Nino Migliori: «I was a young man of twenty-one, just back from the war, I had also dodged national service, on the run from the fascists, the Germans, the bombings. A terrible experience which lead me, as soon as the conflict ended, to want to rediscover what was around me, beyond home, school and refuge. With the little money I had, together with a group of friends, eating once a day, we went on a journey in a little van to discover Italy. I used my camera to tell of what we came across, particularly in the South, between the Basilicata and Calabria regions, the entire Sila area. I remember the people sitting in the doorways of their homes who invited us in, there was an atmosphere of relationship and coexistence. One aspect which surprised me was the disposition of the family members on the steps of the houses, in order of age: the youngest children were on the first steps, the elders were on chairs near the door, and the strong, productive generation were standing in front of the entrance. This was a little account which explained how the family was made up.»
This is the beginning of a story which over time takes on various forms, from the relationship with a post-war Italy and that neorealist nebula which was to resurrect the traumatised, but not submissive, soul of a country; to the informal and meta-photographical research; up to the discovery of the smartphone as a narrative instrument.
«At the beginning of my photographic career I felt an affinity with the teachings of Henri Cartier-Bresson, but over time I have tried to subvert the Bresson principle of the candid image, moving more towards the work of Klein, his work on New York (USA), a written image, the use of the telephoto lens for close-ups, avoiding a style of photography where the photographer has to hide. I therefore abandoned the idea of photography as an end in itself, to embrace photography as a linguistic act, a story. Even now I challenge young photographers, I try to encourage them to produce Artist’s Books, not simple catalogues which show only the “nice” images. To take on a subject and try to speak of it through ten, twenty, thirty photographs. Photography is writing, regardless of the technique used; it is not aesthetical, it is a form of literature, as Umberto Eco maintains, photography has more affinity with literature than it does with art.»
If I remember rightly, you told me once of your turning down the Magnum agency.
«I had gone to Paris to accompany a group, I knew a little French. I took with me a folder with a few photographs and asked for an appointment with Cartier-Bresson, who received me. He looked at my pictures and immediately offered me a job, naturally at Magnum. In that very moment I was in seventh heaven, but then they told me that I would be paid eight, ten months after termination of the work. In that period I had a family of five. Without a monthly wage I wouldn’t have known what to do, so I was forced to refuse for economical reasons. Initially I was heartbroken, but on reflection I understood that that decision allowed me to work more freely, without orders on what and when to photograph.»
Probably if you had accepted to work for Magnum your artistic journey would today appear different. You would probably not have indulged your linguistic flexibility, perhaps you would not even have moved towards an informal experience, the continuity between canvas and photographic paper
«I lived the informal period very intensely, I was friends with artists who practiced this, I was a close friend of Emilio Vedova and Tancredi, I slept on a sofa in his home in Venice (Italy). The three of us would go to see Peggy Guggenheim. I remember she called us when the first Pollock arrived from America. We were the first in Italy to see the American artist at Peggy’s house. We were enchanted by the dripping, the desire to throw down the colour.»
You did not photograph “the informal”, or rather, you didn’t go to document artists and their studios, as Ugo Mulas was to do in America with Pop Art; instead with photography you participated in a linguistic discourse: you wrote with that kind of language. This is what I believe makes you stand out, the use of various kinds of writing based on the kind of story that you want to tell in that precise moment; real, informal, off camera, with a smartphone and who knows what in the future.
«I am interested in experimentation, even now, at the age of eighty-nine I am still experimenting; it’s a state of mind for me. I’ve got another thirty, forty years or so of this – you could interview me again after then and I’d tell you a new story. I think that in the future we will be able to transmit messages with our minds, with sensors on our temples, and that will also be photography, because photography is technology, it’s continuous development. All this empty debate between analogue and digital is just a kind of romanticism, it makes neither conceptual nor cultural sense.»
We are sitting, leaning on a table, in his Bologna (Italy) studio. I had just stopped in front of a sketch by Guttuso, a maternal scene drawn of a sheet of paper, hung on the wall in front of the entrance. An archetypical Mother and Son. The archive lies behind me, in a small room with alembics, metals, papers, matches which will be used to write with: a plastic bottle burned into the shape of a woman, a mother, forms from History which require continuous, renewed writings.