martedì 7 luglio 2015

Edoardo Miola and his tales of sand

The most beautiful tales of photographers told by Tony Graffio. 
Choosing the right character and going deep into their experience to understand, not just the motivations that push an author to embark on a personal and difficult journey, but to analyse their artistic values, the professional competence and the technical choices. Leave everything you know behind and throw yourselves into the adventure that each of us would have liked to live, by simply reading these pages. 

Tony Graffio interviews Edoardo Miola

T.G.: Edoardo, please introduce yourself and explain to us who you are and what you do. 

Edoardo Miola: My name is Edoardo Miola, I’m a photographer, right now and for about a decade I have been dedicating myself to this activity which has always been a passion for me. Recently, I have been able to start transforming this passion into a remunerative activity by selling my photos, by publishing books. 
I collect my images during my travels to illustrate a new country that I am visiting, or I keep everything in my archive, in case they can be of use some time later to organise exhibitions, or prepare new projects. 

T.G.: It seems to me that you are also an architect… 

Edoardo Miola: I am an architect by training, even if my activity has always centred around the construction of prototypes and models related to the world of design, architecture and science, in the sense that I made models also for dynamic and mechanical testing: from the plans of boats to skyscrapers for the anti-seismic testing and things like that. I have developed my activity in a technological field, over many years of my career, and I have been lucky to always have top quality clients. On the professional level, I have worked with Renzo Piano, with Aldo Rossi, with absolutely first-class foreign architects and with loads of designers. I have lived a very interesting and varied life, but photography has also been my latent passion, ever since I was 14 years old. Photography was a hobby that I am finally developing in the way I want. 

T.G.: Now are you able to live just with photography? 

Edoardo Miola: At the moment I am dedicating about 90% of my time to photography, so photography is definitely bringing in some money. Let’s say that in this part of my life there are by now many things that have been put in place that allow me to not have to increase my photography by accepting commissions that don’t interest me. I dedicate my time and energy to the things that I like and that satisfy me personally, that perhaps can allow me to sell some high quality prints at an adequate price. 

T.G.: Did you introduce yourself to MIA in a gallery? 

Edoardo Miola: I am here in MIA as a prospect. I would like to say “young prospect”, but given my age it seems a little anachronistic. Jokes aside, I am an MIA Candidate, in this year’s fair. 

T.G.: Tell me a little about the work that you are presenting.

Edoardo Miola: The work that I’m presenting at MIA is: Tales of sand. The title lets us understand quite a lot from the outset. I have chosen some photos that I have taken over the last 4 years, during the trips I took across southern Africa. All of the 11 images that I am showing here in MIA were taken in Namibia, but the unifying theme is the sand that in some way reclaims the human spaces, and so also abandoned objects, abandoned businesses. This was an aspect of my theme, or rather the desertification that advances, the sand that invades everything, but becomes also a witness to the passing of time. Geological time is something extremely drawn out and by comparison our lives seem fleeting and ephemeral. Amongst the photos that I have chosen, there is one, also chosen by My Lifestyle, that shows a relic and this ship is given life by the shadows that makes it more visible and also more ephemeral, a little like other naval disasters. 
A relic that decomposes on a rocky shore behaves in a different way, while the shore shows no decline, after a hundred years human creations are reduced to mush. 

T.G.: Will we see the diamond desert in these photographs?

Edoardo Miola: Well, the beauty of Namibia is that the majority of the territory is a desert where they mine diamonds and there are loads of areas, unimaginable for us Europeans, that are “off limits”. The diamond deserts are all over the place. The photographs I have brought here are of a ghost town in central Namibia; there are several that you can get to; for some you need a special permit because they are in a zone that is still pretty productive, while this one that I photographed is one of the more marginal ones. My exhibition tells, in part, about this abandoned village, which in sometime around the 1930s, was completely invaded by sand that, as we know, moves under the effect of the wind. The dunes move and the peculiarity is to see the houses still very nicely finished, we’re surely talking about houses that were lived in at one time by the heads of department, or by the directors, you can still see the doors, but they’re completely buried under two metres of sand. The sensation you get from this vision, apart from curiosity, is the precariousness of human life in these territories and almost the futility of human action in the face of nature. 

T.G.: Was it difficult to reach these places and work in these conditions? 

Edoardo Miola: For my own interest and passion I move around in these areas with my fully-equipped transport. Apart from the time necessary to reach these places, there are inevitable difficulties because of the rugged terrain, because of the sand and also because of the inexistence of the roads as sometimes I moved with only co-ordinates to guide me, trying to circumnavigate the dunes too high to cross. Also crossing the zones that are completely without any sign of anyone having ever been there is not so easy. All of this is quite normal in the Namibian territory and you can think of it as easily crossable, because unlike Botswana, there are no big forests that impede your movement. Apart from the difficulties that come about with the breakdown of mechanical equipment, or things like that, many places, even those off the grid, can be reached by using a type of navigation like you use at sea, so by the co-ordinates and the route. 

T.G.: Did you have a guide? 

