How does one tell a story through a photograph? Let us turn to Giasco Bertoli’s most recent show “Locations,” at Galerie Nuke, Paris , and count the ways. The Switzerland-born artist first began photographing at age 12, when he received his first camera, a Kodak pocket Instamatic 200. His work came of age during a pivotal time for photography—as it evolved from a commercial medium to a subtler and less idealized one. And much of his work reflects this transformation. Giasco believes in the power of a story—and in the power of a photograph to tell a story. The results are works that tend to blend the everyday with images and memories from his adolescence. In “Locations,” Giasco photographs various film locations—each locale from a vital scene to its corresponding film. And though it’s been years since some of these films were released, the photographs are nonetheless powerful, demonstrating the lasting and indelible strength of these iconic and particularly memorable films. Giasco’s projects in zingmagazine include a survey of tennis courts “15 love” in issue #15; and Cathedral interiors “in a year of 13 moons (1978)” in issue #17.
Interview by Rachel Hodin
All of the photos in “Locations” are shot at different film locations. Did you have to research the precise address of each location before? Or was it more like you recalled the locations from memory?
I researched different New York film locations on the Internet—locations that were first scouted by site hunters.
There was a really fascinating article about memory in a recent New Yorker that demonstrated just how much it’s subject to change. Two quotes that stuck out to me: “The very act of remembering something makes it vulnerable to change” and “’Memory works a little but more like a Wikipedia page . . . You can go in there and change it, but so can other people.’”
I don’t know much about this subject. To me memory is a diary we all carry about with us and sometimes a perfect memory can be ruined if it’s put into words. A photograph captures a moment that’s gone forever, and impossible to reproduce.
All of the shots are in New York. I know you moved from New York to Paris when you were much younger, and haven’t moved back since; how would you compare the two cities?
Everybody knows that there’s just something about New York—this inexplicable quality to it, whether it’s from the heat, the music, or the money. In Paris, we don’t really have all of that; here it’s much more romantic with its nice boulevards lined with pristine trees and the Eiffel Tower. To Europeans, New York City feels almost like a movie. For example, the taxis—if you think about the taxi driver, the guy who drives around all day, waking up early to start his shift with steam rising from the streets. Even the loud music New York City is known for—rap music emanating from passing cars. There’s just this unique power to NYC that emerges particularly in photographs, if you find the right shot. It’s a mysterious, yet strong quality. Perhaps it’s more compatible with my work because it’s more international than Paris. In fact, in “Locations,” I was aiming to reach a more international audience—of dreamers, movie dreamers and cinema lovers from around the world. I always want my work to reach an international audience, and in Paris—with its picturesque trees and romance and its charming street lamps—that’s less likely to happen.
Obviously “Locations” is a product of recalling pleasant memories. Are there any memories you wish you could erase?
Memories are killing. We must not recollect on certain memories from our pasts—memories of those who are dear to us. Or rather, we must think of these memories and continue to remember them. For if we don’t, we run the risk of these memories surfacing in our minds, all on their own, little by little.
Did any of these films figure prominently in your childhood?
My childhood is so far away; we would have to go back to the ’70s, when most of these movies had yet to even come out. No—these movies were selected much more naturally, almost accidental. In fact I decided on most of them while sitting on my couch, chatting with a friend. The selection was more about mixing our memories, and my personal fascination with these films. They all define a city, rather than an era, and during the making of “Locations” I actually discovered quite a bit about these films. For instance I had no idea that the outside of Victor Ziegler’s mansion in Eyes Wide Shut is really the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in New York City.
Who is the most magnetic person you’ve watched on screen?
The list is too long. The first film I ever saw in theaters was Little Big Man, with Dustin Hoffman and Faye Dunaway—two irrefutably magnetic actors. I think Christopher Walken in The Deer Hunter is magnetic too, and Orson Wells in the Third Man. I like Harry Dean Stanton in general; Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris; Takeshi Kitano in Hana-Bi; and a young Gerard Depardieu was of course magnetic as well . . .
How about the most arresting subject you’ve photographed?
