Landscape Stories: What poetics or artist influenced your work most?
Maurizio Montagna: As many italian artists, at the beginning of my career Luigi Ghirri had a strong influence on me: I found very interesting his enchanted glance at reality without losing the contact with the subject. Another very important author for my creative development was Paolo Monti. His way of photographing was simply perfect; he had an extremely clear vision of reality and was a precursor of the so called urban landscape photography. Then the contemporary American photography had a strong impact on my work: Robert Adams and Lewis Baltz transmitted me their rigor and attention to the detail made up with little particulars. Ed Ruscha is the author that most made me understand that the sign and the graphic approach related to an idea can give sense to an entire work.
Landscape Stories: What does a photographer do when not taking photos? What activities not strictly related to photography somehow influence your work?
Maurizio Montagna: I do not know what a photographer does when he\she doesn't photograph. For me, my free time is very linked to my passions, one of these is fly-fishing. I found many connections between fly-fishing and photography; even Steven Shore wrote a short essay that finds a link between the way the photographer decides the location and the decisive moment of the shooting and the fisherman who determines the same elements, that is the position and the correct moment which can help him to catch the prey. Another passion is cooking; even in cooking, like in photography, the cook performs an aesthetic act in relation to the food he\she is preparing. I have to mention Manuel Vasquez Montalban, who stated that the act of cooking (and its aesthetic implication) helps the human beings to exorcise the death and also to find a morally acceptable way to implement the carnage. That's what artist does with reality: he elaborates it conceptually by bringing out an aesthetic and significant act that can make reality more bearable.
Landscape Stories: Photography is often seen as selection of reality, and often the photographic 'subject' hints at what has been left out. In your work 'Bilboards' what could be the object that was left out is in fact placed in the middle of the photograph, thus saturating any 'other' meaning and cancelling context. How was this project born? How did you achieve so many layers of meaning in images apparently so simple?
Maurizio Montagna: At the beginning the aspect I wanted to focus on was the emptiness. The first series of Billboards showed a strong connection between the surrounding space and the empty Billboard. Later on, after a year, I realized that this absence was instead a very cumbersome presence located in the urban space. At this point, I started to "reduce" the framing, in order to remove the surrounding context, and I chose to photograph a rectangular geometric space, as if I had to photograph an empty viewfinder. At that point I realized that the surrounding space beyond the signs did not interest me anymore. I think that the stratification of different meanings emerges from the simplicity of the project; the reality is already a container of many meanings, I have done nothing other than cleaning up the reality from the interference of the surroundings. I've done this also through the black and white choice, so sharp and clear. A subject like Billboards, so bulky and heavy, had to be treated with the right lightness in order to get the right balance and not weigh down too much this continuous stream of empty signs.
Landscape Stories: In your book 'Bilboards' much stress is put on texts. What in your view is the significance of the relationship between photography and writing? How can the photographer be complemented by the writer and vice versa?
Maurizio Montagna: Billboards was certainly born thanks to a literary obsession that I have towards a great writer: Jose Saramago. Two books in particular helped me to observe empty billboards differently, Blindness and Seeing. Both novels have completely inspired me. In these books I found themes that made me see reality differently, I was able to analyze issues related to different areas from those addressed by the writer, who explores in a surreal way historical, political and social themes. Writing and photography can create a mutual synergy, on condition that the authors who are facing the same theme don't have the attitude to make the writing a photographic act and vice versa. Concerning the critical essay of the book, Francesco Zanot, editor of the book, has worked specifically in the edition of texts and also chose the critics who wrote in the book. This essays brought a transversal and interesting interpretation of my work, even if I believe art should be by nature self-explanatory: as Robert Adams wrote in his Why people photograph, "sometimes remarks about the profession by people like Stieglitz and Weston were inspiring, but almost nothing they said about specific pictures enriched my experience of those pictures".
Landscape Stories: What stage do you prefer in a photographic project and why?
Maurizio Montagna: Perhaps the phase I like most during the realization of a project is the final choice of the images, the selection of different sequences. In case of an exhibition, when I decide which kind of installation I want in relation to the space I can use. For a book, how do I want it to be graphically set-up. All these kinds of choices are a sort of verification of the project, which I find extremely important in order to give the right identity to the work. Making good pictures is obviously important, but in order to clearly define the identity of a project, you have to define the concepts, and this often lies in the right choice of images.
Landscape Stories: Could you describe the experience of shooting a place you've never been to before?
Maurizio Montagna: The experience of taking photographs in an unknown place is always a bit confusing, just like when I go fishing in a river for the first time. It is important to be able to "read" the signs and signals in order to find the perfect position, because in both cases the point of view is crucial. For photography, of course, the point of view establishes a connection with potential subjects, and helps us to take the right distance, then the lens will think about approaching the scene. Just like fly fishing, the point of view allows you to watch without being seen, and helps you decide if further adjustments need to be done before starting the action which will create a connection with the "prey / subject".
Landscape Stories: What are you working on?
Maurizio Montagna: Right now I'm actually developing different themes which, even if they're correlated, are slightly different. I'm working on studies which make a connection between perspective, geometry and time, three basic elements of photography. These studies go in the same direction and aim to determine the ambiguous value of reality once it is photographed. I'm also working on the development of a portfolio called Kaleidoscope, a series of works developed in parallel with Billboards but different in the concept: the aim of Kaleidoscope is not to continuously photograph the same subject, but try to work on different elements which can have the same artistic meaning.
Interview curated by Andrea Gaio