DANIELE SIRI AND THE PHILOSOPHY OF PRESENT TIME
Interview by Barbara Silbe
Daniele Siri is a young Italian writer. Born in Sanremo (Liguria, Italy), in 1977, he is a marine engineer and when at sea he also occupies his time writing. His first novel, published in 2012 with Antea / Athens, is "Anime nella Pietra" (Souls in the Stone) - a work he himself helped to spread presenting it on board of a motorcycle-stall. EyesOpen! hosts Daniele Siri in the issue 0/2014, with its beautiful story "The photographer of street lights" that many of our “on paper” readers already know.
Let's start from there, of course. In that story you talk about photography as memory and as witness of a moment that maybe tomorrow will no longer exist, because time changes places and people. Is this an important aspect of photography, according to you?
Yes, is not the only aspect but it is crucial. Not only from a personal point of view. Let’s think to the history books or only to the family albums: what would these become, without photographs? Memory, our "sense of the past" (defined as a now faded vitality), survives thanks to the words, to objects, to stories - but perhaps only photography can preserve and transmit to anyone the power of a spent moment with such immediacy, regardless of the involvement of those who are looking the picture. In the past, this need to save "what you see" was entrusted to painting and drawing, today photography and cinema prevail.
What do you think of the fact that we have decided to support your words with the images of Saul Leiter?
This flatters me. If you could, you should ask him the same question ... (I’m joking).
His photographs convey a need to go beyond the conventional image of everyday reality to immortalise another deeper one, in a context like the artificial city. This is a product of a man who loses the creative vitality in favor of something purely functional. Yet Leiter demonstrates that under that amorphous veil, the man still knows how to find a form of harmony with nature, so deep as to be almost mysterious, supernatural. Sometimes his portraits are almost appearances, nuanced or filtered, and yet are full of life. Some of my writings (such as "The Photographer") try to reveal this aspect that Leiter entrusted to the lens with a talent and a sensibility out of the (his one) ordinary . Without claiming to reach any level, sometimes I dedicate myself to tell precisely this hidden aspect of our existence.
What does Daniele Siri photographs, apart from the streets at night? From what is he attracted and why?
I am attracted by unusual vision, as in reasoning and perhaps in lifestyle. Not for the sake of being forcibly against something, but I think there is really a hidden dimension of our existence, that requires a cross-cutting perspective to be grasped. I like to focus on this. The subjects are varied: nature, architecture and people, it depends on the acrivities I am practicing. I love fortifications, engines, mountains. I work at sea: therefore I photographed life on board and the earth seen from the ship. I am not a professional photographer, I have only studied the fundamental rules to optimize the yield of my personal shots.
Where your double interest with writing and photography was born?
My inspiration comes mostly with pictures, like in a movie. With the pen I just describe what I see and the subsequent emotions. I create a preview with photos, and I write in a second time. The photo is a way to define an idea or an emotion, and every book begins from his cover: the image is a window on the history, the solicitation that pushes you to go over and start reading.
When I was young I had a mechanical reflex camera and the darkroom equipment: nothing professional, but it was nice to develop, enlarge and print details, or create photomontages with masks. If you know the darkroom, even the way you shoot will be affected. And the lens offers you a privileged perspective which excludes all the rest: an unusual view point, the keyhole from which to observe what is behind the normal vision. Today I use a "bridge", a compact and versatile camera with a good quality.
What has more strength: a word or an image? How and when you choose which language to use?
The strength of a word depends on the strength of the thought of those who read it. I think a photo is less affected by this, because view is a more instinctive sense and less tied to culture. I think that people today are more prepared to be involved from a photo. I speak in general, considering numbers. You need time to read, and it requires dedication, desire to discover, ability to imagine. Our society is reducing these attitudes, but do not say this to point out a problem. Photos on the contrary are penalized by the saturation of shots of everyday life: now we photograph everything, all the time, to post pictures in the social network or stock anonymous images in our computers. Millions of photos - but with books is the same! In that way, our ability to be surprised and excited fades. The choice of language depends on the inspiration of the moment and on the experience I live. I do not feel a clear boundary between photography and writing exists, in terms of concept. But I feel more capable with a pen than with the camera.
Colored words and black and white pictures or vice versa?
It depends. I think that the skill of a photographer or a writer depends precisely on its ability to choose how to express himself, according to what he wants to communicate. So, both techniques work and should be chosen with care, and this care depends on the experience gained in communication and self-knowledge.
In one sentence of your story you say "If I do not take photos, I would not know where to support my present, that is the source of Time". So says the writer or the main character? And what does really reveals this sentence?
The story is an autobiographical metaphor. Of course, in 2000 I did not imagine it would be hosted in the number zero of your magazine! I do not even know why I was writing: the next day I was leaving for Singapore, it was my first boarding. I left the woman I loved, older than me, the life I knew and the prospects that I could imagine until then. I was going to upset the future with a "new, unexpected present". I was walking, that evening, and the streetlights were really dim. I think that the “source of time” is just a litterary way to say that this is the only guaranteed moment in life: the past is the sum of those already experienced, inescapable, while the future is the direct consequence of the present (progressive), one generated from the other at each instant. I say something trivial, but it is very difficult to live it consciously and use it to achieve what we are. Above all, it's difficult to live it considering that the future is definitely not guaranteed. We may not have all the time we think. The mind always tries to sweeten, adjust, remove, and photography helps to preserve a defined image of the past, as a direct cause of this present that we must understand.