Photography, fashion and Milan: a chat with Eugenio Calini and Luca Casulli
White, indeed immaculately white walls. Photographs hanging on the walls in perfect balance. A completely white mezzanine, the steps are white and so is the bannister. Light, beauty and welcome. And outside, a small courtyard with entrances to homes, to other atmospheres, in the heart of the life of Milan.
We are at 29 ARTS IN PROGRESS gallery, on Via San Vittore in Milan, just a short walk away from Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, in the centre of a city that is in continuous transformation.
We are here because Pulchra has had the chance of being photographed in this elegant and refined venue. And between shots, we chatted with Eugenio Calini and Luca Casulli, the creators of this exquisite photo gallery.
Dedicated to completely different things for a part of their lives, they left London to work together and for good on their passion, photography. They chose Milan as their base, the Milan of the centre, the heart of this city.
From London to Milan. Why Milan?
Milan is the only city in Italy where our project could be developed, with a very clear idea in mind; to be in the centre, inside the fabric of the city. To become part of it.
How can we talk about the appeal of this city?
Eugenio: Until not very long ago, the Milanese were very reserved and not very inclined to contamination. Now there is a different approach; a great attachment to the city and people live in the city in a more open way. I can think, as an example, of La Scala: once people would be outside watching those who went to the premiere, today “Tosca” opens the season and is shown on TV and in cinemas.
Luca: One of our collectors who lives abroad, recently told us of his constant desire to return to Milan, more and more often, because every time he discovers something new…
Eugenio: Milan has effectively become a tourist destination. It has become a city for tourism, the second in Italy after unrivaled Rome. Only few years ago, thinking of being ahead of Venice or Florence would have been inconceivable…
In Milan there used to be 52 weeks,
today there are still 52 Milano-Weeks, each with a different event.
Luca: Milan has a capacity to change that makes it really very attractive!
Let’s go into the Gallery now. What are the values that guide you?
Eugenio: Quality photography that has very well-defined requisites, from the artistic point of view as well. With photographers who are very serious in their work. We are looking for beauty, without ever neglecting its cultural references and its bonds with the changes in society and the world.
Luca: We are interested in talking about photography and the work of a gallery in a new way.
We support international photographers, recognized masters, who are the foundations of the history of photography, and at the same time we pay attention to new expressions, to new experimentations, to “middle-aged” photographers in mid-career but already with a strong artistic identity that can dialogue even with the very young who will be the new collectors of tomorrow.
We also try to have an innovative approach to this profession, involving new partners and experimenting with original collaborations, organizing events which bring the gallery to life and involve the general public. We like to make this space alive, organizing dinners and meetings with small groups of people who share a passion for what is beautiful and for art.
The gallery is a place of cultural participation in the city.
You are also very active in Milan, outside the gallery…
Eugenio: You can’t be in a city with the gallery shut up in an ivory tower, it is essential to have relations with the cultural life of the city and so we take our artists outside the gallery as well: to the Triennale, to Palazzo Reale, Palazzo Pirelli and then there are the events at Photoweek, Photo Fashion and so on …
Luca: … and also new places, corporate spaces that were not originally imagined for art and we are always on the look-out for new interactions between people, artists and works of art.
You represent Gian Paolo Barbieri, one of the great masters of fashion photography. How could you define ‘fashion photography’?
Eugenio: It transcends the initial purpose, which is to photograph a piece of clothing or an accessory and evolves in an artistic direction.
This requires the photographer to have a cultural background in photography and the history of fashion. A catalogue is one thing but fashion photography is another matter. It is about investing in the subject…
William Klein comes to mind: he took his models away from the photographic set. His shot in front of the Paris Opera House (1963), which goes well beyond the dress or the model, is famous: his style is closer to the freedom of contemporary art than photographic stereotypes.
Luca: Then there is the capacity of the photographer to draw on culture in a broader sense: elements of innovation often come into being from literature, from the history of art and of the cinema, all of which are fundamental allies for artists, not only to reinvent themselves all the time, but to bring out the personality of the subject photographed in an original way; the great Masters are able to “invent” a character and their iconography, without it ever becoming mainstream and standardized. The greatest fashion photographers in history have really succeeded in bringing out the uniqueness of their individual models and their personalities.
Which fashion photographs do you like best?
Luca: The ones that every time arouse different and often contrasting emotions.
Eugenio: I can think of some photos by Barbieri for Valentino, with the reconstruction of an Oriental setting… where it took a huge amount of preparation to build the set, the sand was made of semolina …
Luca: yes, there is also the craftsmanship of the profession …
Eugenio: Exactly. Today there is post-production, but once there was pre-production, a study which today, also because of the facility of the digital means, is no longer done.
Luca: I am thinking of a photo by Gian Paolo Barbieri of the 1990s, inspired by the painting by Géricault, “The raft of the Medusa,” shot for Vivienne Westwood’s Pirates campaign: in this picture, the whole studio emerges, the building of a set and the extraordinary theatrical and cinematographic background of the photographer.
Black or white or colour?
Eugenio: Black and white, because you can see all the whites, all the blacks, greys and all the other colours according to your imagination.
Luca: Colour, because I find it more contemporary and today there is a shift towards colour especially in the markets where collecting photography is affordable, even by the young.
Pulchra, the bag that we shot in the Gallery, is inspired by old camera cases. If you were to gift the bag to a woman, which photo would you put inside it?
Eugenio: A vintage polaroid.
Luca. A small portrait developed with care in the dark room.. maybe of a special person.
Thank you, Eugenio and Luca, for having had us here in the Gallery and for having talked to us about your passion and your profession.