Antonio Privitera’s Inner City Blues: The Story of a Dream Come True

New York City – the land where dreams come true…

“Oh my god! I was super excited, thrilled to get there!” says Antonio Privitera as he recounts how his childhood dream to shoot the streets of New York finally came true. His latest series is not just an exploration of New York, it’s a narrative that tells the story of a photographer in his element. It’s the perfect advertisement for what happens when a creative mind meets an inspiring destination. Simply put, this is freedom and love communicated through the medium of photography. When we spoke to Antonio we felt his enthusiasm. We connected to his passion. Through his dark, cinematic-like images we got a sense for each step that he walked. His energy is contagious and through his words and photographs, he gave us the same feeling of euphoria that he had when he first stepped foot in the Big Apple. With his headphones on, his music of choice being the soundtrack of his movie, he takes us on his journey. S

Phoblographer: Was this a long term project or did you put it together quite quickly? (What was the experience like for you?)

AP: Well, that’s very interesting, because I believe nothing happens by accident! I spent all my youth dreaming of moving to New York City (with poor results). I couldn’t afford this experience while I was a student, but later – as a freelancer – it was even worse due to the financial / economic crisis in Italy. It was impossible for me to plan a solid project in that situation. Obviously I wasn’t happy about this karma, but my thought was: “sooner or later I’ll go there. Definitely.”

“I constantly need to contaminate my style with the poetry…”

Luckily, in the last two years I received a couple of fellowships that allowed me to get some extra money, plus an Art gallery selected my work for a group show in Chelsea. The perfect combo. Finally! That’s why this project was born during my first exhibition in New York. Thanks to these coincidences, I got the chance to arrange a long-trip for a couple of months between January and February 2018. Let’s say, once there the realization went smooth and fast, but the “incubation” was a nightmare!

Phoblographer: Prior to starting the series, did you know what you wanted to create or were you open to seeing where things went?

AP: I’m always open and curious, like in my other projects, I try to get involved in the local atmosphere and influenced by the surrounding environment. Be inspired from stories, people and magic places. I started as a documentarist and movie-maker, but slowly I lost the urgency to have a script or any “story” already written with me. For this reason I found in photography a strong expression of freedom: you can improvise and follow your instinct. Like a performance. I became more interested in a single frame instead of a long take, I turned my eyes on fragments of scenes.

“I often listen to music to break the ice, to warm up my mind and sharpen my eyes”.

I’m always looking for a bright vision, I love genuine situations and candid images. Even if my approach is very close to a certain street-photography, I don’t consider myself a photographer tout court. I constantly need to contaminate my style with the poetry, the cinema, the theatre, the music, the philosophy, and the art field. I hate labels, the reason why I constantly push the boundaries of the photography, especially when the dogmas of the genres destroy your creativity. “Trust your intuition and let it be.”

Phoblographer: You switched to analog for this project. What was the biggest challenge in doing so?

AP: Since I studied cinema at the University, I was astonished by the cinematic allure of this city. For me, analog was the only plausible choice to deal with the overwhelming sex appeal of the Big Apple. When I left Rome it was harsh to leave my digital cameras at home, I already knew that it was the decisive moment: force myself in a new approach and forget the classic “shoot as much as you can”. During my journey, another big challenge was to reload the film rolls under the rain! It wasn’t easy at all!

Phoblographer: How many rolls of film went into this project? What was your thought process when deciding on the final images to include in the series?

AP: I took about 40 film rolls. I still remember the face of the guy once I passed the security check at the airport with these weird plastic cases! I tried to hold back the excitement because I didn’t know what I was bringing home yet, but I already felt there was something precious in there. The editing process was very fast compared to my standard. Once I arrived in Italy I sent immediately the rolls to the film lab, they developed and scanned in 10 days. I didn’t even ask for the contact sheets because I wanted to receive high res scans of all the shots.

“It’s impressive the power of New York”.

