Francesco Zizola

Winner of the 1996 World Press Photo of the Year, Francesco Zizola has documented the world’s major conflicts and their hidden crises, focusing on the social and humanitarian issues that define life, receiving numerous awards, including ten World Press Photo and six Picture of the Year International. With “Mare Omnis,” where nets used for tuna fishing photographed by a drone seem to depict archaic graffiti and distant constellations, Zizola confronts us with the question of what we really look at when we see an image and, through photography, opens up new possible understandings of the complexity of reality.

Who are you.
I am Francesco and for more than 40 years I have used photography to learn about the world and myself. In the first three decades I wanted to know the physical and cultural boundaries of our planet by traveling away from Italy and the culture that spawned me. I became a witness to the truth of others’ pain because I sought the truth of my own pain. I have probably recognized the pain of others because I have felt my own. The need to talk about the world of the innocent and the last was born before I decided to take the camera in my hand. I then realized that with photography I could tell something that people normally do not see. Reality in my eyes takes on symbolic contours because I discover among its layers something that corresponds to me and thus becomes a shared reality. I spent the first thirty years with photography capturing the world I was immersing myself in by traveling within and beyond known boundaries.

And then?
Then I discovered that I like the sea, that I like poetry, that my gaze could continue to discover something that starts from the surface but continues the search in depth, that my thinking has a need for complexity and beauty. Something has changed since I recognized my pain and began to work on the planet and the man I have become. With photography I oblige myself to the relationship with reality, but the light I use to express myself has forever freed itself from 20th-century conventions to become a free and provocative sign. The themes are always those that concern us, the universal ones related to our presence and ethical responsibility. But the sign is a sign that wants to question more than to show, more than to explain. It is still photography that I use because I respect the original process of light captured through a lens thanks to a sensitive surface.

And now?
And now it is since 2015 that I have been engaged on a new front; the theme, an ancient one, of this new research is the four elements that make up the world, and how humans interact with them, and whether this relationship is sustainable, lasting or-as is feared today- destined to precipitate. I started with water, the sea. It is no longer photographs of war, but the environment I investigate is a giant battlefield in which fisherman-warriors go by cunning and force to hunt their prey. Tuna fishing is a Homeric confrontation, in which the combatants have faces of heroes from the Odyssey and the rules are archaic, mythological. And the weapons are these strange white shapes drawn by the nets on the blackness of the waves, in which everyone can find what they want, a painting by Paul Klee or a children’s game traced with chalk on the asphalt. Drawings of the mind, like the spider’s web. Formae mentis, signs of man on the imperturbability of nature, deadly abstractions resting on the waves. My images delineate a world in which all are defeated, prey and hunters swept away by industrial consumption. A world that was in balance but is no more. I am now grappling with researching the element of air, and the series of 23 images I have just finished producing takes us to discover behind the appearance of asteroids lost in the astral void, the last moments of existence of huge icebergs becoming water due to global warming.

What is made in Italy for you?
Made in Italy for me is the clear and precise awareness that I was born in a country that gave birth to one of the inventions that transformed the world. I deal with images and photography, and this invention that produces images, with which most human beings in the world currently communicate, would not have existed if perspective had not been discovered and invented. With perspective, again in our country, the first rudimentary “camera” or camera obscura was also invented. Without this invention that enabled man to represent the third dimension, depth, in a two-dimensional surface, photography and cinema would not have been invented. These two inventions dating back to the 16th century should be the basis of a cultural revival of Made in Italy in relation to the creation and use of images, which are now in the universal domain.


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