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La Pietra Dialogues On the World On-Line
An Interview with Martino Marangoni
Nathalie Gomez, NYU Florence student

October 22, 2015

Q: Why do you take pictures of trashcans and abandoned buildings? How does it relate to Alone Together?

A: Well, there are two different projects in that book. I often put different projects together that are somehow related. I have been photographing building sites in a lot of different cities for a long time, but particularly so since the 9/11 incident. That really got me going on this project. I go to London where there are a lot of building sites: a new building every few months, cranes everywhere, particularly around the city. As I explained in the lecture, living in Florence, nothing gets built. If they do build something, it usually takes twenty years to discuss it before they decide not to do it. And it’s really annoying.

I think that the city that stops building - the society that stops building- is a society that is going to die. You cannot stop building. You become like a Pompey; a dead city. And it’s fine for the tourists, but it’s not very good for the inhabitants. So when I go, travel around, and see buildings coming up, I’m like a curious child looking and seeing what they do. I like all these machines at the building sites that are in black in white in my book.

The reason why they’re in the book, that was a decision of the publisher. We inserted them in every section of sixteen pages. The building sites create a different narrative in the book; it acquires a different rhythm. These black and white pages are like screens between different sections. The building sites also function like pictures that will be like the photographs I take in buildings, shopping centers and museums. That’s what those building sites are going to be like. It’s a kind of commentary on contemporary architecture, but also on how people function in it.

Q: As a photographer, do you worry that people might miss those connections in your book? Specially since there are no captions?

A: We decided not to caption the pictures because it would make the viewer go and research those places, and really those places could be anywhere. It´s not really about the specific place. It’s global. It could be New York or Berlin or Abu Dhabi. It’s all the same.

Q: How much can pictures speak for themselves?

A: Well, those pictures in black and white have a function. I did shoot them in color. Maybe someday I’ll do a book about the building sites as a project.

Photographic books have developed, in the past few years, from being a place to publish all of your best pictures, and they’re all fairly similar. One picture each page and not much attention put onto the kind of book and binding. That’s sort of how books have always been done: coffee table books.

Recently, there is a renaissance of small (very small) publishers that do very few books and very few printings of those books. Like my book, it´s only 800 copies. Tiny. And the idea is that the book is an object, and it’s also something that you collect. So there’s a whole kind of market online, and fairs or special book publishers that do maybe four or five books a year, or something like that. A lot of them are even handmade. They become really like a unique object. It’s like a bit of a cult; people go to these fairs and buy books. I think it’s very interesting because now that photography has entered full swing in the art market, somehow the galleries are having a hard time because of the economic crisis. A lot of the big publishers are having a hard time too. A lot of them have closed down; they can’t afford to make books. It’s expensive. So there’s this flourishing of small publishers. They do very well because they only make a few books. They sell them directly, without a distributor because the problem with books is that distributing is a big percent of the cost. In the end the publisher can’t make enough money. So now, in this system, they can sell them directly to the public and get 100% of the profit without having to pay the middle man.        

Q: How do you get consent to photograph your subjects?

A: That’s an interesting question because there have been some legal issues. The legalities are complicated and it’s different from the states and here. The tendency is to make it more and more difficult for a photographer. The general law is that if you´re photographing people in a public space and there´s more than a certain number of people, the picture is not really about them. It´s about the situation. So they are just a part of the crowd. It’s more complicated if you´re taking a single person without the context. I have a few like that, and I could technically get sued for a couple of those pictures. Not many, because most of them are wider panoramas with a lot going on. There are ways I could go and ask the people, but most -if not all of the people- don’t even know that I’m photographing them. So it would be tricky to go and say, “Look, I took a picture of you. Can you sign this release form?”

Q: How do you feel about not being able to take pictures in certain places?

A: Guess? Horrible! It’s ridiculous. In fact, in my Paris pictures I could be sued! The French have passed a very strict law that you can’t even photograph architecture without the permission of the architect.

It’s all about money. In Florence, you can’t photograph with a tripod unless you pay money. It’s an old law. A professional photographer doesn’t need a tripod to take a picture of any monument. In fact they can even take a picture of it with an iphone and still make money on it. It’s just bullshit. You can quote me.

Q: Was the concept of Alone Together something that you consciously thought of while photographing?

