9th May 2017

Marco Pietracupa, Shapeshifter

Best known for his work in the fashion world, Marco Pietracupa has now gone back to a trove of personal images to create a striking new work for Yard Press that asks the viewer to reconsider the form of what the eye thinks it sees.

Shapeshifter represents over a decades’ worth of personal work that emphasises Marco Pietracupa’s undeniable interest in form – human, animal and that of the natural and man-made, industrial world – and the textural differences these forms take.

His signature flash-lit style presents these forms as almost spectral in tone; human skin becomes pure alabaster, tree bark and office equipment rendered into becoming something one and the same, their proximity to the lens asking the viewer to reconsider their differences and similarities. The composition of the frame pulls the eye across and around it in ways that suggest the need to decode something that which might in actual fact be familiar.

Born in the Italian South Tyrol in 1967, Marco Pietracupa moved to Milan in the early 1990s, where he studied at the Italian Institute of Photography and swiftly started working in the art and fashion industries. His work has been published by L’Officiel, L’Uomo Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Wallpaper and Rolling Stone, and he has also shown at Vice’s Milan Gallery, the Brownstone Foundation in Paris, the Asni Gallery in Addis Ababa, among others.

THE FALL recently caught up with Marco to discuss the process behind the making of the work.

Your commercial work differs a little from the that in Shapeshifter. What is it – aesthetically, philosophically and technically – you’re aiming for when you embark on a personal project?

I would say that the language is the same; actually, the two worlds are not so far away from each other, it’s still me, even if in my commercial work I need to compromise more often.

We know that in fashion there are various layers, more or less commercial. Of course working with independent fashion magazines it’s easier to keep closer to your personal style.

When I work on my personal projects I want to feel free, express my vision even beyond the limits of the private and intimate. Nonetheless, I always try to give an aesthetic and a technicality to the work. I like when the viewer realises my will to go beyond the limits and show something new from different perspectives.

How does your personal style influence how you approach a brief for an editorial work or for a client?

My style is quite precise, therefore I usually get chosen for what I do and together with the client we build a project that can adapt to the brand, to the mood and the story they have in mind. For me the important thing is to be sure that my style is the right one for the brand/project and if I think it’s not I refuse or I try to re-interpret it in a way that could fit my idea.

“We change very slowly in life and slowly we evolve, and that’s what my photography does with me. My images are what I am and what is around me.”

Given that this is a collection spanning over a decades’ worth of work, what was the curation process like when going through the past work? Were there specific images you knew you wanted to resurface and did anything surprise you from the past?

Firstly I decided to go back into my archive up to a certain time. After that I’ve started to pick everything that had a particular impact on me. The pictures were a lot and various in theme and subject. Together with my collaborator Virginia Devoto we recognise common elements and create various groups. That’s where the first concept for the book came out, choosing among three kinds of skins: nature, human bodies, animal. To break from all these organic/natural subjects we added another smaller group: the technical/industrial. 

There are pictures that I really wanted to keep in the edit but I obviously had to give up to some. I would say I was never really surprised because I remember all of my pictures. Digging into my archive has been like digging within myself, a unique experience. 

Do you see the publication of Shapeshifter as some kind of termination of a certain kind of aesthetic in terms of your personal and professional style? How do you, as a photographer, hope to progress, evolve and learn?

It’s definitely not the end of the journey. I think this research will influence me in my future works as it’s not a project’s research with a start and an end, it’s a long journey, it’s a way of seeing what is within me and will keep changing with me. We change very slowly in life and slowly we evolve, and that’s what my photography does with me. My images are what I am and what is around me. Curiosity and courage help in this process. Learning? Still a lot to learn but also a lot to forget. 

I’m always interested to hear professional photographers’ thoughts on the increasingly ‘visual’ world we live in. By that I mean – it’s perceived that anyone who owns a smartphone and an Instagram account might consider themselves a photographer. Do you think this commodification has in any way lead to a diminishing of the craft of photography or has it maybe pushed those with true talent and drive to greater artistic boundaries?

To have an Instagram account is not enough, you and your vision are what makes the difference, the social medium can’t make you what you are not. I believe that this increase in visual material is giving more value to the professionals as it highlights talent in the middle of all this mediocrity. Instagram – and all the other visual social media – is educating to easy, light images, with no reflection behind them and this kind of material can even end up in galleries nowadays.

They are display windows and they are fashionable, surely new ones will appear soon and some will be forgotten. If they are used cleverly they can advertise your work and provide interesting collaborations but it’s always the artist who manages to read the potential in these platforms (see Richard Prince’s project).

In light of this, do you still believe it possible to move people and provoke thought with the still image?

Of course, I think it’s possible, I actually hope that’s what I’ve done with Shapeshifer!

Shapeshifter is available now through Yard Press, produced by Marsèll and designed by Dallas. To see more of Marco’s work visit his site here, or follow on Instagram and Facebook. He is represented by Seven Six

More in The Culture...