Renato D’Agostin was born and raised in Venice, Italy, “where for most people photography in those days meant weddings and passport pictures,” he says. Yet the city did manage to nurture his future career, if only inadvertently so: After falling in love with a photograph of an elephant that his mother won in a town prize drawing, he commandeered his father’s Nikon, signed up for a local photography class, and spent his teenage years documenting scenes from everyday Venetian life, a process he’s hewed towards ever since. Still, he considers his first foray away from home in 2002, on a road trip through the capitals of Western Europe, to be his most formative experience. “I took that trip to see if interpreting reality was what I really wanted to do,” D’Agostin recalls. “From that moment on, I never had any doubt. I felt like traveling was the place where I wanted to live, and the camera was my extension.”
After leaving Milan’s Italian Institute of Photography and moving to New York three years later, one of his first shows was Metropolis at Leica Gallery, comprising mostly black-and-white images he’d taken on that trip and a few others; he’s since become known for projects that involve researching a place, traveling there, then walking its streets to stake out the kinds of minimalist, fragmentary details that provide a visceral feeling of what it’s like to live there. “I had people at my opening in Tokyo saying I’ve been here for 70 years and this is the first time I’ve seen Tokyo represented like Tokyo,” D’Agostin says. “You don’t see the streets there. You don’t see anything.” Each place — from Tokyo to Shanghai, Mount Etna, and Venice (revisited) — becomes not only an exhibition, but an obsessively curated large-format book, a method most likely inspired by D’Agostin’s time working as an assistant to Ralph Gibson early in his career. (Gibson also taught him “the percentages of tonalities that make a print a great print, and how important it is to study your own work,” he says.)
It was one of those books that inspired this studio visit, in fact. While visiting SU contributor Brian Ferry’s house last year, we happened to pull Tokyo Untitled off the shelf with curiosity, having remembered meeting D’Agostin at an Apartamento party years earlier; it turned out he was one of Ferry’s favorite photographers, and the two had been in touch over email. The three of us ended up spending several hours together eating pizza, drinking wine, and observing D’Agostin’s darkroom process in his Chinatown studio last spring, followed by a recent follow-up visit Ferry paid to his brand new space in Brooklyn. The slideshow at right documents both visits, plus the contents of several conversations over the past year, to offer a glimpse into D’Agostin’s unique take on image-making.
It all started with the pistol, if only because it was “the simplest to do,” says photographer Adam Voorhes. He first studied the gun, looking for ways to segment it, then he took it apart so that its innards were exposed, right down to the bullet casings. “Some objects can be separated like a technical drawing, while others look more organic, like a football helmet with its straps weaving in and out,” he says. The pistol was squarely in the former camp. He took its disassembled parts and built a kind of 3-D installation, each part hanging from a fishing line in proximity, so that the gun would appear to have exploded in mid-air, a bit like the artist Damián Ortega’s axonometric Beetle or this iconic ad from the ’60s. The wires could be erased in Photoshop once Voorhes got the final shot. After the pistol he’d do an Etch-a-Sketch, and an old-school telephone, turning the studio experiments into his best-known series and then selling commercial clients like ESPN and Spirit magazine on the technique. This is how Voorhes works — he is a commercial photographer. He’s not interested in gallery shows. He tests ideas, and then he sells them.
If photographer Brian W. Ferry shoots like he takes absolutely nothing for granted — making us pine hard for moments of intensely quiet, understated beauty that probably already exist in our everyday lives — it’s likely because he feels so grateful to be doing what he’s doing. He may have discovered his inner camera nerd way back when he was growing up in Connecticut, but just a few short years ago, he was working long hours as a corporate lawyer in London, taking pictures merely as a personal creative escape hatch. Only after his blog began delivering fans and potential clients to his digital doorstep did he gather the resolve to quit his job, move to Brooklyn, and make a career out of triggering in people a kind of strange, misplaced nostalgia. “I think a lot about taking photos that are about more than capturing something beautiful, that have a heaviness attached to them,” Ferry told us earlier this winter at his Fort Greene garden apartment, as we rifled through his belongings together.
In a recent interview with the New York–based photographer Tim Barber, who's known for his edgy portraits of artists and other downtown tastemakers, the folks behind the Urban Outfitters blog evoked some rather unconventional subject matter: UFOs, ghosts, chicken carcasses. Credit the fact that not only did the former Vice Magazine photo editor shoot UO's playful new spring catalog, but he's also currently judging a Weirdest Photo Contest for the retail giant. Of course, in his work with clients like Nike, Woolrich Woolen Mills, T magazine, Italian Vogue, and Stella McCartney, Barber has displayed a more serious side as well. We wanted to show both of them, so we went through his portfolio and chose some new photos to accompany our excerpt from the UO interview — instances where Barber has documented the private spaces of creatives, a la Sight Unseen.