Nº22: ALESSANDRO SIMONETTI
ERA OF DISCOVERY
PHOTOS BY @DALEKNOWS
Alessandro Simonetti is an Italian photographer and designer/ owner of the rising brand U.P.W.W. He invited us into his workspace where we were greeted wonderfully by his charismatic Italian ways. We sat with him got comfortable, and immediately we were given a tour of his upcoming projects like his collaboration with REEBOK, the new line, and the dope items that were just picked out from his wholesaler. You could see the joy and passion he had for the brand and just workwear altogether. We didn't want to get the traditional story from him about starting a clothing line, we knew that he was heavily influenced by photography and that's a huge part of the story we wanted to share with you, our faithful readers.
Time travel may just be a myth, no one has really cracked the code yet nor do we actually think it can happen right? Well, the best version of time travel is our elders, especially the ones that can tell a great story. Alessandro may be a really great storyteller, or maybe the life he lived is so conclusive to the present day, it just all felt too familiar or should I say too real. The stories from his high school days, his crew whom they referred to themselves as the rappers. Rocking old-school samba shoes, baggy jeans, and t-shirts, the way his style evolved from day to night. " I remember walking into the classroom with Gazelles and Samba Adidas, and the kids would mock me and say they were gay shoes." because Freddie Mercury at the time wore those. “ The old school silhouettes were not popular, we had to get on a 1hr train go into the only footlocker in the central city close to Bassano stand a day to get the Superstar or the Puma Clydes.”
That's when I developed an attachment to brands, even if it was weird things because I grew up in this young culture in Italy there were expanding inside of really political occupied space. All the hip-hop scene at the beginning of the '90s was really like the public enemy kind of approach. I remember going to protest in front of the U.S military base in Italy, yelling " Yankee go home!" but now I'm here. The environment was much anti-logo, and we began feeling guilty. So we would strip down all of our logos. I don't have the culture either the broad interest in fashion; however, I love what it generates.
Alessandro came to the U.S first for 20 days while teaching a high school in Italy, again for another 3 months, and have been here since. “Coming to the states was an adventure for me I did not think about staying here for the rest of my life. I found a way to stay here, whether it was through artist visa, journalist visa, whatever it took I found a way to stay here.”
My friend and I shared a passion for photography, graffiti, and skateboarding and we luckily documented all these things. Beautiful crazy images of 16 yrs old myself, painting a night train. It was that “Do it yourself” Italian era that I was living was really what created— let’s say it was responsible for my backbone, cultural wise. Being part of the second generation of Italian kids, that naturally got connected to this hip-hop movement, it was a really refreshing, and discovery era of my life. That’s when I began taking photos at concerts and big names of music from James Brown to KRS ONE, Guru. This attachment to culture is what brought me also to NY. In my head that was a way to, have a trip to the Mecca. Coming to see cbgb’s, shooting slick rick two feet away, hanging out with Wu-Tang Clan, but eventually connecting with iconic artists such as Larry Clark, I had a chance to shoot him and Martha for a few days. Working with Erik Brunetti from FUCT 90’s brand, not sure if you’re familiar with it but it’s one of the three pioneers of what we call now streetwear.
It’s been 13 years since I have been in NY, I came with a thousand dollars, couldn’t speak English, because the art school system in Italy doesn’t include language.
WHAT HELPED YOU SHAPE YOUR VIEWS ON PHOTOGRAPHY?
I was growing up in an environment that was artistic oriented, I’ve been drawing since I could move my fingers, and hold something. Handling cameras since at a young age.
My house in Rome was populated by local actors, photographers, there were beautiful images of my mother pregnant with me, shot by a French Vogue photographer unknown to me. I bet that the late 70’s in Rome was a really inspiring place to be. I grew up with already a concept of a multicultural society, when I was a child I remember having the half Asian & German friend and a Moroccan & Italian girlfriend hanging out with me. Growing up in a situation that wasn’t really normal, just because of the fact that my father was this crazy artist, my mother was an artist also not that crazy, end of the story they split up. My mother felt it was necessary to give the kids a better environment, and it was probably the right choice.
