President’s in conversation with Alessandro Simonetti, our artist-in-residence for SS16.
How’d you get your start as an artist?
I’ve been immersed in the visual world since I was a child. I spent part of my youth in Rome in the early 1980’s and have vivid memories of the raw scene that was the Trastevere in those years. Photographers and artists of all sorts hung out at our place. I was exposed to drawing quite early – it wasn’t until later that I got into photography, but remember handling cameras since I was really young. I studied art and can say that at about 16, I really started to shoot what I liked. At first it was in a really naive way, but compared to my mates at art school, it was much more deliberate.
You’ve been a New Yorker for a few years now, right? How has the city treated you?
New York is still the place where I envision myself living for a while. Despite the fact that everything has shifted from the streets to online – it doesn’t really matter where you operate from at this point – the city is still generating so many interesting possibilities. Many things I’ve done here or people I’ve met could hardly have happened in my home country but NYC is a bitch.
You’re quite well-known for documenting subcultures around the world. How did that become something you focused on?
I started to shoot what I was surrounded by, so at the beginning it was mostly hard core graffiti activities on trains, my skater mates (probably a dozen kids), and any kind of music that was coming from squats. These were the hidden aspects of subcultures that I lived in first person – they were reclusive aspects of society, and so even when self hidden, they still intrigue me as a choice of subject. A horserace in Kingston, Jamaica, underground fetish meetings in the U.S., and fighters in Senegal are all subjects I’ve shot that aren’t necessary related to a subculture in the way we think about the the Punk Scene, but aren’t necessary under any spotlight. That’s when I find it interesting. There’s a common thread in all my work, and its a sort of anthropological – not academic – interest in certain kind of people and behaviors in society.
Over time, I’ve stepped away from the sensationalism of documentary photography and the necessity of ‘explaining’ through images, and instead find myself getting closer to subjects. This is to the point that I decontextualize the subject itself, and am not concerned with relating the image to a concrete reference.
Tell us about the photo of yours President’s selected for their permanent collection.
That image is from a negative of my early time in the USA in 2006. I was in L.A. for a story on weapons, and this was shot in Venice Beach.
I was captivated by how the kid playing handball was surrounded only by geometric cross-sections offset by greyscale and numbers. The numbers themselves are in turn dived into sections as stencils. The four blocks remind me of the iconic logo of Black Flag, designed by Raymond Pettibon.
I submitted a few images when President’s asked me to think of a subject that not only would work as an advertisement of the brand and personal collection, but would also work as a print on a T-shirt.
What do you consider your most essential tools as an artist?
Artists have always been a reflection of their times, but if in the past we were be able to categorize an aesthetic in decades (60s, 70s, 80s, now 90s…), I feel that nowadays languages and trends last six months. Everything is digested so fast that an artist’s responsibility to read and representing his time has really become quite a challenge! I would say consistency is a good tool for an artist today.
Do you have any style icons?
My dad and Joe Strummer.
Do you think anything about your style – personal or artistic – is particularly Italian?
As Italian, I probably wouldn’t be able to see it. Still, I believe being raised in a country where every corner speaks of history, one is ingrained with valuable aesthetics. I don’t know if my origins are reflected in my style. You tell me…
What is it about President’s that resonates with you and your style?
I love simplicity, and I see many pieces that might be references to iconic pieces of Mods or Skinheads and I definitely love those styles. I’m also quite happy with the fact that the pieces are crafted in Italy.