Images of Cape Town

Interview with Enrico Gori

11 DECEMBER 2016,
Enrico Gori - Untitled
Enrico Gori - Untitled

Enrico Gori lives in Bibbiena, in the Casentino valley near Arezzo, Tuscany, where last summer he held an exhibition of photographs taken in Cape Town, South Africa, during a three-month stay. I interviewed him shortly after visiting his show.

One might expect a European to seize on the more spectacular, colourful and chaotic aspects of a city like Cape Town, whereas your images are rather austere: close-ups of poor or modest houses and streets with just a few human figures against bare walls. Was this primarily an aesthetic or a sociological decision?

My first encounter with Cape Town was both exciting and confusing. It’s among the world’s most beautiful cities, with a fascinating mixture of cultures, both local and imported. But it’s also a city of extremes: great wealth and absolute poverty live elbow to elbow. My photos could have told many disquieting stories. But my primary approach was aesthetic, allowing the human predicament to emerge indirectly, in glimpses. You might say it’s rather pictorial, so much so that a well-known realist painter, Carlo Lanini, after visiting my show, has begun reproducing each of my photos on canvas, adopting my way of looking at things.

One is immediately struck by the geometrical spareness of your images, and the simple colour contrasts of the walls and surfaces. This produces an abstract formalism in which the human figures seem to some extent captured and frozen: what did you intend to convey by this?

When an image contains too many “words”, it becomes difficult, less accessible to the kind of rapid consumption we are subject to today. I love forms, colours, clean lines and design. Each of these photos embodies my way of seeing the city, they are shots that capture an instant, a state of mind.

Most of the shots, judging by absence of shadows, seem to have been made around midday.

The warmest and most beautiful light is found in the early morning or around sunset. But I prefer to avoid this and use the hours when the sun is highest. These were taken mostly late in the morning, actually the only time I was free from work.

There’s total lack of clutter in these photos. With the partial exception of the beach-hut scene, there isn’t a trace of dirt, waste or untidiness in any of them. Is this typical of Cape Town, or a consequence of your favourite mode of expression?

I chose clean, tidy settings deliberately. I find that I’ve got a very northern European way of seeing—colonial if you like, with very simple lines. As regards colours, I wanted my images to convey the heat and vivacity of the real Africa. It was a bringing together of two extremes, which led me to see the city in quite a different light from that of a tourist passing through. I explored every corner of the city hunting for the right images, something I could keep with me for good.

To come to the human figures: sometimes they are the main focus of photos, other times they are relegated to the margins. How do you see the relationship between the inhabitants of these suburban districts and their environment?

My shots are all of ordinary people. I wasn’t looking for any particularly exotic features that might catch the eye. It’s simply the daily life of the city. In keeping with my idea of photography, I tried to make the best shots I could, using bright, strong colours in very simple, essential compositions.

Did you ask permission of the persons you were photographing? How did they respond to your capturing them on camera? Do you intend to convey any particular social attitude to them in your images?

Only one person knew he was being photographed, my friend Ven sitting in his armchair. He’s from Malawi and migrated to South Africa to work as a gardener in a large colonial villa, with a dream of building a house of his own. None of the other persons knew they were being photographed. Why? Because otherwise I wouldn’t have got the effect I wanted. What I look for is the spontaneity of everyday life. This sometimes meant getting into situations where it was very hard to take a shot. So I often did it by holding the camera waist-high and snapping without even looking in the viewfinder. Many images contain more or less strong social messages, above all the baby-sitter in the red dress with a blond boy leaning against the wall. It’s a pretty common sight throughout the country, a symptom of social and racial inequality. There’s a particularly significant gigantography of Mandela on the side of a house that reminds us of a struggle not yet over. But then there’s the girl with the selfie-stick sharing her high spirits in real time on social media.

One of the most striking things about these images is a sense of great stillness and timelessness.

The timelessness and stillness of the images are an attempt to capture the instant, not to tell stories or hint at the future. Life will continue on its daily course. I try to catch moments in the day of ordinary people on the streets, relaxing, working or having fun. Sometimes I like to talk to people and listen to their stories, but more often I prefer to imagine their lives and their state of mind, to guess where they have come from, where they are going, what they will do next.

Some of your photos have a slightly hyper-real polish that reminds me of Andy Warhol. Are you aware of being influenced by any particular artists?

I’m not conscious of drawing inspiration from any particular artist. I’m a member of a well-known photographers’ club (AVIS Bibbiena EFI) where I can meet and measure myself against the finest Italian photographers, people like Nino Migliori, Gianni Berengo Gardin, Giovanni Gastel, Francesco Zizola, Chiara Samugheo and many others. So I absorb many ideas from them without being aware of it.

Biography
Enrico Gori was born in 1988 in the Casentino valley, Tuscany, Italy, where he lives and works today. In 2011 he took a degree in Publicity Studies at the Università per Stranieri in Perugia. He is a member of the Circolo Fotografico Avis EFI of Bibbiena and a member of the Federazione Italiana Associazioni Fotografiche since 2013. He has taken part in many group exhibitions. In 2013 he was selected for the OFF section of the festival Fotoconfronti di Bibbiena and has recently held his third personal show. He has travelled widely and worked in communications in many parts of Europe. He has many new projects in the pipeline.