When I received the images I started a cataloging process on Lightroom and then I printed my favorite ones. It was like Christmas time for me! What a gift! After a couple of weeks of editing I made an official selection: about 25 photographs focusing on this aesthetic consistency. In those days I was working like crazy cause soon I should have gone to Sydney for a Photo Festival and this sort of pressure helped me to avoid the classic “overthinking everything” during the selection. I like the result because it suits my mood: a mix of modern architecture, a timeless urban environment with a contemporary lifestyle.

Phoblographer: Why did you choose to shoot only at night?

AP: I didn’t actually choose to shoot only at night. That’s why I’m still working on a second “day-time” chapter: developing and editing “Living for The City”. Actually the night called me! I couldn’t sleep well the first nights and I hate to stay stuck in a small room of the hotel; there were so many vibrations out there and therefore even though I was very tired (can you imagine the feeling after a heavy day in Manhattan?) I went out to wander around without a destination, following the lights, the colors and the smells. Many nights were really cold and dreary, but despite the rain there was so much life to be gathered in those streets! It’s impressive the power of New York.

Phoblographer: You like to listen to music when you’re shooting. What influence do you feel that has on the way you shoot and the kind of photographs that you create?

AP: Music is important indeed, it’s like a movie soundtrack. I often listen to music to break the ice, to warm up my mind and sharpen my eyes. It’s a kind of training or mantra, almost to overcome embarrassment and gain more confidence in myself. These pictures are inspired by a great song of Marvin Gaye: Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler). It’s melancholy but full of energy: that’s why I chose this title.

“Get out of your head and get into your heart. Think less, feel more”.

I do love sounds and good vibes, but the best shots and – in general – the most interesting photo sessions are always “silent”, those in which I have no distractions in my ears, without earphones and music, just amazed by the noise of the urban jungle. Full of adrenaline! This process is essential because if you pay attention to what happens around you, you can even foresee a scene and live the serendipity with more emphasis.

Phoblographer: Are you content with how the series has come out? Is there anything you would have liked to have done differently?

AP: I’m quite satisfied with this series and I think it’s the result of the whole process mentioned above. Honestly, I wish I had more time and a medium format camera for an alternative “views”, but getting around with two / three 35mm cameras was already quite tough. I’m sure I’ll be back soon and I’ll spend more time in Brooklyn and Queens. Probably I have to pay more attention to
portraits too, because sometimes they can help in the narrative connection.

Next time I have to stop this emotional flow, especially when you are seeking extraordinary moments, because – I believe – for a compelling story we need ordinary pictures as well. Actually I have to overturn this quote: “Get out of your head and get into your heart. Think less, feel more”.

Phoblographer: For all us gear boffins – what was your camera of choice and which film roll were you using?

AP: My favorite setup was Minolta CLE with a Rokkor 40mm f2 lens, a perfect rangefinder for this work. I also shot a lot with the Contax T2, which I love so much, especially because it gave me the opportunity to use the autofocus and the flash. Then as a third “backup camera” I used the Olympus Mju II. A fantastic compact, but I used it rarely at night-time because I always loaded slower speed color negative films like the Kodak Portra 160 (But I was able to shoot with these ISO due the huge quantity of artificial lights). Although this series is mainly shot with the CineStill 800T, one of my beloved films, you will find some shots with Kodak Portra 400, but I won’t tell you which ones! Try to guess…

Both films work great, they produce different tones with a perfect grain emulsion for managing these range of colors and the neon lights.

Phoblographer: Finally, what do you hope to achieve with this series?

AP: I’m happy so far, the work is having positive feedback from festivals and galleries. I already won few grants and I gained international recognition with four exhibitions. It’s a great
accomplishment, but I hope this series will find the right publisher, an editor who is able to engage with these atmospheres and – above all – who knows how to enhance this work (respecting my effort ). I’m not in a hurry, but I’d like to finish this project and print the book by 2020.

For more of Antonio’s work, be sure to visit his website and Instagram.

All images by Antonio Privitera. Used with permission.