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“Chasing sunlight is an adventure”

Interview with the photographer Patrizia Savarese

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Published: 26 Mar 2020
Over the years, Patrizia Savarese has worked as a photographer in numerous different contexts which have established her reputation as a respected and internationally acclaimed professional. Her photos have been included in major contemporary photography books, like the Nikon 100th Anniversary Book in 2017 and the «Corriere della Sera» Foto:Box collection. She has staged numerous exhibitions in Italy, Germany and France, published various photo calendars and held workshops at major photography festivals. We talked to her about two of the themes she has worked most often and with extreme originality on. Namely, water and food, both of which are captured with a particularly innovative use of light.

“Before taking any photograph you have to be a good observer. When I look at the things I like, I notice aspects that I would like to reproduce and I wonder how I can recreate them in the lab.” In the case of water, for example, Savarese’s aim has never been to take nature- focused footage of seas, lakes and rivers. Just think of the jars and tableware in Minimal Underwater, that are sunk in a tub of water on the terrace of her apartment in Rome. This simple set-up becomes the object of numerous experiments with varying degrees of light, shadow and transparency, created by drips, tremors and splashes. Sunlight and a square metre of space are often enough for her to study what interests her.
“Chasing sunlight is an adventure”

From the “Le Conserve Impossibili” (Impossible Conserves) series from her
book MINIMAL foto in 1 metro quadro (Ed.Blurb) and recently published
in the Gambero Rosso magazine with a story by the photographer

Regarding her modus operandi, Savarese often uses the adjective “experimental”, but it has more a sense of “methodical” than of “groundbreaking”. It is a method that still leaves room for impromptu intuition and randomness, though, even when dealing with ungovernable subjects like moving water. But these elements only emerge in the course of a carefully planned project. “Before becoming a photographer, I studied architecture and I even worked for a short time in architecture and design studios”, she explains. “My training is based on the importance of a planned project and I believe that this is one of the most important elements in my work.” In other words, “I try to do things that have a meaning from beginning to end. I start from one point and all the stages that follow must be as coordinated and consistent as possible. I look for different effects, different impressions and then, there is a lot of experimentation. Sometimes I have impromptu ideas too. It’s extremely difficult, but it’s fun too.”

One fixed point in this experimentation is sunlight. “I worked for many years in the studio, reconstructing light with flashes and special lighting, but for a while now I have opted to work with natural light. I find it more adventurous. I chase it from morning till night. It has endless variations depending on the seasons, the sky and the kind of day, and it changes colour and direction, too. If you don’t understand sunlight and all the different ways it varies throughout the day, you don’t understand light and you cannot take photographs.” Savarese seeks to pass this awareness onto younger, aspiring photographers: “When I work with young people, I strongly encourage them to understand, feel and capture light. Sunlight shines on us and warms us. Like water, it is life.”
“Chasing sunlight is an adventure”

From the Chamber of Deputies Print Shop Calendar - “I Colori della Frutta”
(The Colours of Fruit) 2012. The image has also been used in Australia for
an advertising campaign via Getty Images

I worked for many years in the studio, reconstructing light with flashes and special lighting, but for a while now I have opted to work with natural light. I find it more adventurous. I chase it from morning till night. It has endless variations depending on the seasons, the sky and the kind of day, and it changes colour and direction, too.
Even if it may seem to be a limit, choosing to use sunlight means opening up to new opportunities and you can still resort to Photoshop to even out details in post-production. To give you a concrete idea of the results, you can see the images in the Food section of Savarese’s website. They are nearly all shot in natural light, sometimes indoors and sometimes outdoors. One particularly curious case is that of her Verdure volanti (Flying Vegetables) series. “They aren’t really flying at all,” explains Savarese. “As they are actually resting on a transparent Perspex surface.” So, what creates the sensation that they are suspended in mid-air? “It is a light effect that comes from above and below, so any shadows are cancelled out. The natural light came from above (in some cases, from a skylight, like the old photographers used to do) and below the transparent surface there was a panel that reflected it in order to cancel out any shadows.”

“I don’t consider myself an artist,” says Savarese. “I am a professional and I take photos with the aim of selling them.” Despite this statement, Savarese’s work regularly returns to certain themes with the consistency of a personal research project. “I have been interested in water and transparency right from when I was studying at IED (European Design Institute) in the 1970s. Back then, I would take pieces of Perspex and photograph them.” In a once in a lifetime coincidence, many years later I was asked to shoot a series of corporate calendars for Teuco, using transparent Perspex shapes positioned in natural settings.
“Chasing sunlight is an adventure”

From the Calendar for Teuco-Guzzini “Natural Design” 1998

Calendars are a format that suits Savarese’s design approach: twelve photos with a single leitmotif. Another calendar created for Teuco that Savarese has particularly fond memories of, is Grafie d’acqua (Water Graphics). “They are photos that have been quite successful and received awards but, besides all that, they were honestly created with very simple set ups,” she says. “At the end of the 1990s, the bathroom sector hadn’t yet invented the veil of water that is now widely used in bathrooms and swimming pools. I, however, wanted to create a shot inspired by the fountains outside the Palace of Justice, in Rome, which have a special nozzle that creates a veil of water. We therefore invented a kind of gutter that allowed running water to cascade down from it. We still had a number of problems to solve, though, because at a certain point, the veil of water kept breaking. So, we had to adjust the flow pressure and test out a long series of other details too.”
“Chasing sunlight is an adventure”

Calendar for Teuco-Guzzini “Grafie d’Acqua” (Water Graphics) 1999.
Images included in both the Corriere della Sera collection
“FOTO:Box - images by the great masters of international photography”,
and in the 2017 Nikon centenary volume, “It’s a Nikon, it’s an icon”,
featuring 100 images by 100 Italian photographers.

Calendars are a format that suits Savarese’s design approach: twelve photos with a single leitmotif. Another calendar created for Teuco that Savarese has particularly fond memories of, is Grafie d’acqua (Water Graphics). “They are photos that have been quite successful and received awards but, besides all that, they were honestly created with very simple set ups,” she says. “At the end of the 1990s, the bathroom sector hadn’t yet invented the veil of water that is now widely used in bathrooms and swimming pools. I, however, wanted to create a shot inspired by the fountains outside the Palace of Justice, in Rome, which have a special nozzle that creates a veil of water. We therefore invented a kind of gutter that allowed running water to cascade down from it. We still had a number of problems to solve, though, because at a certain point, the veil of water kept breaking. So, we had to adjust the flow pressure and test out a long series of other details too.”