Focus on: Giovanna Silva, Humboldt Books for 2016 – On New Italian Photography

Founded by Giovanna Silva in 2012, Humboldt Books is a publishing house focusing on travel literature. Paying homage to the scientific expeditions of the XVIII and XIX century, it recounts places and countries, travels and travellers, embracing different disciplines such as geography, literature, art and photography.

F: What was your first approach to photography?
GS: I have to admit I was never that kind of teenager who is passionate about photography and darkrooms. I studied architecture, thus I started taking photographs of the plastic models I built with an early digital camera. When I was 20, almost by chance, I had the opportunity to take part into a project by Armin Linke and Vincenzo Cabiti. They needed three people to stage Légami by Pedro Almodóvar, and Armin took photographs. On that occasion, for the first time, I found myself interested in photography. However, I let it go and kept focusing on architecture. Only a few years later, when I realized I did not want to become an architect – despite my interest towards the subject –, I started to look for an alternative. I ended up in Francesco Jodice’s studio. I knew him for the photographs I’d seen in architecture magazines and books. He taught me everything. Architects-photographers, both Armin and Francesco. Maybe it was just destiny.

F: Who or what had an influence on what you do?
GS: As mentioned before, Armin and Francesco had a great influence on me. Their approach to photography and in general to their work is very different, I think I learnt a lot from both of them. And from books. I owe most of what I’m doing with Humboldt Books to a person I never had the fortune to meet, but about whom I know everything: Chris Marker. For my generation, a true master.

F: What stories do you like to tell?
GS: Life is strange. I wanted to be an architect since I was five and I didn’t, plus the photographic project on which I worked the hardest, Nightswimming, Discotheques from the 1960s to the Present, deals with a theme – nightlife – I literally knew nothing about when I started. It’s always an effort for me to stay up late. Now, I am looking forward to the next exotic turning point.

F: What does it mean to be independent? 
GS: If you try not to owe anyone and be radical, you have to struggle a lot. As an independent publisher, I take the risk to defend a precise editorial line. This freedom has no price.

F: What is the best photobook you have seen so far?
GS: Baghdad Calling by Geert van Kesteren. It paved the way to Narratives/Relazioni, the editorial project I am publishing with Mousse. It is a series of photobooks dedicated to some of the countries on war I photographed – so far, Iraq, Libya, Cyprus and Syria have already been released.

F: What is the best exhibition you have seen recently?
GS: Earlier this year, I visited Basilea on the occasion of the fair I Never Read, to which I participated with Humboldt Books. I found Alexander Calder and Fischli & Weiss’ exhibition at Fondazione Beyeler just beautiful. Their work is, as always, ironic and intelligent. What I found most extraordinary about it, was to discover that 70 years before the Swiss artists, Calder was just as incisive as them, showing many traits in common. Equilibres, Fischli & Weiss’ photographic work in the show, was truly stimulating. And to me, this aspect contributes to the importance of the exhibition: it is capable of moving sensations, stimulating reflections. It encourages the viewer to fulfil something on his own.

F: And the record you like the most?
GS: The Beatles’ White Album, whose cover was designed by Richard Hamilton.

F: What are your future projects?
GS: Well, I just concluded plenty of them and I am going through a stationary phase, trying to promote the books I published in the past months and looking forward to the upcoming releases. Many travels are in my mind, I would like to continue my trip in the United States with Ramak Fazel and Giorgio Vasta, from Louisiana to New York, contextually to the presidential elections. And maybe a book about El Cairo, a city I know very well, but on which I never worked. We’ll see.

Recent releases 


Emanuele Trevi reaches the artist Luigi Ontani in Bali on the occasion of the traditional parade of the Ogoh Ogoh, which takes place as part of the celebrations of New Year’s Eve.


Nanna Debois Buhl traces the botanical trajectories of the Trachycarpus fortunei and defines the meaning of its growth in symbolic terms, bringing together conversations with experts and her photographs, postcards, touristic posters and scientific images of the palms.


The adventure of a journey in Morocco as recounted by Gabriele Basilico at the very beginning of his passion for photography. The book features photographs which were long shielded in his studio unpublished.


The story of a both real and imaginary travel to the Hebrides, told by the voices of a writer, a semiologist, a historian, a biologist and other experts of different disciplines, with illustrations by Claudia Losi.

Humboldt Books studio in Milan.