Interview: Stefano Graziani

Students: You have shown us how important the practice of walking is in your photographic projects, and I have experienced it also myself when I was in search of a certain image. However, this wandering is possible when you have two conditions, in my opinion, the first is security, for example the presence of a sidewalk, and the second is a walkable and human scale of the city. But what happens when an urban environment is lacking one or both of these conditions? For example, Los Angeles has a radius of 50km and you can’t really walk in some areas, such as highways. Sometimes you can have the security element missing, for example the case of Tirana that you have shown, which is a city that doesn’t have sidewalks in most of the streets and you are forced to walk in the same lane as cars, which can be dangerous. And then there is also the example of cities like Cairo that have both elements missing, the lack of safety and the large scale. In typical Italian cities like Milan you can walk easily around the city because it offers both of the conditions for such an activity.

Stefano Graziani: First of all, I think walking is important for everybody, not only for photographers and taking photos. About the second part, somehow when you were talking of the conditions, I was reminded of the first video I showed you by Werner Herzog, where this obscenity and this wilderness in which we are not supposed to be basically becomes impossible to deal with. Perhaps he was talking about the jungle, but I can see it applied also to the highway for example.

S: So are we heading towards a city that doesn’t allow us to experience it by walking?

SGNo, I don’t think so. Of course there are some limitations, but when I think of Herzog’s walk from Munich to Paris, there were the woods in the middle of the two that don’t have any organized pathways to be crossed, and yet this journey was completed.

SRegarding the theme of urban biodiversity, you mentioned the jungle, which is very prominent and recurring in your work, for example in the study of Werner Herzog but also the one of Taxonomies. I noticed a certain classi cation of two different representations that were strictly independent, either nature or urban setting. However, in our project we are trying to mix and merge them. Can you think of an example that you have seen which would resemble a real urban jungle? As you mentioned before, in the case in the Caribbean they faked jungles in the city, which are completely controlled by humans. Can we have a more spontaneous ecosystem in the city and have you ever been interested in photographing this urban setting of nature?

SGI think there is the big example of the Torre David in Caracas, which was not finished because of the crisis and thus it is squatted up to a certain floor, completely managed by the occupying informal tenants, but this is a rather peculiar case. It was part of an exhibition in the Venice Biennale of 2012, where a part of it was reconstructed as a setting and in the walls there were photos of Iwan Baan showing the reality of this lifestyle. This is a very specific case of a vertical informal settlement. I find the barrios in Caracas very interesting because the experience you get is very human, in a sense that you go in and in order to get out you have to basically relate to all the people. I went there with an inhabitant and the rst reaction of the masses is to stare at you, and then they start asking ran- dom questions, for example they asked me if I knew a certain basketball player. And im- mediately the word was spread that there was someone they thought was famous in the barrio. Then we went to the basketball eld and played, so this was a very relational way to get into this big organism.

Saverio PesapaneRegarding the theme of urban biodiversity, you mentioned the jungle, which is very prominent and recurring in your work, for example in the study of Werner Herzog but also the one of Taxonomies. I noticed a certain classi cation of two different representations that were strictly independent, either nature or urban setting. However, in our project we are trying to mix and merge them. Can you think of an example that you have seen which would resemble a real urban jungle? As you mentioned before, in the case in the Caribbean they faked jungles in the city, which are completely controlled by humans. Can we have a more spontaneous ecosystem in the city and have you ever been interested in photographing this urban setting of nature?

StudentI just brought a typical example of a danger that can be caused by architecture or the lack of it. I agree that there are lots of other dangers. I am personally from Tirana and I have experienced feeling danger from missing sidewalks as well as from possibility of attack or robbery, but I think the latter is more related to social sciences than architecture.

Saverio Pesapane: No, it’s interesting because it’s almost like a comedy, the one of Roberto Benigni and Giovanni Stecchino that go to Sicily and complain that there is a big problem of traffic there, which actually isn’t true. In that case it was loaded with humor, but you were serious.

Student: I would like to link this again to the concept of the jungle actually. There is this division in our minds between the untouched nature and this fortress that the human has built around himself , the so-called city, that has the aim of escaping from the jungle because we are afraid of it, as it represents the unknown. However, I was thinking that if we had a time machine and brought a primitive Neanderthal human to the contemporary city, he would say that jungles are much safer. So in the attempt to escape from the jungle maybe people have created another dangerous and chaotic jungle. Did you feel this contradiction? Can you make a comparison of the feeling when you move in the streets of a city and the one of moving through the woods?

SG: This depends on the situation, usually on your familiarity with the place and the company you have in your exploration. Obviously if you know the streets of a city and if the elements around you ring a bell, you feel more at ease. Also in the case you are wandering with someone you know or someone that knows the place it is better and you have a sense of belonging. That doesn’t happen in a vulnerable state, in which you are by yourself and totally unfamiliar with the environment around you, may it be a city or a jungle.