“Photography is my shelter and my comfort. Taking pictures is a good help to run away from some horrible images of my past.”
Nico Chiapperini (born in 1978) is a photographer currently based in The Netherlands. Except for a couple of workshop, one with Magnum street photographer Richard Kalvar, Nico Chiapperini is a self-taught man. He’s a founding member of the Italian street photographer collective “SPontanea”.
“A photo can be a document, a memory, an impression, but I strongly believe that sometimes it could even be a poem, in which composition and light freeze feelings for eternity. Photography is the place where my soul has eyes full of wonder and mystery, where my thoughts see themselves reflected in a kaleidoscope of memories and future visions: often they are questions, sometimes answers, but always emotions.”
Interview with Nico Chiapperini
Nico, what was your most memorable moment shooting pictures out on the streets?
It was when I took one of my first street photos (image above). There was a crowd watching something which I cannot tell you what it was, otherwise half of the magic of the picture will go away. I do not really why, but I simply turned back and I had in front of me a hundred of astonished faces, different in gender, age and nationality, but all full of wonder.
It was an amazing show and taking that picture was a big emotion.
Why did you become a photographer? And why street photography?
My mum was a teacher in a primary school. I was eight years old when I went with her on a school trip to a Jurassic Park for children. There I took some pictures of fake dinosaurs with my father’s SLR. It was my first time and I used two rolls of film. The day after my dad told me I could have bought nice postcards instead of wasting so much film and money. He did not have bad intentions, he later tried to encourage me, but I was a sensitive child and never touched a camera again for a very long time.
When I was twenty years old I was diagnosed with a bad disease. During the night after the surgery, my mum told me what I had, with courage and immense love.
I did not sleep a single minute; I kept on drowning in a vortex of emotions and fears. Early in the morning I looked up to the window of my room: I noticed the white of the snow on some roofs and a blue sky, stained with purple finger marks and scratches.
The glass, a little dirty, was filtering the light with beautiful effects. That image gave me relief for a little while, but also a further sorrow, because I wanted to live and not stop seeing anymore.
That morning I started, or maybe better, I became again a photographer.
Locked in that room, I observed the lines, the shapes, the geometries. I noticed the despair on the faces of my parents, my sufferance reflected on their eyes. I was suddenly aware of details and shades.
I took several pictures during those days and the following years, but without a camera: having a piano in your house does not make you necessarily a pianist.
I had to wait until the date of my degree in Aerospace Engineering to get my first personal camera. For that occasion I got a digital compact one as a present from some friends of mine. I started bringing my camera with me everywhere, this time without the nightmare of limited budget due to the cost of film.
I developed a particular interest in Street Photography quite soon, because I was extremely fascinated by this wide and very challenging genre.
For me streets and public places are a stage where people are unaware that they are actors playing comedies or drama. I like discovering their accidental connections and their relationships: there are endless configurations and possibilities.
In the daily flow so many special, intriguing, strong or even ambiguous moments are waiting to be preserved from oblivion and when I notice and grab them, I am happy. If I also manage to take an artistic image with a sort of story in it, that kind of story which is more a series of questions than a clear answer, well, I feel also a big joy.
What does photography mean to you and what do you want to say with your pictures?
Photography is my shelter and my comfort. Taking pictures is a good help to run away from some horrible images of my past.
I do not want to say or denounce anything in particular. I do not think I can save the world with my pictures, but I do believe I can save myself.
I just want to show how I can see sometime the reality, which can be very special and beyond our fantasy.
Which photographer has inspired you most?
There are so many. I need to mention at least two of them: Richard Kalvar and Saul Leiter.
Richard influences me to look for surrealistic images in the everyday life, while Saul inspires me with the poetry of his urban images.
What’s you favorite photography quote?
If I knew how to take a good photograph, I’d do it every time.
How would you describe your photographic language and creative process?
I like to think about my photographic voice as a personal one and I try to keep it authentic as much as possible.
My creative process is not really defined. Sometimes I just see a picture while I am walking and I do not even have a second to check the settings on my camera. I shoot as quickly as possible, taking care of framing the image in the way I feel it. I suppose it is something I do by instinct, even though after a long time I can see some reasons or intentions when I look again at the picture I took.
Sometimes I see a stage under a beautiful light and one or more interesting subjects, so I wait for a while, until all pieces of the puzzle are in the right position and then I shoot. But very often it does not work and I do not like shooting the same corner over and over again, just hoping to get a nice picture by chance.
Of course I would be a fool to not admit that luck plays a part in taking good pictures, but I believe that being lucky is more than hoping things happen by chance: it is exposing yourself to the right place and the right moment because you foresee something good and you are ready for it.
What’s important in order to develop an own photographic voice?
Nowadays the temptation to please everyone is big and the risk to lose your path very high. I think it is important to listen to your heart first of all and not run after a fake, easy and short-term success.
What do you consider to be the axis of your work – technically and conceptually?
My editing is limited to basic corrections on white point, exposure and contrast for color pictures, while I spent more time on black and white conversion, trying to obtain in both cases a gentle and natural look. When I am happy with the results, I start printing because I think this is the only way for me and photography to touch each other: I love photography so much and I think that certain kinds of love are complete only with a physical contact.
What qualities and characteristics does a good street photographer need?
All the rest you can learn, starting from the technique. Unfortunately curiosity is an innate quality, but most of us have it, we just need to keep on training in using and enjoying it.
What does a photo need to be a great street shot?
Well, this is a very difficult question and depends on how we define street photography. I think street photography is more a style than a specific subject. A picture can be street photo without an urban location for example.
In general a picture is a great street shot when it shows an unexpected or meaningful moment, with a pleasant esthetic. All the rest is just a trick.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your photographic projects?
From my everyday life, this basically means from everywhere. I am a recorder with unlimited tape. I absorb what I read, what I see and hear all around me. Then I mix everything with my feelings unconsciously and inspiration arrives, soon or later, not on call unfortunately.
What’s the biggest challenge shooting on the streets?
Pay attention to everything, win your shyness and avoid to be hit by a bicycle or something bigger.
What kind of photography equipment and photographic supplies do you use?
I use a compact camera because I can have it with me at all times, it makes me feel very light and invisible, especially for Street Photography. If I go out to take pictures after I planned it far in advance, I bring with me a full-frame reflex with a 40 mm manual focus fixed lens mounted and a 24-105mm zoom in the bag (which I seldom use because it makes me lazy and uncomfortable).
What photography book would you recommend?
Earthlings by Richard Kalvar and Saul Leiter “Early Color”, for the same reasons I said before.
Which advice would you give someone who wants to become a street photographer?
Have a second job (which will be your first one formerly) or work as a professional photographer also in another field, such as wedding photography, where a street photography style can be a plus sometime.
Today you cannot live doing only Street Photography: I personally know nobody who could do that, even the best ones. Street Photography is not really a commercial activity.
Do it because you love it and you have fun with it. With patience, commitment and luck, assignments might come.