Each Spring, Foam organises an Open Call – among the most coveted of the photographic field – to identify international talents under the age of 35. From a total of 1208 submissions from 67 different countries in 2015, 21 photographers were selected to be featured in the annual Foam Magazine Talent Issue, launched in September contextually to Unseen Photo Fair in Amsterdam.
AC: This project is the result of a three-year photographic exploration on the city where I live, Milan, from its outskirts to downtown, from the abandoned buildings to construction sites, up to the people I care of. As a color-film photographer, I always kept close the idea of authorship in a traditional meaning. At a later stage, I discovered the potential of the Reverse Image Search powered by Google, and I got interested in whether and how the digital visual patrimony, so boundless and democratic, could fit within a similar attitude. I uploaded my photographs to the website: each of them would generate dozens of images to be considered as visually similar, at least according to the standards of similarity of the algorithm located in the application. Once collected all sorts of images I received from the web, I put aside the original photographs and started to print each of the anonymous files on acetate sheets. The overlapping of these layers, backlit as some kind of multifaceted light box, would become more and more different from the original photographs. I flattened each group of acetates into one digital image and saw them merge into a new single vision: so close to my work, from which it was generated, and still completely unfamiliar.
F: This series represents a drastic change, considering the traditional approach which marked your previous experience as a color-film photographer. Here, your photographs even disappear, leaving room to others taken by anonymous strangers. What is your idea of authorship?
AC: I consider A Failed Entertainment as the third chapter of my ongoing journey into the world of photography. I started taking pictures in a straight-forward, traditional way, then explored photographic archives, until I put my efforts in trying to understand the Internet. This project is a mixture of all these experiences. The theme of authorship has always been a peak in my thoughts and in my research. In general, I think it is strongly yet simply related with the consciousness of your own work, thus the capacity to distinguish a necessary photograph from a useless one. In A Failed Entertainment I ultimately decided to sacrifice my own work in order to allow a random amount of anonymous pictures from the web to shape it. At the same time, the series itself arises from an automatism that is determined by my own photographs in the first place. All in all, we might say that the images composing this series enjoy a much higher degree of independence than in my other works.
F: What is the entertainment you refer to in the title? Why has it failed?
AC: A Failed Entertainment was David Foster Wallace’s temporary title for his extraordinary novel Infinite Jest (1996). My work is largely inspired by his opus which constitutes, among other themes, an in-depth analysis of America’s dependency to entertainment, especially the one provided by television. Infinite Jest is the story of a perfect form of entertainment, one that is so addictive to be capable to stop you from living and, in the end, to kill you. This is why it fails. To me, today’s dependency to the Internet and to incessant visual impulses is no different from the one Wallace describes in the novel. The series proposes a visual representation of the issue: it should fail in entertaining because of its lack of control and perfection, and the absence of a narrative aim.
Alessandro Calabrese was born in Trento, a mountain city in the North of Italy. After he degree in Landscape Architecture from IUAV in Venice, in 2012 he graduated from the Master in Photography and Visual Design at NABA, Milan. In the Fall 2012, he worked as an assistant to Hans van der Meer and carried out research for the platform ‘Paradox’. He participated to artist residencies in Italy and Spain. In 2015, he was invited to Fotomuseum Winthertur’s annual Pla(t)form and was shortlisted at Prix Levallois (Paris). His project Die Deutsche Punkinvasion premiered at the festival Fotopub in Novo Mesto (Slovenia) and the respective book, published by Skinnerboox, was launched at Unseen 2015.
He was previously interviewed by Fantom, together with Milo Montelli, on the occasion of the release of their book A Drop in The Ocean – Sergio Romagnoli (Editions du Lic, 2014), first exhibited at Fotografia Europea in Reggio Emilia and at the Triennial of Photography Hamburg in 2015. Read the interview