Focus on: Planar for 2016 – On New Italian Photography

Planar Books is a publishing house founded in 2015. It is directed by Antonio Ottomanelli (who was recently appointed among the 2016 Foam Talents) and promoted by Planar, a non-profit organization dedicated to photography, born in Bari by the will of Anna Vasta, Antonio Ottomanelli, Letizia Trulli and Francesco Stelitano. Planar Books promotes photographic and artistic researches with a multidisciplinary approach, focusing in particular on the relationships between landscape, government, technological evolution and daily life. The books are published in Italian, English and Arabic, and they are distributed in Italy, Europe, United States and the Middle East.

This interview is part of a series of conversations with the artists and publishers featured in 2016 – On New Italian Photography, running through September 16 in Viasaterna.


F: What was your first approach to photography?
AO: I bought my first camera at twenty-four with my part-time job savings. During my childhood my parents didn’t have a camera; not even disposable ones. I spent my childhood in the streets, open-air. First we lived in the city center of Bari, then we left for the countryside. During my childhood I practiced drawing, which shaped my idea of the landscape as a common good. The landscape in which I lived was the first educational path through which I developed my gaze. The landscape is an encyclopedia.
I was born in Southern Italy. That kind of South which bases its political identity on the public space. The South which grows its unpredictability and its conflicts into the public space. This is the beginning of my research, this is the identity I want to investigate and narrate; my unit of measurement and the point of view from which I look at the West.
AV: My father was a lawyer but at the same time he was a very good photo amateur. When I was a child I spent a lot of time looking at him working, even in the dark room. I used to look at a lot of art and the photographic books he collected. I also loved our family albums, which had a special “aura” to me. Even if I had a very early approach to art (I graduated in History of Art), photography has been my very first artistic passion.


F: Who or what had an influence on what you do?
AO: I pay specific attention to the doctrine, practice and values of the libertarian education. I studied this practice and its history in Portugal, Brazil and Turkey, where I have been working for about three years. The libertarian education, as Ivan Illich explained, should be considered as a form of horizontal and advanced activism, through which each individual becomes aware of the social forces that influence him; each person becomes aware of the mechanisms of power standing on the social relationships of everyday life, and of the paths and spaces of possible freedom. All my projects arise from these kind of practice, which I consider as a new way of organizing the social and cultural life, and even the research and production chain. These practices and projects are open and self-managed. The libertarian education focuses on issues such as common good against private property, and the deformation of the public property. In other terms, the libertarian education doctrine and practice are opposed to a situation in which the social and cultural life are totally shaped by the government. The libertarian education has the ability to be immediately propulsive and productive and to foster positive connections between different realities which are normally in conflict. I am convinced that the level of contemporaneity of every activity consists of a necessary political demonstration. In this regard, I feel very close to the post-revolutionary Russian cultural experiences, to the anarchist evolution of French existentialism and to the Italian “minor literature” experience.
AV: As a graduate in History of Art, my first approach to images is based on a philological and analytical methodology. When I was a student I was fascinated by the studies of Aby Warburg, Walter Benjamin and by the historical/anthropological researches carried out by Carlo Ginzburg or Frances Yates. Even if most of them are related to the Renaissance, I always found them very contemporary, especially in their capacity to read under the surface of images (or documents). This background has taken on a fundamental role in my curatorial experience. Working in the field of Public Art has been definitely important for understanding the potential role of art in the community, especially when professionals from different fields work together to build a different vision of a territory. In this area of interest, I found inspiration in Jane Jacobs’s work.


F: What stories do you like to tell?
P: The main purpose of Planar Books is not telling stories, or at list it is not the only one. Our task is to develop researches as devices of information, education and social emancipation.

F: What does it mean to be independent?
P: Our books are not self-financed, we never ask authors and artists to pay to be published. For each project and author we always try to intercept – and sometimes even invent – possible partners and stakeholders. We start the publishing process through an analysis of its possible effects in the economic, political and social market, rather than the art world. Before deciding to promote and publish a project, we pay specific attention to its capability of raising tensions, of becoming an outpost for cultural and political interests, rather than focusing on the aesthetic aspect itself. Our books should have the strength to build new possible imageries. For this reason, all the books we will publish – be it scientific essays or artistic and photographic projects – will be photo-based in any case.


F: What is the best photobook you have seen so far?
P: Come Ci Scontravamo (Società Storica Saronnese, 2012). Not long ago, I was having dinner with Stefano Boeri and Vincenzo Castella. While Vincenzo was taking up the entire evening discussing with all the guests, I found this book in the middle of a stack of books, one of the many stacks placed in Stefano’s living room. It is definitely outdated. However, when I saw that the introduction was by Giorgio Fontana, an immense writer, Campiello Prize 2014 and my dear friend, I had to leaf through it. The book collects photos of car accidents that occurred in Saronno between 1951 and 1962. The book is the result of a research Angelo Proserpio carried out into the photographic archive of the Saronno Court. I found the beauty of this small monument; its retinal impact; its kaleidoscopic value. Besides representing an important historical document and a social experience, each image is packed with meanings, overflowing with translations. The book as a whole is an exceptional and inter-dimensional “long take”.


F: What is the best exhibition you have seen recently?
P: Sea Change – Chapter 1: Character 1, In the Rough, the first showcase of the opening chapter of Hajra Waheed’s long-term project Sea Change, commenced in 2011. The exhibition was staged at The Mosaic Rooms in London.


F: And the record you like the most?
P: In the Islamic symbology, the palm tree represents man’s predestined finishing line. Fogh el Nakhal (“On the Palms”) is the title of a popular Iraqi song, presumably of Sufic origin. The piece was interpreted by Franco Battiato – the first Western artist to perform in Iraq under Saddam’s regime – at his concert in Baghdad on December 4th, 1992. Fogh el Nakhal is included in the album Caffè de la Paix (1993).

F: What are your future projects?
P: We are working on the second book of the OIGO series. In the next future we are planning to issue a biannual magazine, we hope it will be out starting May 2017. In Bari, we are designing the new Planar headquarters and their expansion, which will include a publishing lab, a photo lab, a design lab and a gallery. We are planning the opening to take place contextually to the release of the magazine’s first issue.


Planar’s workplace c/o Hotel Imago, in Bari