In 2015 he published with the Italian publishing house Skinnerboox the book "The First Day of Good Weather", previously shortlisted at the Mack first book award.
Milan. A bar in the Isola District at 5PM.
E. Letâ€™s start with the book because itâ€™s the way I first approached your work â€” I immediately liked its construction, atmosphere and sensitivity. Could you tell me the story that brought you there? In the end of the book there is a short text that helps to orientate yourself, but I would like you tell me moreâ€¦
V. Yes, the choice of putting that text in the end of the book is maybe a bit arrogantâ€¦ but I really think that the images can always speak alone, or at least I think the sense of something missing is also perceivable from the images only. Because in the end itâ€™s this: Iâ€™ve combined two stories, one coming from my private life, and the other one from a collective memory. Yeah, I know those stories are very different from each other and the only thing they have in common is the fact that Iâ€™ve been there *(1)â€¦ Actually, the reason why I went there was because of discovering some lettersâ€¦ This is actually an autobiographic story. Slowly, after I understood how to edit my story, all the private-life elements almost disappeared. What is left is a photo of the person I searched for and the letter as an object â€” the remains of a death which is like every other deathâ€¦ the Japanese ones.
E. And chronologically speakingâ€¦ ?
V. The story isâ€¦ In 1999, actually on Christmas Day 1998, my brother and his girlfriend, her name is Kaori, met each other in Paris and they started their love relationship â€” which was never more than just an adolescent thing. I didnâ€™t know about this, her, I just had a vague memory about some letters this girl was writing to him, even after my brotherâ€™s death, in 1999. I think she stopped since in the pre-internet era she couldnâ€™t find anything about him. She probably thought he didnâ€™t want her anymoreâ€¦
E. She was never informed about how things went?
E. And this is because nobody in your family knew about this â€œlove storyâ€â€¦ ?
V. Exactly. Nobody knew about this. I just knew there were some letters somewhere. My brother and I didnâ€™t live together anymore; our parents split.
In 2012, 13 years later, I finally found these lettersâ€¦ Which, by the way, are written in French by a non-French person. They speak about love in a very naive way: simple. What interested me about these letters was all the potential love written about inside that never happened in the end.
I knew I wanted to do something with these letters and everything became more clear once I saw some images of Japan after the tsunami â€” when I saw the damage in the streets and of a car. That car was the immediate link, since my brother died in a car accident. The idea settled in my mind for awhile when then, one day, I discovered that Google provides a post-cataclysmic service to track missing persons. I thought that could work. I had a 15-year-old address and the possibility to see if that girl, now probably a woman, was still alive. This was my starting point: an autobiographic story.
As in my other works, I used a real episode as a pretext to tell something else: go into the tsunami-destroyed region and speak about a loss. I really believe that almost every loss leaves the same remains (cars, letters, etc.); almost every cut in someoneâ€™s life leaves the same sensations; and, for those who are left, there is only the same possibility to go onâ€¦ trying to find a strategy for it.
E. So, you went to Japan with the pretext of finding this person? Did you contact her before, or did you go blindly?
V. I went blindly because, in the end, I thought that wasnâ€™t the important part of my storyâ€¦ of my researchâ€¦ I just thought to go, and only at the end of my itinerary to go knock on Kaoriâ€™s doorâ€¦ hoping to find someone who knew her, or at least someone that could give me some informationâ€¦ Her address was exactly the same, so I immediately found her.
V. Yes, I wouldâ€™ve never expected it.
V. So, as I said, I found her easily. In the final selection of my work, I kept that letter and a portrait where you can better recognise her compared to some other portraits, which are darker. Kaoriâ€™s portrait is really the only staged one â€” itâ€™s set and in daylight. It seems a bit like a tourist portrait, up in the highest skyscraper of Tokyo: a location cited in a letter as a place where she would have brought my brother.
(Noise of a coffee machine)
E. I found that the language you chose to tell this story is very proper and well-constructedâ€¦ is it something you planned or something that emerged along the way?
V. I developed its structure by considering two different aspects. On one hand, the destroyed atmosphere after the cataclysm: all the subtle pains, the gloomy atmosphere and the â€œbad airâ€â€¦ on the other hand, I tried to avoid all the pathetic and sentimental sides of this story and trying to find the right stylistic approach. The same thing happened with the book. I made some decisions with Milo, which were slightly in contrast to the true story, which is very intimate. The book is small, a handbook. In a way I wanted it to be a bit dry and detached â€” starting with the white/light blue paper.
(Background music and slot machine)
V. Even if I like to change the mood, or the language, every time I work on something (otherwise I would get bored), recently this dark tone started to be a constant in my work. Maybe because, in general, I donâ€™t like to shout things. Before starting a project I often ask myself how it can visually be, and rarely I repeat myself.
E. Ok, what do you think about this contemporary trend â€” especially inside photo books â€” to tell a personal story without caring much about finding a universal interpretation? For example, you started from a very personal theme but just used it as an excuse for investigating a collective event. Do you think that a story told only from a personal side can have the same value for an external user who experiences the book?
