Photographer Vincenzo Dragani believes that the secret to taking good photographs is not what you put in, but what you leave out. He explains how this approach has influenced his work.
The expression “less is more” could have been invented for Vincenzo Dragani. “I’m more interested in how you approach a shot than I am by style,” he says, “In my opinion, it must be minimal. When it comes to capturing an image, it is important to work by subtraction: you have to remove everything that is not essential to transmitting the precise vision. This applies both to the composition (the elements present in the frame) and the aesthetics (colour is often not necessary).”
This explains why Vincenzo’s images are so eye-catching – your eyes instantly focus on the subject, even when shot from an unusual angle. There is no clutter or extraneous content to lessen the impact and focus. And the vast majority of his portfolio is in black and white.
Vincenzo was born in Abruzzo, Italy, in 1967. “I started taking pictures with my grandfather’s rangefinder camera. The person who had the most influence on me was [Italian photographer] Mario Giacomelli. From studying Giacomelli, I discovered that I’m interested in photography that links the external world (what I shoot) with the internal world (what I feel). For me, photography is not only a tool for analysis, but also a therapy.”
We need to photograph what we live. Only in this way do we create an empathy with the subject. Otherwise, everything is a falsehood and superficial. Place and time do not matter.
“We need to photograph what we live,” he adds, “Only in this way do we create an empathy with the subject. Otherwise, everything is a falsehood and superficial. Place and time do not matter. Another big influence was the film Blow Up, directed by Michelangelo Antonioni.”
Looking at a photograph is a different experience from observing a subject in real-life, he says, “When you look at a photograph, it gives you more information than your eyes perceived before pressing the shutter button. But you can only gain so much: if you then try to investigate even further, perhaps by magnifying the detail, the information fades and is not valid.”
Vincenzo has degrees in both law and photography, and is a lawyer. He lives in Milan, where he works as a jurist and a journalist in the publishing sector, dealing with the legal aspects of environment and sustainability. His work also involves photography. “In my view, the study of law has a great influence in the process of photographing, since it forces the brain to continuously switch from abstract to concrete facts and vice versa. It forces you to think by images.”
He also works as a part-time professional photographer. “I got paid for my first photograph about twenty years ago, which was for a book cover. Since then, my images have appeared on more book covers, and in publications such as The Guardian and Vanity Fair.”
He explains the attraction of black and white photography, “Black and white photography reveals aspects of events that go beyond their visible appearance. The abstraction of black and white photography transmits a signal that reaches directly into the nervous system, without any decoding. In some ways it speaks directly to the unconscious. Colour seems less in terms of perceived quality: colour photography may be richer in information, but the level of this information most of the time does not go beyond pure aesthetic exercise. However, there are excellent exceptions.”
Vincenzo describes the process by which he creates his images. “There are two different approaches that have one thing in common: the acceptance of a certain margin of randomness in the result. There is a more rational approach, where I start with a theme or topic and try to give it a visual translation through the photographic language, looking for events or elements that represent it.”
“Then there is a more instinctive approach, whereby the events and elements of the external world are allowed to transmit something. In both cases, at a certain point, the subjects and the objects will reveal themselves, showing the aspects that resemble us even through unforeseen details, singularities that enter the image and make it unique.”
Vincenzo uses Nikon equipment and is a strong advocate for digital photography: “I use only digital equipment. Its functionality and sustainability in environmental terms are far superior to analogue technology. From a creative point of view, I do not understand the nostalgia for film. Why should I not want an immediate response to the work in progress? I do not regret the passing years of analogue: working in a dark room with substances that are dangerous to humans and bad for the environment. Today, the only reason to use the analogue is purely aesthetic.”
He also believes that post-production is an important element to photography and can’t understand the so-called purist approach to photography, where nothing is ever changed post-shot. “Why should I not correct any technical, aesthetic or compositional parameters in order to produce the best possible result I am looking for? Do you ask a painter to paint in the dark?”
Vincenzo adds, “Everyone knows that post production has always existed in photography. The only difference is that, at the time of analogue photography, the professional post production process was very expensive and therefore the prerogative of a few.”
Although analogue and digital post-production use very different tools, Vincenzo states that, “The parameters of acceptable post production have remained the same: interventions must be functional to communication. And in photojournalism, post-production must not distort the truth.”
Like all photographers, Vincenzo uses the internet to showcase his images, but he also notes its downside, including its impact on how we view images. “The internet is as big a revolution for photography as mechanical movable type printing was for the written word,” he says, “At the same time the internet has heralded the end of figurative art as we have known it. Today, artwork is dematerialised, perennially exposed on the web; it is the web itself.”
The one piece of advice Vincenzo offers the aspiring photographer is, “Always photograph for yourself. If you are working on a commission, take pictures according to your own conceptual and aesthetic principles. Never compromise. When you accept the aesthetics of others you become replaceable. In relation to existing images: do not copy, but rework.”
Looking to the future, Vincenzo says, “Our planet suffers continuous and accelerated change by man, often negatively. To represent this world photographically, one eminent photographer suggests that, ‘assisted realism’ is sometimes needed. As a result, my photography in the future might feature greater creative intervention in the post-production stage. The important thing is that this intervention is based on the personal qualities of the photographer.”