Even with my crazy childhood, it helped me understand the world better. My curiosity in a way is a vein that really connected to reality all my photography is based on non-staged, casual street photography or random storytelling, of people and society, so I got really attached probably because also to the enthusiasm of discovery, something that wasn’t right there for everybody at that point. And I’m talking about the graffiti, dressing a different way, skateboarding, shaving my head, when, it was weird to cut your head in Italy. In a way, i think I found in the young culture what I see now, what I found out at that point is my curiosity on niche situations doesn’t matter if it’s related to skateboarding and here I’m like as a photographer trying to find stories and people that are not necessary under the spotlight. Even when I had a chance to decide, “ Ok what do you want to do with your photography?” it was either I go in the fashion industry, I had a channel to dive into that. Or you want to try to do your own thing, and so in a way it was an investment because, after many years, I heard “You don’t do fashion.“ but now I have many brands who are interested in my point of view as a person, as a photographer and a creative director. And my photos are never more of my project --- which I can show you later, are never indeed commissioned or has a commercial output.
I invested in these things, continuing documenting of society and mostly in an anthropological way, it’s probably the key to my photography. It started as storytelling photojournalism, documentation but with the time and because we have so much media now, I am really questioning myself, “ What’s the role of me documenting reality, if it’s so easy to capture?” and that’s why my photography in a way more abstract. That does not mean I do triangles and shapes, but I contextualize the subject, to not give you something that you already saw. Like if I go to Jamaica and I shoot a Rastafarian, smoking a joint, it’s probably something that you already saw, something that perhaps falls into a stereotype itself.
So speaking of, this is my last work about Jamaica, Renaissance, it started as a book that was following all these young artists, from dancehall and hip-hop in Jamaica or a more spiritual reggae as we know it, from Peter Tosh, Bob Marley. So that was really the key, and it became a secondary subject to explore this window of Jamaican culture in these days, this was like four years ago. So we end up transforming a book that was supposed to be about music, and musicians, to an abstract if you will, but more in-depth exercise on writing, because it’s a beautiful twelve chapter writing, and then the visual aspect. So this could be shot in Brooklyn, the reality is this is the wife of Haile Selassie, painted on an abandoned refrigerator behind the church where we were shooting, that Bob Marley in 77’ gave ten thousand dollars, to start, and so they built the front but never had the money to finish. So instead of shooting and moving my storytelling too, this is the church and the influence Bob Marley had on it, to me it’s more about being cryptic but can create a different mechanism in your mind, while absorbing the story. There was this beautiful painting of this saint, that came in to speak to a crowd of lion and lioness, and this bird was like picking his eye, and I’m like “ Holy Sh*t, this is hardcore.” but it was so fascinating, what’s the deal with this painting, which was a shitty paint under plastic which I didn’t photograph. But then looking through my images I found a picture of a bird, that is a ubiquitous bird in Jamaica, and a sort of close triangle eye. And in my head, this is like the bird picking the sight of the saint, which had such a beautiful voice that lion and lionesses were chilling in front of him just to hear his voice. He had such pure eyes that birds were flying and stopping to drink out of his eyes.
HOW DID YOU FIGURE OUT YOUR METHODS OF DOCUMENTING STORIES THROUGH PHOTOGRAPHY?
I was exposed to image making since I was a kid, whatever was the first polaroid snapping with my sister, rather than drawing and doing things my father was, he used to restore antique objects. So this mentality really comes from his strict vision, like how an object should be handled or created. I really grew up with the appreciation of beauty in creating new things. My mother was an art teacher, so I grew up in a really artistic environment. At a young age I was already drawing, I was pretty skilled, I did art school, graphic design, photography, drawing, typography and eventually I joined the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice, I graduated and got to teach photography at the high school.
At sixteen, I was doing everything photography, graffiti, drawing. Photography between all other disciplines probably more fitted me, I was thirsty and impatient, the idea to create a sculpture in marble, as much as incredible and lasting, I told myself "I’m not going to stay for two months in a garage, working my ass off." I was really fascinated by the fact that with a camera, in a fraction of a second, divided a thousand times I was able to create something that was equally strong, equally communicating and was really captured by the fact that you could keep that frame forever. The way photography can be done boom boom boom, the fact that the negative from this picture of this bird I took I can make hundreds of more images out of that. And because of that, I got stuck in photography primarily focused only on that, I never practice drawing anymore.
All this multidisciplinary background from printing, advertising, drawing, typography, actual printing with silkscreen and letterpress all of that help me figure out the large print pieces when in the process of creating pieces for U.P.W.W or when I do one of my books that I do from A to Z on my own from the graphics to the content.