A: No. It’s probably something that has slowly developed in my mind. I mean, I’m a street photographer. I’ve always photographed people on the streets because I like to watch people. When I do that kind of traveling, I’m usually on my own and I’m usually going from one place to another, and in transit. Therefore I don´t have time to wait around for something and a lot of the people I photograph are probably doing that too. If they are talking to someone it´s through their devices. I think it´s a new form of being alone. That’s how the title came together.

Q: Can you take me through the steps you took to make your book?

A: I did it in various phases. I was looking through pictures from various trips and I did a book dummy which became an instrument to get feedback. Then I did another one, taking some pictures out, putting new ones in. It’s been a pretty long process. Five years, I guess, since I had the idea. Once I refined the idea, I went out and took more pictures that were fitting to the concept. If I showed you my first dummy, it’s very different. Pictures from Africa, Russia. The final result is like a distillation of several different grapes. Like a grapa.

Q: Do you consider your work to be a form of activism? Is your aim to open up an idea for discussion or to give your point of view on it?

A: I’m not sure I have a purpose or that kind of conscious. I take pictures because it´s like pointing your finger at something. I do that by pointing my camera. A photographer from New York that was very influential to me in my study days was Garry Winogrand and he said the reason why he took pictures was because he wanted to see how things looked like after things have happened. That was the start of his own curiosity. You can’t do it any other way. You can’t stop time and then analyze it. You can only do it by taking a picture of it and then looking at it later. It’s as simple as that.

You become like an activist once you’ve done your work. Doing the book is more like a deliberate step towards putting together a concept and work that is coherent and functional towards my mental process. So the book, it’s a bit like doing a puzzle. But when I shoot, I don’t think of the puzzle so much. I just go out and I react to what’s happening and it’s very natural. I could go back and chose pictures and do a different kind of story. So the book is more like a selection. Different pictures could have told different stories.

Q: What is your view on our society’s trend toward becoming increasingly lonely?

A: I think that’s something that you feel more in big cities. In a way I like that. I don’t mind being lonely. I kind of feed from it. I think that as long as it’s something you don’t have all the time, I think being lonely for an hour, or a day, is probably quite healthy. By feeling like that, at least in my case, it makes me go and find a way to make contact with people. It’s an existential thing. It’s not because I don’t like people and that´s why I’m not talking to them. On the contrary, I’m very interested in meeting people.

I think that it’s a condition that our contemporary lifestyle encourages.  In Florence when I grew up, you grew up in the public space, people were noticing you, talking to you. There was interaction between people; that’s what the public spaces were made for. They did their business out there, people played in the middle of the market. Now it doesn´t happen anymore. Now public spaces are only functional to get from point A to point B in the fastest possible time. Do your stuff, and then go away. Where instead the homes in the old days were protected from the outside. You weren’t suppose to look inside. If you walk around Florence it’s always very high windows and bars. So the separation between the public and private spaces were very much wanted.

And today it’s the opposite. Because the public spaces are empty, but the private spaces are transparent, so you can look in (skyscrapers). It’s kind of weird.

Buildings that people build now are not made of stone. At least the kinds of buildings that I´m interested in. The buildings are all glass. Therefore, you can see what people are doing. That’s not how Florence is built. To look inside is really impossible. You don’t have buildings like this in the old world. What happens indoors is closed to the public.

Northern Europe is different. Even in the states, in neighborhoods. People don’t have walls in front of their houses. They have a fence and a lawn which is easily entered and you can look inside of your neighbor’s house and see what they’re doing. It’s a whole different mentality. And the relationship between indoors and outdoors is very different. When I went to America, I was surprised.

Q: Your mom is from Massachusetts, but lived in NY. Does being binational affect your experience while photographing in the states?

A: When you’re binational, your neither one or the other. You’re a combination of the two. So one country considers you a foreigner, and the other one as well. That’s how I always felt it. Now it´s probably more normal since there more people who are binational. When I grew up I was one of the few, so it was more awkward. Now it’s accepted. It’s actually almost considered a privilege to be binational because usually you´re also bilingual, and have possibilities of traveling more.

There are special ties with the places I’m from. I’m not sure if i can point to them, but it follows your personal history and develops with your personal growth. But it’s okay.

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