A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting with Hotel Elephant Member, Rino Pucci in his studio. We discussed his photography practice and in particular his project “Out of (this) Place” which has been inspired by the building that houses his studio here at Harper Road. It is always an honour to be invited into someones studio, these are often private and unique spaces which can reveal a special insight into an artists working practices. - Foreword, Emily Woodhouse
Thank you for inviting me into your studio, can you introduce yourself and your practice ?
I find myself quite difficult to pigeonhole, as I’ve been playing with all sorts of creative assets my whole life – from audio to fonts and graphic design, from stills to moving images. A journalist by trade (I hold an MA Photojournalism which was my “excuse” to leave native Italy for the UK), I worked for some time as a documentary photographer and videographer (with some digressions into new media such as interactive websites).
When I joined Hotel Elephant in 2016, I needed a space where I could set up my portrait photography practice – which was a bit like going back to my first love, as portraiture has been a recurring thread in my creative life (even when my job title was different). I’ve always been interested – since working as a photo editor a while back – in topics like duality, representation, self-perception, portraits as tales of two halves, so it was a fairly seamless transition to turn my lifetime passion into a new subject of research and, in the end, into a full-time job.
Can you tell us a bit more about your fine art photography practice
Though portraiture, I help others project their authentic image to the external world – I mainly work for other creative souls (such as actors with their headshots and musicians) but also for professionals who need to have a consistent and polished image across social platforms, from LinkedIn to Twitter.
I’ve used the word “authentic” not by accident: I want the character and personality of the sitter to shine through, even if it’s a one-off session. Our meetings are carefully prepared. I spend time with my sitters beforehand as I’d like my portrait sessions to be a calm, enjoyable experience, where I use natural light as much as I can, a tripod-locked camera, and sometimes even silence as a tool to get “into the zone”. The studio has a homey feel to it – which helps. When possible, editing is done on printed images instead of in front of a screen. It’s very much a fine art photography approach, where I shoot with a digital camera but with a film camera mindset.
I understand that you have a special project your working on at the moment which is inspired by this studio building here at Harper Road.
From day one I have been intrigued by this unassuming structure – a local council office building that has been stripped-out, re-modelled and converted into artist’ studios, and yet I can feel its original nature is still there, emerging from tiny details (maybe because my Dad was a civil servant and I am used to visiting public buildings since I was a child). I am also aware that the building could be living on borrowed time, as the site is earmarked for re-development in the future.
So, a few months back I started a site-responsive art project, together with model Stefania Cannone – playing on words, it’s called “Out of (this) place”, to stress that the “here and now” of this place is so different from its past and its foreseeable future. For that reason, somehow, I feel out of place too, but as it happens, discomfort generates art. With Stefania, we explore the space and get inspired by it during our fortnightly meetings. It's going to be a journey in pictures and words (possibly a book), something like a twisting, multilayered exploration – the visuals will be the starting point of what it’s likely to be a largely fictional narrative. I am even thinking of producing “tableau vivant" pictures to recreate the mood of the office as it was. No surprise, then, if you find us wandering in the basement performing and taking photos!
I’m really interested in your choice to paint your own backgrounds, creating uniquely colored and textured backdrops for your portraits - can you tell me more about this approach to creating an image?
As a very tactile person, I need to touch something in order to understand it. I might buy some new lighting equipment, then take it apart and putting it back together so that I have a better grasp of how to make the most out of it. Also, I feel like I need to be in complete control of my image creation process, as an Art Director would do; from environment to composition, an almost painterly approach to photo making. That’s why I started creating my own backdrops, by dyeing fabric first, and, more recently, by painting on cardboard and wood. Sometimes a backdrop gets painted over and over again, like a palimpsest, just because I need it to be darker or, say, redder: that way, it always looks different from portrait to portrait and yet reveals its identity.
Are you working on any future projects you can share with us?
We live in an era dominated by selfies and this is altering the perception that young people have of themselves. Sometimes browsing on Instagram can be quite a depressing experience in that respect. Of course, Van Gogh and Warhol and Avedon have all created great self-portraits, but this is different. We need the intervention of an external eye to produce an image of us: it’s so beneficial and even necessary that we understand how someone else sees us. It takes two to tango and also to take portraits. So, I am at the very early R&D stages of a project where I want to give people who are obsessed with selfies the opportunity to experience a proper portrait session and pose for me instead. I’ll keep you posted!
Words: Rino Pucci in conversation with Emily Woodhouse, Director Hotel Elephant.
Images: All images are copy-write Rino Pucci, not to be reproduced with our prior consent by the artist.
Find out more about Rino here: http://www.rinopucci.com