Pulak – Can we begin by speaking a bit on your introduction to photography? What influence has Pistoia, your native town, had on your development as an artist?
Amendola – I began taking photographs when I was very young. My introduction was through simple, commercial photography shooting anniversaries, marriage ceremonies and so on. When I was 33, there was a turning point when I was commissioned to photograph the Pulpit of Sant’Andrea in Pistoia by the Italian sculptor Giovanni Pisano. It was somewhat an innovation for me and my photography, the kind of work I had never done before. My photograph of the pulpit was a success – and shortly after a bank, one of the big names, reached out to saying they would like to gift the photograph to one of their clients. This was again a big break for me. My photography changed shape within this period. In 1964, I met Marino Marini, the Italian sculptor. He wanted me to photograph his sculptures, and one day said: ‘Listen Aurelio, my sculptures need to speak.’ He was very happy with the pictures, and introduced me to Henry Moore, another important sculptor. I met Alberto Burri in 1977 and took a portrait of him. That picture was included in Burri’s exhibition at The Guggenheim in New York in 1978, and we worked together many times afterwards. This is how the chain of my work began.
Pulak – Your biography states that you have adopted “a point of view that is a decided departure from the documentary approach.” Over the course of your career, what was it that pushed you away from the documentary style, or perhaps what was it that attracted you towards a more calculated way of image making?
Amendola – They are completely different, you see, because it was through sculptures that I started my work as an artist. My sculptural work is very precious to me, it’s my history, a must in my portfolio. Both the artist portraits and my work on sculptures require me to observe, spend time with and connect to the subject. I can wait an entire day, for example, to be able to photograph a sculpture under the exact light I would like to see. This is very far from the documentary style.
Pulak – Could you please talk us through your creative process in taking a photograph of a sculpture? Do you have a certain ritual you’d like to follow from the moment you first encounter the sculpture to the actual click of the shutter?
Amendola – The creative process is a very significant part of my work with sculptures, because I always want to capture a particular view of the sculpture that others could not otherwise be able to see when they view it at a museum. This is the very heart of my work. I try to emphasize the details of sculptures that one would not necessarily notice, which makes all the difference. It is crucial for the sculptures in my work to “speak.”
Pulak – Let’s talk a bit about the preparation for the pictures. Most people do not have access to getting up close to the masterpieces that you have photographed. How have you gained access?
Amendola – It became easier over time, of course. As I began photographing sculptures through commissions, and after having published successful books on these sculptures, it was enough for me to call the museum and ask to photograph the works.
Pulak – There’s an incredible sense of grace, sensuality and seduction in your photographs that is far from vulgarity. How would you describe your exploration of these elements in photographing sculptures, versus people?
Amendola – They can be very similar actually. With a sculpture, I observe the sculpture from every angle, look at every side, look at the soft curvature of the anatomy, and the hardness of the marble… Imagine spending hours in front of a marble sculpture with the natural light from the sky San Pietro accentuating the shadows of a sculpture. That is the beauty I try to convey in my photographs. Just like I do with the sculptures, I spend time with the artists I photograph as well. I follow them, observe how they are when they are in their own element. My portraits of the artists are interpretations of the work of the artist.
Pulak – Throughout the years among the works you’ve photographed, is there a sculpture or a sculptor you have established a closer relationship towards?
Amendola – I can say that I consider myself to be friends with Michelangelo, Bernini and Canova.
Pulak – Some of your images reveal the incredible mastery of the carving of marble, while some are cropped to appear dramatically abstract. What kind of a process do you follow when it comes to deciding on the final crop of a frame?
Amendola – I usually always have an idea of the details and parts that I would like to emphasize within a photograph. Therefore, I focus on arranging the light, especially according to that area on the sculpture. But of course the dark room is always the final place where I decide on the crop.
Pulak – How has the digital age impacted your work? You shot film – do you see an advantage to that?
Amendola – Let’s please not talk about digital – I don’t care for it.
Pulak – The three dimensionality of a sculpture can easily be flattened by the two dimensionality of a photograph, yet your images present an exquisite level of depth through what is called the practice of chiarascuro. Could you please elaborate on the significance of chiarascuro on your work?
Amendola – Like I said, the play of light and shadow is everything in my work. I do not use flash, therefore, rely on continual, natural light, which creates the necessary contrasts. This yields the photograph the level of drama I intend to create, which you could say is like the chiaroscuro in a painting.
Pulak – What would you want viewers or photography collectors to know about your work?
Amendola – That they are about feeling, above all.
Born in Pisotia, Italy in 1938, Aurelio Amendola is considered to be one of the most elegant Modernist and Contemporary photographers of our times. A master interpreter of the works of Italian Renaissance sculptors such as Michelangelo, Bernini and Canova, his photographic portfolio also features portraits of some of the best known artists of the 20th century including Andy Warhol, Marino Marini, Alberto Burri, and Roy Lichtenstein. His works are part of many private and public collections including; Fondazione Maramotti in Reggio Emilia, GAM in Turin, Fondazione Arnaldo Pomodoro in Milan, MAXXI Museum in Rome, Fondazione Alberto Burri in Citta di Castello, Palazzo Fabroni in Pistoia and Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Pistoia e Pescia.