An internationally recognized photographer and protagonist of numerous art exhibitions, Pietro Lucerni, was born in Milan on April 16, 1973. After graduating from the Istituto Superiore di Comunicazione Visive in Milan, he attended a photography course at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Rome.
His move overseas marks a fundamental turning point in his life; here, he deals with advertising production and inaugurates his first exhibition of black and white portraits. From this moment, his career takes off. The photographer opened his first studio in Milan and began numerous collaborations with famous brands such as G.F. Ferrè, Moschino, Just Cavalli, John Galliano, Replay, Armani, Ducati, Pirelli, Polaroid, Bulgari, Tod’s, Hogan, as well as numerous magazines. He currently lives and works between Milan and New York, focusing mainly on artistic research and collaboration with Lambretto Factory, one of the most effervescent realities on the Italian and international art scene.
- How did you decide to take up this profession?
Just like the many facades of the unpredictable, many things in life can happen. After Itsos, the Accademia di Comunicazioni Visive in Milan, I attended the CSC in Rome. My dream was cinema, or rather, exploring photography in cinema. I had the chance to follow some lectures by Vittorio Storaro, perhaps the greatest photography director that cinema has had. The most valuable learning experience for me. From him, I learned the meaning of light and its narrative as well as its aesthetic value. At that moment, I understood the meaning of “writing with light,” which is the essence of photography. Among other things, Italians have always been leaders in the art of cinematographic photography, from which I have always tried to learn and draw inspiration. In addition to Storaro, Dante Spinotti, Tonino Delli Colli, and then the Polish, the Hungarians and the Japanese like Janusz Kaminski, László Kovács, and Kazuo Miyagawa. Along with many others, they have been able to bring photography to a narrative level beyond the scene. They turned light into emotion.
Cinema is an extraordinary, fascinating, and magical world that includes multiple expressions, which remains a great passion. Perhaps, the most significant source for my creativity. However, I also realized that it was not my world. First of all, it would have required me to move to Rome, but I am from Milan, and I deeply love my city. The dues to be paid would have taken a long time, too long for my possibilities. I also like to work alone or with a few collaborators. The movie industry does not allow it. Photography, one shot at a time, was a natural alternative, not a fallback, merely a more similar path, which felt more mine. I started experimenting, trying to translate my passions into photographs. Women, the body, sensuality, and, more generally, beauty, as cultural and aesthetic value, have always been the heart of my work.
I can’t photograph what I don’t like, and that’s why I devoted myself almost exclusively to what I really find beautiful. I think that the maximum expression of beauty, in all its infinite forms, is feminine. I mean that for me, beauty is philosophically and conceptually feminine. And beauty is an absolute, universal value. It is not subjective. Taste can be subjective, not beauty. I am looking for beauty in all things. It feeds me and makes me feel alive. Then I try to stop some of this beauty with photography. Sometimes I succeed. Joseph Brodsky said that “a person is an aesthetic creature even more than an ethical one.” In fact, aesthetics and beauty are also ethics.
- What impact has your experience in the United States had on your career?
It was the end of the nineties, and I was a kid with many dreams, and the American one was undoubtedly one of them. When I took the plane to JFK to do my first job abroad, I couldn’t believe that anyone would pay a ticket for me to go there. People recognize those who are not from New York because they walk looking up instead of ahead. I was looking up too. It all seemed so incredibly beautiful and powerful. Power was the strongest sensation—raw energy. Since then, my relationship with the United States has never really stopped. I learned a lot, and I met extraordinary people, many friends, and many clients that became friends. Going back is always beautiful and exciting. America has always been a great country, even with its great contradictions or perhaps even for this very reason. A lot has changed lately, though, and not for the better. I really hope that America can rediscover itself and those fundamentals of democracy and union that made it great. I hope that the outcome of this election is the first step.
- What forced you to undertake this project with Virna Toppi? Why did you choose her as the protagonist of your works?
