Barbara Luisi was the first photographer to be featured on gramilano, and as the years pass we love her work more and more. Other photographers to be found here work as dance photographers being that dance, opera and classical music are the main focus of this blog. Yet Luisi doesn't take photographs of dancers, and only the occasional musician – her husband, conductor Fabio Luisi, being an obvious subject – but as a musician herself, a violinist, she captures atmospheres rather as a musician conjures up special worlds with sound. She is sure that her musical knowledge affects her photography:
Yes, I am quite sure about that. It is the emotional approach combined with the knowledge that hard daily work and patience are the key to improving my skills.
A few years ago Luisi was a violinist who took photographs; now she is predominantly a photographer who plays the violin. During a vernissage there is often a musical event involving her violin, and her book Pearls, Tears of the Sea has an accompanying compact disc. But why did this change of direction come about?
It was a life decision, I have always been an individualist and loved to work independently, so it happened quite naturally.
Luisi worked in various instrumental groups and orchestras, including the Munich Philharmonic and the orchestra of the Bayerische Staatsoper. Certainly, an orchestra is not an ideal place for an individualist, after all the conductor is the only individualist allowed, at least while he has a baton in his hand.
Luisi takes portraits: portraits of people, but also ‘portraits' of nature. She has an intellectual approach which is planned and imagined beforehand. She is no street photographer,
I love seeing as a human being. Only when I am working on a project do I carry around my camera.
This, of course, leads to inevitable lost opportunities, “Every day I miss moments I would have liked to capture,” but with her naked eye she starts to get ideas. Even though she is a careful planner, the beginnings of a project may be entirely casual:
I take photographs to develop ideas. I bring them home, store them and and at some point start to work on them. My finished work shows a world or scenery I dream about. For me it is not about the photographs I take, but about what I start to see after they have matured and what I then do with the raw material. Some pictures become a collection, because I get obsessed with some detail then I start to dig deeper. I have collections which became a big project and others which remained collections, hidden in a drawer. Maybe they are not yet mature enough.
Her projects tend to hint at something, as though some secret is being hidden. Her photographs draw the viewer in, curious to find out more, but not to study the detail as often her landscapes are impressionistic, with broad sweeps of colour, and quite often, predominant shadow.
In my recent work Dreamland-le pays imaginaire I had to deal with complete darkness. I show nightscapes and the ocean, as much as it is possible to show darkness. Here I learned that what my eye sees is not always what I can capture with any camera, but it is an amazing way to introduce and understand different ways of seeing darkness and colour interpretation while working on these images.
Dreamland is a series of extraordinary seascapes. Having a home on Italy's Ligurian coast has influenced Luisi's work in the past – the photos that make up Pearls, Tears of the Sea, for example – and no more so than here, with her new collection of haunting and powerful images.
Dreaming is what brought Luisi to photography. As a child, starting when she was about eight-years-old, Luisi would document summers with her family. They didn't travel, so holidays were walks in the woods, raspberry picking, hiking, all of which the little girl didn't find very exciting, “So I started dreaming with the camera.” It seems that she still does.
Her imminent shows in Paris and Rome mix together two contrasting elements of her output: the outdoor landscape and the studio nude. Her black and white series Skin & Fragility is a collection of nudes with black and white models.
I published a book Böhlau Verlag (“Nude Nature“) some years ago, which was a nude project combined with the four elements. I have always been attracted to the Nude as I love sculptures and ancient Greek art. Also as a portrait photographer I am interested in skin and the work with the whole body is a logical consequence.
My models are not professional models, not dancers, as you can easily see. I prefer models for the nude who have no experience with nude modelling. They are doing this for the first time in their lives so they have no poses in their own heads to “please” the photographer.
There are only so many ways a perfectly lit athletic body can be shot, and déjà vu is a common sensation at any gallery yet, for me, Luisi avoids the clichés, though, as she is following her instincts and intentions, I don't imagine that it is something she considers.
For all my projects I need to be alone, go and capture what I am emotionally drawn to. Then collect all my images, and wait for the right moment to develop a colour and composition idea about them.
But it's not all dreaming and emotion; practicality and technical proficiency are essential elements to create or interpret art. In her Pearls project, for example, she was photographing small pearls under the sea.
It was a huge problem to deal with the density underwater and the unstable shooting positioning as I was floating, as a scuba-diver, while shooting in a protected marine reservoir near Portofino, Italy. In the end, I could not solve all the problems, but these can become a significant key-accessory of my images. I accepted to see the density of water in my images, the not perfect focus as a way of expression.
Although she says that camera brands are not important, the type of equipment chosen for a particular project is essential.
My heavy Hasselblad is often an obstacle for travelling and to have with me when I find an interesting moment to shoot, so I always carry a smaller camera and some lenses I really need. But for me the most important set up is the mood.
And nowhere is this more vital than in nude photography and portrait photography.
For portraiture it is, of course, a must to have a proper lighting set-up, but even more important is to have a good cup of tea to offer your subject, a nice talk before exposing them to your brutal light, and maybe a perfumed candle to make them, and myself, comfortable.
With all the planning and care in the world, things can go wrong: a memory card left behind in the computer, an ideal lens that remained in the studio. Barbara Luisi has a touching ‘disaster memory':
Some years ago I did a nude shoot with my mother. She was very shy and not at all at ease, she felt “too old” to be doing it, but she was a beautiful woman. Well, I lost the whole bunch of images during the file transfer from the camera to my hard drive. I still do not know how it occurred. I was, and still am, devastated. She would never sit for me like that again.
While her latest completed projects go on show, Luisi is at work on two new ideas: one featuring urban Japan, and another called “Behind Bars”, about things or places we are kept away from, to protect the place, or us, or maybe to hide things? More mysteries, more questions, from the continually enquiring mind – and eye – of Barbara Luisi.
Barbara Luisi: œuvres récentes – from 26-03-2014 until 25-05-2014
Maison Européene de la Photographie, 5/7 rue de Fourcy, 75004 Paris
Barbara Luisi: Night and Nude – from 04-04-204 until 03-05-2014
Emmeotto Arte, Palazzo Taverna, Via di Monte Giordano 36, Rome
Festival Photomed 2014 – from 22-05-2014 until 15-06-2014
Ile de Bendor
Hotel des Arts de Toulon
To find out more visit Barbara Luisi's site: www.barbaraluisi.com
… and you can join Barbara in July for a 4-day workshop in Apulia, Italy.
The Luisi-Academy will provide sponsorship for accommodation and participation fee for 2 participants.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.