V. As far as I am concerned there was no other way to treat this project, or story, other than by removing myself from it. So, in a way, I already answered youâ€¦ I donâ€™t like umbilical projects. That said, I still think there can be something cool in themâ€¦ starting from fathers like Larry Clark, or mothers like Nan Goldin. But, in general, I get bored by the diaristic-style of storytelling â€” I just donâ€™t think itâ€™s the right way to speak about yourself.
E. Every time Iâ€™m dealing with a story, I think about all the hypothetical visual applications and how everyone could choose a different way to represent it. You couldâ€™ve used some archival material as a tool for telling this story, in a quick wayâ€¦ instead, you found a different way of telling the past and the presentâ€¦
V. I never thought about it because there is another theme that goes together with the archive which is memory. Since I donâ€™t believe in memory, in the utilisation of the thing itselfâ€¦ on the contrary, the reason why I placed that letter is because it confirms the opposite. The object itself is ambiguous. All of the past â€” including mine and my brotherâ€™s â€” doesnâ€™t exist anymore and so to use the archive as proof of the past wasnâ€™t appealing. In my work thereâ€™s a sort of strong opinion about what memory is and could be. I rebuilt everything so that I ended up inventing a possible link between two different stories that are far away from each other. This is what I decided. Letâ€™s say that I would be interested in working with archival material only if thereâ€™s space for a new interpretation â€” like what I did with my project â€” between peopleâ€™s connections and their post-tragic effects.
(Background noise and clamour.)
E. The letter placed in the middle of the book is quite unexpectedâ€¦
V. Another thing that interested me was thinking about a book as a spiral (not because of the Japanese Manga), for creating a story thatâ€™s possibly readable from both ways. With little variations, as ifâ€¦ Well, the best compliment Iâ€™ve heard so far is â€œwhen the book ends, it seems as if it is rewindingâ€â€¦ without knowing that this was exactly the effect I was searching for. I wanted a sort of rhythmic repetition, an ambiguity â€” especially with the portraits that are a bit outside of a specific time and space. The letter kind of serves that function. It couldnâ€™t be in the beginning, like it was, and not at the end because it sounded too exaggeratedâ€¦ so I place it in the middle like the beginning-to-end motion of waves.
E. It helps, even in the middle. For the reader, itâ€™s like an orientational tool.
V. Yes, itâ€™s definetely something that you could grasp.
E. Is this your first book?
V. Yes, published with sbn, yes.
E. How was it? Did you follow all of the process?
V. I liked it very muchâ€¦ it had a strange beginning. Now Iâ€™m already thinking about a second book, and this time Iâ€™d have a totally different approach. Iâ€™d work with a designer for sure. This time I did everything myself, a bit out of necessity. The project was born in 2013. I exhibited it a few times and then decided to make a book. First, because I wanted to do it and, second, because they nominated me for the Mack First Book Award. I did the first version in two months, then I worked on the design because I wanted as much as possible for it to be a personal product. I didnâ€™t ask anyone for help â€” not for the editing or anything else. Later, when I got in contact with Milo, I changed it a bit.
E. Sometimes itâ€™s hard to delegate somebody elseâ€¦
V. Yes. For example, in the printing process there was only one thing I didnâ€™t follow directlyâ€¦ and for two weeks I was very anxious.
E. Yes, exactlyâ€¦ now the photographer has to deal with everything alone, they produce the pictures and do all the rest too.
V. I have to say that I was lucky, because I worked with experts who made me feel very sure.
V. Any recent photo book you liked?
E. Actually, itâ€™s not yet a book, only a dummy: â€œHome Townsâ€ by John Mclean. For me itâ€™s one of his best works and Iâ€™m happy he finally decided to produce a book. And you?
V. One of my last purchases was â€œRayâ€, by Susanne Kriemann. Since Iâ€™m working on my second book, Iâ€™m only buying books so that I can study. I liked very much Carly Steinbrunnâ€™s â€œThe Voyage of Discoveryâ€. In this book thereâ€™s a usage of the archive in a cool way; I mean, itâ€™s not so obviousâ€¦ only clarified at the end. Itâ€™s a mysterious work. I liked it very much.
Vittorio asked me to say my opinion.
I decided to use the form of a conversation (instead of writing an essay) because I think the work of Vittorio is very strong, and every time I look at something that I appreciate I ask myself â€œwhy?â€.
I think the strength of this project goes beyond its visual and narrative aspects.
You are in front of a fragmented story and the will of putting together all the pieces is kind of spontaneous. If the viewer is sensitive enough, s/he can immediately perceive that something very intimate is hidden behind a more universal and impersonal story. Curiosity. We spoke about it before, the work is built in layers, the author didnâ€™t limit himself to the first/superficial layer (the personal one), but let the story settle â€” then he connected it with a collective one. And it ends with that unique portrait, very clean, on top of the highest skyscraper in Tokyo.
(2) Milo Montelli Publisher Skinnerboox
Buy the book here