This is a really tough one because an arresting subject—that could be a lot of things. It could be the tennis courts book I shot; there was this one particular shot of a tennis court that I captured, just as it was getting dark out and the sky was very blue. I mean, just physically experiencing that in such an empty space was arresting in itself. But probably the most arresting subject was this ballad to NYC—“Locations” —because it’s my most recent project. For two to three days my girlfriend and I walked around these various locations as we also went shopping; we were able to mix work with pleasant, amateur tourism. We went to Brooklyn and we saw Tony Manero’s house from Saturday Night Fever, and it looked entirely different. We visited Queens too. We were really able to discover NYC through this “Locations” series. More so than arresting, it was just a nice journey—a nice touristic journey. And I like to be a tourist in my work; I think it adds some lightness to it.
“Locations” seems to evoke a similar appreciation for film and movie theaters displayed in the film Cinema Paradiso. Do you have a favorite film?
I’ve seen thousands of films, so many films. I even made one myself. As for my favorite film? Of course that depends on a lot, like the period of the film. I saw all of the films featured in “Locations,” and appreciate each and every one of them. For instance Dressed To Kill, The Warriors, Two Lovers, Manhattan, Carlito’s Way, Afterhours, Saturday Night Fever, Serpico, Raging Bull, Once Upon a Time in America, Goodfellas . . . I think cinema has played a huge role in shaping my imagination. I always found myself pretty comfortable in the darkness of a movie theater—I always felt like I could learn more from characters in movies, as opposed to characters in reality. I like to think I have a better understanding of reality through watching films. For me, the works of directors like Bresson, Bunuel, Kubrick, Cassavetes, Fassbinder, Fellini, Godard, Kaurismäki, Herzog, Pasolini, Rossellini, Truffaut, Antonioni, and Vigo mimic real life experiences.
The photos here are noticeably empty—they almost look abandoned. They aren’t particularly explicit either. Was this intentional? I find that, usually, the less explicit something is, the more aptly it’s able to convey inexplicable ideas like death.
There’s something about an abandoned-looking place or house that makes it look like it has a life of its own. I really like it.
Can you tell me some of your favorite films from the past year? And any recommendations you have for films everyone must see?
I recently saw Black Coal, Thin Ice, which won the last Berlin Film festival; it’s a great film.
In general, I would recommend Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Barry Lindon, The Shining, and Eyes Wide Shut. I like the Coen brothers’ films too—they’re fun, sulfurous and quirky. I love western movies—John Ford, Sergio Leone, and Clint Eastwood—and Howard Hawks and Nicholas Ray too. And among the many films I love, I’m particularly taken with The Last Detail, a 1973 comedy-drama directed by Hal Ashby, and The Mass is Ended by Nanni Moretti.
I saw you did a video for the fashion brand Lutz Huelle. Personally I think fashion films are an untapped resource in the broader category of films. What are your thoughts on contemporary fashion films/shorts?
I don’t know—some fashion short films make pretty advertising, but I find fashion to be mostly boring and a bit depressing these days.
I also heard you’re working on writing your first feature film. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
It is finished. When You’re Smiling, it’s a 10-minute short film freely adapted from a Bukowski novel.
Obviously stories are important to you; do you have a favorite writer, short story, novel, or poem?
I always liked the Italian poet Sandro Penna; Pasolini said he was the greatest Italian poet of the 20th century. I like the writer and film critic Serge Daney, whose L’Amateur de tennis helped inspire my tennis court series. Sadly, he died from HIV 20 years ago. I like to think he would have liked my tennis court project. The two books that are on my bedside table right now are Kitano by Kitano by Michel Temman and Big Bad Love by Larry Brown.
Any particular artists you were influenced by—for this series or in general?
The influence here was drawn purely from films—a lot of films—and many directors too. I guess it is a cinephile project, meant for the guy who loves movies and going to the movies, stories, shots, etc etc.
Did you use any noteworthy camera techniques?
Just an old Nikon F3 and Kodak color film—very simple—and a Fuji 4.5×6 millimeters.