The two words that I despise the most in a photographic context are workshop and glamour, and it is not by chance that often enough they are found together.
Let’s (unquestionably) leave glamour behind us and concentrate on workshop: I wonder how or why it is that nowadays Italy is saturated with them! Everyone is doing workshops!
I wouldn’t want to be the usual egocentric pompous dickhead dude (all of which, we know, I am.. ), I would like to mind my own business, here and there.. But I can’t: know that, almost all (99%) the workshops that you see around are worth nothing, waste of time and money, held by complete amateurs (if they don’t know how to act how is it possible that they know how to teach?!?)! Here, I said it.
One of the few professional spots in Italy where they can teach what can be taught in photography is the TPW
Also this year I will be there, towards the end of July
: don’t come to me! There are much better teachers than me! Seriously!
But in case you do want to take part in my course (last year my pupils created some amazing work
!), to try and get you to understand what it is all about I asked Francesca Stella
, a pupil of mine from last year, to write about her own experience. Her words:
Never change the winning team: there where the content will be different as well as the teacher that I will follow this summer, I didn’t have a doubt in choosing again the TPW for another voyage within myself through photography. Last year Settimio was my Virgil, in a workshop about female nude, a genre I was exploring for the first time. The location was the Sant’Anna in Camprena monastery, forgotten in the timeless Tuscan hills. Thinking about it, my mind goes back to that little white room with the baked clay floors, the wooden furniture and the arched ceiling, where every night, despite the late hours and the tiredness setting in, I found myself writing what I called the “Letters from TPW”: moments to be engraved in my memory, mental notes that have since marked my approach to photography, knots that have tightened around the extraordinary people that I’ve met. I will report some excerpts, with the intent of giving back the authenticity of some sensations that I felt during that week.
I am anxiously waiting for what will happen inside me in only a week which announces itself to be rich in ideas and reflections. What do I expect? To bring back home photographs which will carry a deep meaning for myself, to put myself strongly under discussion and confront myself with other people with all their different experiences. I know it will also be a lot of fun – tonight we had already tears in our eyes for Settimio and Giorgio, his assistant, stories from their latest shoots – and now I am certain that I will never forget these days, all for me.
My head was so bombarded today that has dropped, exhausted, all its tired weight on my legs. To think that, besides the group run we had this morning, I have been sitting practically all day. Settimio is a rare pearl, a light beacon, a shock wave. He stares right into you and turns you inside out. Stirs up, unties the knots, unravels the skein of doubts and all other questions you have always asked yourself, providing you with a key for reading, a universal formula.
The project which I have in mind takes shape and starts developing hour after hour. I have to concentrate, close everything else outside and have silence inside me. What happened today in the lemon room (our “operating room” in the monastery) is not even far away imaginable for who was not there. One needs to take away all superstructures: remove, remove and remove more. Casting off, coming out in the open.
Today I tasted the abyss. I saw it from afar, I took a run up and I jumped without a parachute: I took the most intense, heart felt and beautiful shots I have ever done. The aesthetic outcome is only a consequence of the fact that there is a deeper meaning that exists within what we photograph, and it cannot be otherwise. I am not here to use well my subjunctive and conditional, I am done with taking photographs for the sake of it and wonder around without compass. Now I have the key, the language and the connection with myself.
An uninterrupted day of “psychoanalysis”. We are devastated… Settimio has consumed himself to the bone. Crisis, reflections on the final project, unexpected guests, disturbances, friendly voices, new hugs. Max Casting at sunset. And, at the end of the day, “the oak” by night: Vinicio Capossela at full blast, the moon with a million stars, a century old oak, high grass and soft hills. Unforgettable.
I’ve shot for about an hour and a half in the middle of the fields, by the oak, and immediately after I ran to the lemon room to download the photos. Selected 14 shots, retouched quickly in black and white. They have such a strong energy and at the same time a disarming delicacy. Settimio presented them to the other lecturers as the best project by his group and I cannot contain the joy for this completely unexpected result. In a few hours there is the showcase with the other 44 participants to the TPW and I am already feeling the melancholy for the end of this unforgettable experience.
I am on the Chiusi-Roma train, coming back from the TPW to the world XYZ, which I now see in a different light because I have a fourth dimension inside me. My legs are full of scratches, my feet prickled by brambles, my skin sun kissed, my shoes covered with crumbs from Tuscany. My clothes still savor the hugs from the group of new friends, my computer holds jealously the fruit of the “blood” that ran through this past week, the laughter and the irritations, the thousands of words shared for at least twenty hours daily with my fellow travelers. Everything that I experienced in Tuscany is now echoing in me with the force of a grand stadium. I saw the white of the light and the black of the shadows, I tasted the sweetness of a smile and the saltines of tears, sank my feet in the humid ground and waved my arms in the sky.
I knew Settimio already, but obviously spending an entire week together, from the early morning volleyball game to the evening chit chat going through the thick sieve of his daily “didactic” sessions in the lemon room… well, it’s a whole different thing. I adore his sympathetic and witty ways but also harsh and very sharp, they way he throws in your face things shaking you from your usual mental attitudes full of cobwebs. He has thrown himself in the game in ways that he has never experimented himself, with the sole purpose to get his message across effectively.
The phrase with which he opened the workshop was “I have two news for you, a good one and a bad one. The bad one is that I will not teach you anything. The good one is that you have nothing to learn”. We exchanged a lot, but Settimio has never shown imposed attitudes or didactic intentions: everything came out of us thanks to his maieutics. He offered us the vision of a complete turnaround of our attitudes towards photography – even though the subject carries on beyond the latter – and I am convinced that from now on we will do things in a completely different way than before. The concept of planning and the sense of telling a story are definitely the elements that will stay with me the most. Settimio’s strength is in his extreme sincerity in his way of carrying himself, in the transparency of his thoughts, in the capacity of mixing the highs and lows without ever getting bored. Thanks to this affectionately harsh guide I have overcome the point of no return, laying another important piece in my formation as a photographer and not just.