Naked Moon is a work born in the spring of 2019 almost by chance. Pierpaolo Pitacco called me to talk about an art publication on the moon’s theme for Ghost magazine, of which he was the art director. In 2019 it was the 60th anniversary of the moon landing, and Ghost dedicated a special issue. Pierpaolo asked me if I had any work on the moon. I did not have anything immediately available, but I told him I could think of something. There wasn’t much time, but luckily sometimes ideas come quickly. I was thinking of something about the moon and its influence on our life: the moon and the man, the moon, and the body. I thought about how I could use the moonlight to illuminate and envelop the body. I asked my wife Elina, who is always a source of inspiration, to experiment with me. Photographing the moon is complex, and I have neither the experience nor the suitable equipment. I researched the most beautiful astronomical images of the moon and projected them with Elina’s body. The result was surprising. The play of light and shadow that the lunar craters drew on the skin had something magical. It really, really was the moonlight.
I felt that there was a need for a dynamic and powerful element, but at the same time delicate and elegant, to complete the work. Ballet instinctively came to mind, which is another great passion of mine. Some of my best friends, with whom I have collaborated on several artistic projects over the years, are dancers at La Scala. I wanted to find a way to blend dance with photography. I called my friend and extraordinary dancer Corinna Zambon who immediately indicated Virna Toppi, prima ballerina of the Teatro Alla Scala, for this project. I knew Virna artistically and for her remarkable international career. Honestly, I didn’t even hope that she had the desire and time to dedicate herself to this project and to pose naked.
Corinna said to me: “Just call her.” It was a Monday in early March. I called Virna, who told me: “I like the project and also your work. But I only have two hours, the day after tomorrow, after rehearsals. Since I will be naked, what should I bring, apart from nothing …?” I told her to bring some pointe shoes. When she arrived at the studio, we introduced ourselves, and I told her my idea. The following two hours were the moon, silence, and pure emotion. The Naked Moon narrates the rest. The concept of reinterpreting some of the images with neon light came to Latvian artist Janis Broliss and me, once again by chance. We talked about how certain forms of art risk remaining in the shadow of multimedia and that art could perhaps be more “pop” without necessarily becoming pop-art. I want art to find its place also in people’s homes as well as galleries. Since photography means “writing with light,” it occurred to me that it could also be interesting to use light to write about photography and create installations between art and design with a double life: photographs by day and neon-art at night.
- How has your profession changed following the global pandemic we are undergoing?
Covid-19 has shifted a lot. It affected everyone’s life and many things in different ways. My profession was already changing, and the pandemic has accelerated some transformation processes. Life is change, and it is constantly evolving, whether we like it or not. We live in an era that generally favors quantity over quality, which has consequences at various levels. Photography is a tool like many others. It can tell the reality, more or less closely; it can be a commercial tool; it can convey emotions, create beauty, or even become an art. In some cases, it can also be used only to fill empty spaces with content, and this happens often. With the digital transformation, many had loomed at the end of photography as an inevitable disaster. Photography exists today, just as it did yesterday, and it will continue to exist tomorrow. What changes are the techniques, the tools, the skills. The problem is never the container, but the contents. Technology, for example, is neither good nor bad; it is a tool. It’s how we use it that makes the difference. Today more than ever, precisely because of the pandemic and the limits it has imposed, we realize how precious technology can be to reduce distances, to allow us to stay in touch with the world, with loved ones, with culture. To allow children to continue studying or enable a doctor to diagnose or even an intervention at a distance. Of course, it does not fully replace real experience, human contact, or social interactions, but it still offers us a breach into the extraordinary.
Now, coming back to the question: I would say that my profession has not changed so much with Covid-19, or in any case, no more than other professions that involve contact between people. I would rather say that it is transforming itself, and I believe this is inevitable. There is a clear divisive line between being romantically nostalgic (which I very much am) and being conservative. I ride a carburetor bike that gives me great emotions; I do not deny the value of technological progress and electric motors at the same token. This pandemic, which I had deluded myself, could be a great opportunity for social and cultural growth, has instead accentuated the intellectual and physical distances between those who think in one way and those in another, as if it were a competition of who knew it better. We should start asking ourselves questions rather than pretending to have answers.
- Do you have any new projects planned that you would like to tell us about?
Yes, of course, I’m always working on some new projects. Some of them come through, and some others stay at the drawing table. Now I’m focusing on something that has to do with the interaction between man and nature. I don’t want to be overly mysterious, but I can’t tell you much more because, as I said, the best things often happen to me by chance. And in my case, I’m waiting for that to happen.