Interview of Chiara Salvi by Sophie Pellegrini
Tell us a bit about yourself!
I am an Italian photographer and visual artist, recently graduated from the London College of Communication and temporarily based in Florence.
I lived in London for four years, a city that strongly shaped my perception of art and my approach to it. I am currently curating an exhibition called “Touching a Photograph” in Florence, focused on the handmade in photography, and getting ready to run two workshops on Cyanotypes and Chemigrams.
How did you get started in photography?
Traveling and exploring made me a photography enthusiast. I started when I was 16 years old with a digital camera, an adorable Canon 1000D; I was taking nice pictures of nice flowers. Then, I’ve been given as a present a Diana F+ and since that point I slowly deconstructed my photographic practice, going back to film photography, alternative, and traditional photographic processes. I am now interested in the most basic elements of photography: light, chemicals, and a photosensitive layer.
Tell us a little about your artistic work process.
Before digging into my artistic process I feel like it is important to mention my interest in the human body. It began by looking at anatomical studies and paintings done during the Renaissance by Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo and it led me to the exploration of microscopic anatomy in relation with traumas and injuries.
I am extremely fascinated by the process of healing of wounds and bones. This curiosity brought me to the enterprise of medical art and the intriguing, multifaceted, and fascinating relationship between art and science.
Since then I’ve been interested in experimenting with such images and alternative processes. On the other hand I am exploring the same concept with an Hasselblad 500CM, portraying what is on the surface, facial expressions, discomfort, suffering and recovering. My practice comes together by merging medical imaging and the aesthetic of distressed bodies.
I recently concluded a project called “Soffice” which analyses my sister’s knee injury and her wounds both scientifically and emphatically. It is an exploration of a faulty physique in the process of healing and it followed my sister’s progresses during her rehabilitation, through portraiture and clinical data.
My artistic process therefore usually consists in research and analysis of medical archives, then the visual examination of the subject itself. The exploration of the subject happens from the inside to the outside and vice versa; it is a physical and emotional introspection, a metaphorical and literal zooming in and zooming out.
Can you tell us a bit about the process of cyanotypes and chemigrams/alternative photography?
A cyanotype is a sunprint characterized by the colour prussian blue.
Sir John Herschel discovered the process in 1842 and the scientist Anna Atkins incorporated it with photography.
By mixing two chemicals (green ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide) you obtain a photosensitive solution with which you can coat any sort of porous materials–watercolor paper, fabric, wood, stones, etc. I once saw a student trying to coat a piece of multiseeded slice of bread, I’m not sure that was successful but you can really experiment with many different surfaces. Once dried, you place an object or a negative over the sensitised paper and expose it to UV light, when the image is nice and neat you wash it in water to develop. In my opinion the beauty of the cyanotype lies in the melancholy of the color blue; it is a very easy process, malleable, accessible to everyone, and easily adaptable to the contemporary art scene.
The chemigram is another cameraless technique, all you need is light sensitive paper, developer, stop, and fixer. It’s an easy process that doesn’t require a darkroom, it involves painting the chemicals over photosensitive paper to create surreal compositions. Products such as oils, honey, wax, varnish can also be used with chemicals to produce interesting results.
Alternative photography techniques interest me because what I am aiming to do in my practice is to create unique prints and being absorbed in the process of making.
What do you find most difficult about your photography?
The most difficult thing is probably integrating these two ways of visualizing the pain and the healing. On one side we see the fragility of skin, the bruises, the biological features, the empathy and the human factor; on the other side X-rays and scientific images are in fact the emblem of clarity, precision and a systematic, approach to the exemplification of the body. Rarely seen as visually fascinating or evocative.
On a more practical level, it is really hard sometimes to achieve the results I want in the darkroom. I recently printed onto aluminium a series of 3D knee reconstruction with silver gelatine and it wasn’t easy to obtain the outcome I was hoping for.
Do you do any other art?
I think my photographic practice sometimes brings together various forms of art. I like to experiment with different techniques along with photography, such as painting and sewing, even though I am not exactly great at it.
I am also interested in book art and book design; the facilities offered from my university helped me develop this curiosity.
Are there any songs/films/books that have had a real impact on your creative processes or work?
If we are talking about inspirations unrelated to the photography sphere I would like to mention the writers Haruki Murakami, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, and J. R. R. Tolkien, three very different genres that may or may not directly influence my practice, but are surely part of the person I am now.
On a more theoretical level, the writer Susan Sontag is one of the greatest pillars of my photography education and still a constant reference.
Musicwise, my iPod is filled with Damien Rice, José González, Sigur Rós, and Yann Tiersen, to name a few. A special mention goes to the recently discovered English songwriter Tom Rosenthal whose music is incredibly inspiring and comforting.
Are there any projects you’re currently working on that you can tell us about?
I am currently trying to print a series of photographs I took in Croatia onto shells using silver gelatin emulsion.
With the same technique, I am doing some experiments using aluminium. After creating a photosensitive layer I will play around with developer and fixer, following the Chemigrams process, and see what effects I could obtain.
What’s one of your favorite personal qualities?
I am obstinate and tenacious; you kind of have to be when you work with such unpredictable and unstable techniques. The experimentation sometimes seems endless, you are never quite happy with the result and the material is never quite right. You have to be persistent and patience, embrace the slowness of the process and be open to unpredicted outcomes.
List five things that fascinate you.
There are so many things that fascinate me; I will be as specific as I can.
Nature is unbelievably captivating for instance; I recently read an article about a fungus called Cordyceps that attacks insects and alter their behaviour until It kills them. There are many different Cordyceps species, each for a separate species of insect.
Another thing that blown my mind lately is the discovery of an extremely rare condition called Pupula Duplex, when there are two pupils in one eye.
I get excited for pretty regular things as well, such as good Italian wine and puppies.