by Eleonora Milner

Hello Cesare, The 'Sardegna' exhibition, at Large Glass in London, presents images rich in multidisciplinary references. Your work suggests many concepts concerning literature, music, poetry and art history. First example, some photos remind me of the book 'The Old Patagonian Express' by Paul Theroux.  In 'Monti Ladu e Monti Angurdu' and 'Sale Porcus, San Vero Milis' (2015), two extended landscapes, I can see the old relationship between Man (conqueror) and Nature (uncharted and uninhabited), between the known and the unknown. You, the photographer, look like an explorer who detects a wild and desert land. In this exploring expedition, the rock presented on 'Sa crabarissa, Austis' (2016) seems to assume a "vedette" role. It dominates alone on the top, as if it had to control something (maybe the human presence?) surrounded by an air of mystery. Does it guard the unknown that Man (and photographer obviously) persists to unveil? Does photography offer you the chance of discovering a land, all the times you approach it, again and again? Does your road trip become an illuminating discovery, a Joycean epiphany? As Theroux said: «The train travels a thousand miles from Buenos Aires, stops in the middle of the desert, and you get out. You look around; you're alone. It is like arriving. In itself it is like discovery - it has that singularity [...] This was all new»".

© Cesare Fabbri, ‘Monti Ladu e Monti Angurdu, Serrenti, 2015’. Gelatin silver print: 40.6 x 50.8 cm /16 x 20 in. Courtesy the artist and Large Glass, London

© Cesare Fabbri, ‘Sale Porcus, San Vero Milis, 2015’. Gelatin silver print: 40.6 x 50.8 cm /16 x 20 in. Courtesy the artist and Large Glass, London.

© Cesare Fabbri from the series 'Sa crabarissa, Austis', 2016. Gelatin silver print: 40.6 x 50.8 cm /16 x 20 in. Courtesy the artist and Large Glass, London.

CESARE FABBRI (CF): When someone asks me about Sardinia, Sardegna in Italian, I like to define it as the "European Tasmania". It is really an unusual and unique island in Italy, opposite to the rest of the Peninsula for its geographical and cultural features. Among all the islands in the western Mediterranean sea, it's the second in terms of size, but the least anthropized. It has a low population rate (around 1 650 000 inhabitants in 2010), mostly in the areas of Cagliari and Sassari (respectively, one third and one fifth of the total population).

When I started to photograph its landscape, I was shocked. Apart from the Northeast of the island, heavily impacted by mass tourism industry, the rest of the region is still well preserved. I came from Emilia Romagna, a region highly anthropized, where the predominant urban model is the widespread city. In Sardegna the cities and the surrounding countryside are still two distinct entities. You feel lucky enough to find some of nature reserves and some of countryside areas not all industrialized yet. As a photographer, I changed my approach: if I was in Emilia Romagna I pretended to be an "Italian-American photographer of the late '70s", in Sardinia I felt to be an American photographer in the nineteenth century.

I was stimulated by a certain type of literature such as the ones you mentioned above (but also by cinema, music, graphic novel). My visual references are Timothy O'Sullivan, George Barnard or Alexander Gardner, just to mention some of the old master photographers. I have always had a thing for American photographers of the Civil War and of the geographical expedition; in Sardinia, I finally could find the place where cultivate this passion and achieve my goal.

This relationship between Man and Nature returns in 'Su Pirastu/Curreli' (2016), an interior of a stable with wheat sheaves, and 'Alessio, Pauli Longa, Simaxis' (2016), a man with a horse, though this time the encounter happens more peacefully. These pictures remind of Italian Macchiaioli's paintings where lights revealed an inner reality nature. In 'Alessio, Pauli Longa, Simaxis' horse and man are part of the same old universe governed by ancient rhythm and an archaic time. This image, in particular, suggests a quotes by John Berger in Why Look at Animals?: «What were the secrets of the animal’s likeness with, and unlikeness from man? The secrets whose existence man recognised as soon as he intercepted an animal’s look. In one sense the whole of anthropology, concerned with the passage from nature to culture, is an answer to that question.»

© Cesare Fabbri‘Su Pirastu / Curreli, 2016’. Gelatin silver print: 40.6 x 50.8 cm /16 x 20 in. Courtesy the artist and Large Glass, London

© Cesare Fabbri, ‘Alessio, Pauli Longa, Simaxis, 2016’. Gelatin silver print: 40.6 x 50.8 cm /16 x 20 in. Courtesy the artist and Large Glass, London

CF: The equestrian portrait was an important subject for American topographers I have already mentioned. Great examples are the Captain Confederate Perkin, a stereograph, and the portrait of the General Pleasonton on his grey stallion, a 8x10 inch plate by the artist O'Sullivan. I try to reproduce it all the times I have the chance. In Sardinia the horse is more used than in Italy. If you have enough space, it is common to own one.  Since the past Sardinians have developed their own particular horse racing traditions as La Sartiglia di Oristano, S'Ardia di Sedilo or the Palio di Fonni. Indeed, half of the stallions and jockeys running in the Palio di Siena come from Sardegna. Alessio, the man in the picture posing with his horse, symbolized this situation. I confess that I don't understand anything about horses, but all the times that Alessio talks to me about this animal, he looks like the best groom of all the Peninsula. Once he is on the horse's back, he runs in such a natural way that he looks like a Comanche Indian.

'Foce del Tirso, Su Comgiau Gerusso' (2016) (an empty wall ruined by signs with in the middle, a walled window) introduces another concept, Meta-photography, a theory investigating the photography itself. The window, the world in a frame, together with the light and the signs on the wall, two basic tools of the photographic process, become metaphor of the the medium itself. The close window brings to the mind the idea of the cul-de-sac. In a metaphorical way it reminds that photography is an open knowing process, in continuous evolution and never definitive. You gradually take us closer to the area (Alessio and his horse) only to then move away from it again (an empty wall with a close window). Could you tell us a little bit about that?

