An Interview of Michael Wernli, who talks about his book: "Punti di fuga"

by Stefano Bianchi

Talk about yourself, your background before coming to photography.
I was born in Switzerland, near Lausanne. I lived and studied there, got a degree in physics at the Polytechnical School of Lausanne. Then I moved to France (Grenoble) for a PhD thesis, and finally to Italy to go on with research. After a couple of years there, I radically changed my working sector and begun working with languages, as a teacher and translator. Since I was an adult, I always had a strong push towards artistic expression, at first through music – I play the guitar and compose music and songs, and later also on through photography.

How did you come to photography?
As many people of my age, I started photographying in the digital era (but not the smartphone era), which entails the possibility of taking many pictures, with the pros and cons of this freedom. My first real contact with photography came with the first compact camera which I was offered more
o less at my arrival in Rome, about fifteen years ago. At the beginning, I would shoot "touristic" photos, and was settling for what I could document (with hindsight, I'd say 'trying to document'): the town, its beauties, and obviously friends and relatives. In a nutshell, ordinary and quite bad pictures, to be honest.  Afterwards, I was given another, more sophisticated, compact camera. I started having more fun all the while becoming more aware of my technical and expressive limitations. From there sprang the will to teach myself properly to this art. I thus started teaching myself through an extremely exhaustive French blog. This drove me a few years later to buy a Reflex camera and to perfect my technical skills in taking, composing and editing photos, to the point where I found my own language.

Michael Wernli - Punti di fuga

What are your main influences in the fields of arts-photography?
Since the time when I started using the Reflex camera, I promptly fell in love with street photography. At that time, I particularly liked the work of Burce Gilden and of my fellow countryman Thomas Leuthard. Regarding what I am doing now (urban photography), my influences are more abstract art, the material and conceptual informality of artist as Burri, Tàpies or Dubuffet, but also the Arte povera of Celant, Pascali, Fabro and Kounellis. However, these references are more affected by the environment I usually work in: the Rome suburbs, where it was quite natural to embrace the poetry of degradation as a means of expression. Recently i uncovered and immediately loved the work by Germany's Siegfried Hansen, which is really close to what I am trying to do with my urban reportages, although he defenitely operates in a quite different setting. To finish with, at a pure aesthetical level, I am a great fan of all the work of Sebastião Salgado.

Michael Wernli - Punti di fuga

What is the rationale behind shooting photographs specifically for this project?

Like I said in the above, it's been a few years since I am interested in urban photography, seeking in the urban landscapes and its details glimpses of poetry, amenity, absurdity, condraction, surreality... This year in March, as soon as the lock-down started, I felf the urge to go wandering in my surroundings in order not to feel like a caged animal, and I remind that one day a peculiar subject popped out at me, which I had to take a picture of. Thus started what would become "Punti di Fuga", without me knowing it. Every during my walks, I would take pictures of every single thing that stimulated me, ususally a few tens of images, not more, in priviledged conditions of quiet and time to compose my images with the utmost care.

Michael Wernli - Punti di fuga

At what time did you become aware that you wanted to make a book, and why did you choose this precise project?

The will to make a book came around three months later, again fallen from the sky. While carelessly watching videos about photography, I fell nearly by accident on one long interview about the publishing business of this art. Although the main interviewee was quite pessimistic about the opportunity for a newcomer to reach a publisher without referral or contacts a priori, I just thought that all the material I had produced had somehow to become a book, simply because it had a value which had to be highlighted. And the choice to publish “Punti di Fuga” instead of another project is very simple: it is the first among all my works with a real space-time consistency.

Michael Wernli - Punti di fuga

What is the message you want to convey though this book?
That with enough time and quietness to observe things, one can find a lot of material to smile and dream at, also in the most degraded suburb of a major city, which at first glance may seem not so photogenic. Surely, documenting a state of things which do not exactly work as they should also includes a form of social criticism, yet this is not my primary intent, but rather an unavoidable consequence.

Let's speak about your technical choices.
While in normal times I usually shoot with my reflex camera (for obvious quality reasons), for “Punti di Fuga” I found myself shooting nearly all photographs with my smartphone. Party, because during the lock-down period I didn't want to get noticed, and a guy "playing" with a cell phone gets definitely less noticed than one shooting with a big balck thing, and partly to get rid of the constraints of technical choices (aperture, ISO, exposure, etc.) and thus focus solely on composing. Obviously, I could do this because I worked during daytime, with enough sunlight, and also because I thought that the image quality was adequate for what I aimed to do (a book, rather than big posters).

What are your future projects?

For the time being, I will try to promote “Punti di fuga” the best I can, also at the cultural institutions of the metropolitan area. For the future, I do not as yet have a precise project – it will also depend on the outcome of this book, but for now I go on with my research in the field of urban photography, and it may well be that another publishing project arises from this. And this time, with the desirable presence of human beings.

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