Edoardo Miola: No, I don’t use guides because I have already spent a lot of time in these territories and I know the area pretty well. Also I trust my capacity to adapt. I can also rely on what I know of mechanics and of navigation. I’ve navigated in the sea for many years. 

T.G.: Are you trying to tell me you went into the desert on your own? 

Edoardo Miola: Sure, it’s easier if there are people who trust me rather than vice versa. I crossed the whole Namib desert and the Botswana desert, that reaches the border of Namibia, without any particular trouble. 

T.G.: I heard though, maybe not exactly where you were, that in the diamond desert, if you happen to blow a tyre and you stop for too long, helicopters arrive fast and tell you that you must leave, maybe also threatening to do you not very nice things to you. Is this true? 

Edoardo Miola: Sure, there are clear rules to follow that are indicated, I mean it’s difficult to arrive in one of these zones without realising it. There are real barriers, there are officials that give you forms to fill out. You have to write your details and the details of the people in the vehicle and you are given a time limit within which you must be out of the area. Stopping is not allowed, getting out of the vehicle is not allowed and at the next check point they make sure these rules have been respected. I’ve never been searched, or anything. It’s a formality. Sure, you need to respect the rules because they’re really careful. If they see that a 90km stretch of road is taking you more than an hour, an hour and a half, then they take steps. 

T.G.: They don’t mess around… 

Edoardo Miola: No they absolutely don’t. There is an area around orange, at the border with South Africa, that is really exploited and this 90km stretch must absolutely be covered in the given time. I stopped just long enough to roll down my window and take a shot of an eland antelope that I liked, but I stayed within the time limits. Basically, stopping is forbidden.

T.G.: Did you have any trouble with your photographic equipment? Maybe with the sand, the temperature or something else? 
Edoardo Miola: The problem of dust is present in all the African territories because the majority of roads are unsealed and the superfine quartz, abrasive dust is ever present and gets everywhere. During the day it is impossible to think about cleaning the objective and forget about the sensor. When push comes to shove and I’m at the limit and I absolutely have to clean the sensor, I try to do it at daybreak before the first breeze starts blowing. Otherwise, in the dark, even at 4 am if you turn on a light you see those infinitesimal crystals flying everywhere. Unfortunately my objectives are full of this dust. By now my camera is used to it, there are moments in which the air is more electric and this is a disaster because you take the photos through the veil of dust on the sensor. Luckily there are systems to clean this up, even in post-production, but thinking to have a clean camera, even if you keep the objectives still and use multiple bodies, it is still an illusion. I keep my camera in my bag while travelling but it is inevitable that the bag statically collects the sand and the dust and when you open it there is a cloud. You live in constant contact with the dust. 

T.G.: Do you think that using analogue equipment would create less problems? 

Edoardo Miola: Using analogue equipment that has a very robust mechanism can help, but the dust would get in there anyway. When it deposits on the film it makes beautiful lines because the rewinding of the film will do some damage for sure. In my opinion it is still possible to use digital cameras as long as there are no problems recharging the batteries. Perhaps I felt more need for mechanical camera bodies when I was going around Nepal because I didn’t have any way of recharging the batteries as I was above 4000, 4500 metres. In that situation I constructed a solar powered recharger with a really big battery, I put it on the trestle and so I created my own energy, also for the computer. The analogue system, in my opinion, is an anachronistic system for everything that is post-production. In spite of this I’m really fond of it and I still use the Leitz objectives from my old Leica M6 and M5 on Monochrom, but with the digital. In the same way I use the old Nikon Ais optics from the F3 with the Nikon digital reflexes. 

T.G.: Seeing as you’ve brought up the Leica Monochrom, I’d like you to tell me how you find it. Pros and cons. 

Edoardo Miola: I find the Monochrom exceptional for some specific aspects and I have found it problematic for others. The sensor gets dirty really easily and there’s no electronic cleaning system. The sensor, not having the anti aliasing filter, is more delicate than a normal sensor, both on the MP and on the Monochrom that’s fantastic, above all for the output. I’ve taken some fantastic photos in terms of quality and the sorting out the files takes very little. The 19 million pixels, in reality correspond to a definition that is almost 4 times better. I can say though that I have also printed these also in large format. It’s really nice because it fits in your pocket but I can’t put all my faith in this camera because after all I might need other types of performance that, unfortunately, this camera can’t offer. It’s also really slow in terms of file acquisition times, unlike the MP, but every system has its own strong points. 

T.G.: Can you tell me the story of the shipwreck in the desert? 

Edoardo Miola: I had wanted to photograph the shipwreck in the desert for a long time, and it was in a special moment that I had the time needed to take the flight over that zone. The planes take off from around 200 km away from the skeleton coast, a place, where just to get there, you need special permits from the ministry. I had always only had local permits, which couldn’t get me all the way to that place over land. I knew that that wreck was particular, I had already seen it on google and I had seen some images, but in my opinion it could show itself at its best only at sundown. I had battle with the pilot to convince him to leave later than usual. Normally the private flights left at 2 pm, while we left after 4 pm to reach the place with the favourable light. Explaining to the pilot that if I hadn’t been above the wreck at the appointed hour I would have taken a useless photo, I managed to get what I wanted. 
The shadows then told all the boat’s story, because it was the shadows that spoke of the subject, not the subject itself. 