© Cesare Fabbri, ‘Foce del Tirso, Su Comgiau Gerusso, 2016’. Gelatin silver print: 40.6 x 50.8 cm /16 x 20 in. Courtesy the artist and Large Glass, London

CF: Every time I take a picture I have the opportunity to talk about photography itself. Some situations are more favorable, others less. It happens certainly when the subject regards a particular imprint, like a footprint, such as a mark left by the wheels or just the traces of a window. For me, it's really exciting to think that we are getting a mold out of something (an imprint) thanks to the action of the light.

However, if I have to confess the truth, when I took this picture I was not particularly moved by any reasons. It was a morning during Santo Stefano holiday. I was driving along a sandy road right to the mouth of the Tirso river, when a car tire was suddenly cut by a concrete block hidden by the sand. Since I hadn't a spare tire, I called the tow truck (the nearest road was at least four kilometers from where I was stuck). Waiting for the help, I started to photograph around. I took a pair of photographs of this little nearby house. Indeed, the light was good.

'Menhir di cement - Simaxis' (2015) is a fabulous series of eight pictures depicting cement constructions, similar for the shape to the menhir, the old traditional sardinian megaliths. In each photo the menhir (always similar and always different at the same time) becomes a changeable figure. The viewer is able to see the entire process and get lost in idea of time: in the 8 last photos, the exterior form decomposes, revealing the inner structure. I think the interesting thing is that in the last picture, the menhir, decaying, becomes more similar to an anthropomorphous figure. Time, an abstract concept, becomes a real physical entity. The repetition, the minimal shapes, the black and white colors and the silence remind us of a solemn event commonly perceived by all cultures and viewers. You can explore the time to be experienced with the mind. Analyzing time, the viewer will also need to be aware of their perceptions as well. Without an understanding of consciousness that is perceiving time, how will we know if our understanding is distorted or not? How do we fit this variable of changing perspective of the viewer as we seek to understand truth? An incredible movie comes to mind. As in 2001: A Space Odyssey film (Kubrick, 1968) the iconic monolith has been subject to countless interpretations, your work suggests multiple thoughts.

© Cesare Fabbri ‘Menhir di cemento – Simaxis, 2015’. 8 x Gelatin silver prints: 30 x 24 cm (image 24 x 19 cm). Courtesy the artist and Large Glass, London

CF: What you said is very nice. Indeed, photography is less poetic. There are days when the subject reveals itself to me. I can't even walk for twenty kms that I have to come back just because I finished the films. The seven hours fly. Other days, however, the subject hides itself really well. It happened to walk for 100, 150 km without any relevant material. When this moment happens, I normally go to some familiar places. My attempt is to take a set of photographes, trying different lights and different formats. 

The series of Menhirs was born from one of these experiments. I love that place! It is situated on the alluvial plain on the North part of Oristano, between the mountains of Grighine on the east and Montiferru on the north. You will never expect to find rice fields there: Sardinia is basically a semi-desert region. The Menhir are ruins of the irrigation system that was built in the '50s thanks to the latest land reform. It's really relaxing for me linger around, because the owner of those lands became used to my presence. I can photograph in peace.

Your vision maintains order and beauty, despite all the fragmented and altered landscape. Reporting photographer Robert Adams’s words: «By Interstate 70: a dog skeleton, a vacuum cleaner, TV dinners, a doll, a pie, rolls of carpet… Later, next to the South Platte River: algae, broken concrete, jet contrails, the smell of crude oil… What I hope to document, though not at the expense of surface detail, is the form that underlies this apparent chaos». Can you explain what beauty is for you?

CF: It's a difficult question that I struggle to answer. Let's say that I am for the defense of the traditional values of photography.

You usually do long-term projects. How does the sense construction of a project happen? When do you put a period on it and how do you feel it ends?

CF: Cesare: Despite the fact I studied urban planning at the IUAV in Venice, I learned that planning a project and photography are not really the same thing; at least, for me, are two really different steps. When I started taking photography more seriously, I tried to do serial work in Delta of Po river areas or in the road connecting Ravenna to Venice. The results were always a bit trivial, and often, paradoxically, not concluded. Therefore, over time, I abandoned this way of work and I began to pay more attention to the ongoing process, no just to the final result. This different method changed also my approach to photography. I felt more free during the production process. More free to expand the subject, and less afraid of making mistakes. So now, if I have to show my work, I start by the topic or the title. Then I choose the photos connected to the main theme in some way. Finally, thanks to the support of Silvia (my life and work partner), through a long editing work, we try to recompose the fragments into a new vision of reality.

You co-founded Osservatorio Fotografico platform in Italy. By creating and presenting new projects and photobooks each year, the platform is looking to promote the ”photobook” as an art object. Could you tell us about this idea and suggest three books of photography to keep an eye on?

CF: Osservatorio Fotografico was born in 2009 thanks to the meeting with Silvia Loddo and the particular situation in Emilia Romagna. There, a certain tradition of Italian photography grew thanks to the work of Masters such as Luigi Ghirri and Guido Guidi. Some of the most interesting contemporary Italian photographers are from there. The main project of Osservatorio Fotografico is Where we live, a work inspired by an homonym exhibition shown at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Thanks to the collaboration with the Municipality of Ravenna, this idea became a concrete reality. Every year we invite some young photographers to produce a short project, eventually collected into a final publication. Therefore, Osservatorio is not a publisher. It's an association that promotes photographic culture. The choice to create a book was born as a way to promote the work of the authors involved in this project.


Osservatorio Fotografico
Urbanautica Italy