuity.
This group bears witness once again to how Art allows dialogue between people who are so apparently different. We are a heterogeneous group in terms of age, nationality, occupation, native language and culture, gender, but the dialogue and mutual esteem are constantly growing ...
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