T.G.: So does some kind of photographic tourism exist to go and photograph this ship?

Edoardo Miola: For this site in particular, no, even if it is a really fascinating location. There are people, though, with their list of places to see and photograph and from this point of view, so surely a photographic tourism exists. 
Tourism in itself exists, there are even flights you can do in hot air balloons, limited to the possibilities that a hot air balloon can offer. There are pilots that are perfectly happy to fly people who want to see these beautiful places from on high. I put together a videoclip with images of mine that I would advise everyone to take a look at, to give an idea of the places you can visit in that part of the world. 
In: If the sand could speak the colours of the sand and the variety of the forms of the dunes, that says everything. 

T.G.: Do you fancy speaking about the prints? Are you satisfied? Who is your printer? 

Edoardo Miola: Certainly. Robert Berné has done all the prints for me and he, apart from being a brilliant printer, one of the best, has inevitably become a friend because when you work together and you have the passion and the taste in a certain way, above all, you put in something of yourselves. At that point, you discover, you know each other and you easily become friends. We’re talking about ciglèe prints on top quality paper. I chose a sepia tone because I liked that the tale was almost detached from time, as if the print were from a different epoch. We’re not talking about some affectation to copy the rendering of an old Agfa paper, but it was just to separate the image from time. 

T.G.: How much are your works sold for and how many copies of each are produced?

Edoardo Miola: The prints that I have brought here to MIA have all been produced in the same format: 70 x 105 cm with the same type of frame for all of them. A photograph has been claimed by the sponsor for € 2000. The print batch has been done in 5+2 pieces. 5 pieces plus 2 drafts. 

T.G.: Do you do the treatment of the files for printing yourself? 

Edoardo Miola: Yes, yes I do it myself. In the last book I made about Mustangs that came out 20 days ago, I even treated half of the photos myself while I was travelling using exactly the power generation equipment that I explained earlier. Every evening as soon as darkness fell, during the journey I busied myself with post production with an old laptop, while usually, at home I use a Mac. When I got back from Nepal, around the 7th or 8th of November I didn’t have to prepare too much and on the 26th of the same month, I already had an exhibition open in Turin: all because I had already selected, chosen and post-produced everything I needed. In Turin I simply did the printing and the arrangement at the exhibition, because I like it. When I find myself in the place, understanding how the final photos will be, and also because if I realise something is missing, I can do it right then, or I can make modifications to the way I have of taking photos. 

T.G.: Do you consider this project finished? 

Edoardo Miola: (Laughs) The projects: as soon as they are finished, I want to change them. No, it’s not finished, in the sense that I’ll definitely work on it some more, I might add something to it, I might change it. It’s not that I am never content with a project, but the project is a moment that catalyses all that went into it. I always say: life is a moment. A moment later is another life and then the projects are not the same. 

T.G.: Do you see yourself going back to Namibia? 

Edoardo Miola: If possible I leave on the 19th , or the 20th of this month, to go down to sort out the vehicles. I also wanted to take some photos in a little city in South Africa. 

T.G.: Do you have your own equipped vehicle that you keep in Namibia? 

Edoardo Miola: Yes, you can’t do this type of journey renting the vehicles because I have a vehicle with a 350-litre petrol fuel which means I neither have to worry nor have flying jerry cans on the roof. If you want to rent something for this type of trip, you need to have a lot of cash at your disposal, renting lots of vehicles and travelling with everything you need that are really the type of transportation to do with a logistics company because each vehicle must be equipped with everything. You can find someone who will rent you his equipped vehicle, but you know he is very possessive of this vehicle, therefore either it is a company and they have six vehicles and a truck with spare parts or these journeys can only be done with a custom designed vehicle and not on a large scale. When you need to transport a lot of people you have to do it in convoy. 

T.G.: How do you feel about being an “up and coming photographer” at your age? 

Edoardo Miola: I don’t feel like an up and coming photographer by any means. I’m probably too old, in the sense that I am over 60 though I bring the enthusiasm of a child to this job because I would have like to do it when I was 18. In 1974 I was in Afghanistan and I would have liked to continue going around places like that, but instead I started doing other stuff. I have studied and I have travelled but always while doing something else. The thing that I derive pleasure from is not being “up and coming” but the fact that my work is well evaluated and well received. I’m happy people like it. This is all already satisfying for me. 

T.G.: Anything else you’d like to add? 

Edoardo Miola: I hope that I’m never without the desire and the energy to travel, also because these places I went through are populated with friends. I could tell 1000 stories about these people that are so nice and generous and of an infinite simplicity. As always happens, it is easier to have beautiful and deep relationships outside of the large population centres, because the large population centres, unfortunately, catalyse the worst things. As soon as you are out of the urban circuit, the people will bend over backwards to help; they are curious, they are helpful, they happily share their bread with you. While you’re speaking, it is normal to break off a piece of what you’re eating and offer a piece to whoever is with you and eat it together. I think this says it all. 

Edoardo Miola at the MIA fair in Milan, april 2015

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