Vittorio Mortarotti was born in 1982. Lives and work in Torino, Italy.
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. Let’s start with the book because it’s the way I first approached your work — 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 more…

V. Yes, the choice of putting that text in the end of the book is maybe a bit arrogant… 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 it’s this: I’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 I’ve been there *(1)… Actually, the reason why I went there was because of discovering some letters… 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 — the remains of a death which is like every other death… the Japanese ones.

E. And chronologically speaking… ?

V. The story is… 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 — which was never more than just an adolescent thing. I didn’t know about this, her, I just had a vague memory about some letters this girl was writing to him, even after my brother’s death, in 1999. I think she stopped since in the pre-internet era she couldn’t find anything about him. She probably thought he didn’t want her anymore…

E. She was never informed about how things went?

V. No.

E. And this is because nobody in your family knew about this “love story”… ?

V. Exactly. Nobody knew about this. I just knew there were some letters somewhere. My brother and I didn’t live together anymore; our parents split.

In 2012, 13 years later, I finally found these letters… 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 — 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 someone’s life leaves the same sensations; and, for those who are left, there is only the same possibility to go on… 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 wasn’t the important part of my story… of my research… I just thought to go, and only at the end of my itinerary to go knock on Kaori’s door… hoping to find someone who knew her, or at least someone that could give me some information… Her address was exactly the same, so I immediately found her.

E. Impressive…

V. Yes, I would’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. Kaori’s portrait is really the only staged one — it’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-constructed… 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 “bad air”… 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 — 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 don’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 — especially inside photo books — 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 you… I don’t like umbilical projects. That said, I still think there can be something cool in them… starting from fathers like Larry Clark, or mothers like Nan Goldin. But, in general, I get bored by the diaristic-style of storytelling — I just don’t think it’s the right way to speak about yourself.

E. Every time I’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 could’ve used some archival material as a tool for telling this story, in a quick way… instead, you found a different way of telling the past and the present…

V. I never thought about it because there is another theme that goes together with the archive which is memory. Since I don’t believe in memory, in the utilisation of the thing itself… 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 — including mine and my brother’s — doesn’t exist anymore and so to use the archive as proof of the past wasn’t appealing. In my work there’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. Let’s say that I would be interested in working with archival material only if there’s space for a new interpretation — like what I did with my project — between people’s connections and their post-tragic effects.

(Background noise and clamour.)

E. The letter placed in the middle of the book is quite unexpected…

V. Another thing that interested me was thinking about a book as a spiral (not because of the Japanese Manga), for creating a story that’s possibly readable from both ways. With little variations, as if… Well, the best compliment I’ve heard so far is “when the book ends, it seems as if it is rewinding”… without knowing that this was exactly the effect I was searching for. I wanted a sort of rhythmic repetition, an ambiguity — especially with the portraits that are a bit outside of a specific time and space. The letter kind of serves that function. It couldn’t be in the beginning, like it was, and not at the end because it sounded too exaggerated… 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, it’s like an orientational tool.

V. Yes, it’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 much… it had a strange beginning. Now I’m already thinking about a second book, and this time I’d have a totally different approach. I’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 didn’t ask anyone for help — not for the editing or anything else. Later, when I got in contact with Milo, I changed it a bit.

E. Sometimes it’s hard to delegate somebody else…

V. Yes. For example, in the printing process there was only one thing I didn’t follow directly… and for two weeks I was very anxious.

E. Yes, exactly… 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, it’s not yet a book, only a dummy: “Home Towns” by John Mclean. For me it’s one of his best works and I’m happy he finally decided to produce a book. And you?

V. One of my last purchases was “Ray”, by Susanne Kriemann. Since I’m working on my second book, I’m only buying books so that I can study. I liked very much Carly Steinbrunn’s “The Voyage of Discovery”. In this book there’s a usage of the archive in a cool way; I mean, it’s not so obvious… only clarified at the end. It’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 “why?”.

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 didn’t limit himself to the first/superficial layer (the personal one), but let the story settle — 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.

(1) Japan

(2) Milo Montelli Publisher Skinnerboox

Buy the book here