Nine Minutes with Photographer Alessio Bolzoni

February 4th 2019 sees the launch of an exquisitely produced new book by the acclaimed Italian photographer Alessio Bolzoni. Abuse II: The Uncanny develops themes begun in his first publication, Abuse (2017), presenting an intriguing series of studies of the human form. Slipped within is also a fanzine-style publication featuring a series of garments. We sat down with Alessio to hear more.

Your new book Abuse II, The Uncanny features beautiful photographs of contorted human bodies, what inspired you to play with the representation of the human figure in this way?

The Uncanny is the second chapter of my work on Abuse and the difference between ‘use and abuse’. My research started with the investigation of the subtle difference between the two terms. What’s the limit of use — when does it become abuse? It started with pictures of flowers as a representation of abuse, in a rhythmic repetition of images and is now expressed through the sufferance of bodies, moving on the floor in a similar way. The Uncanny by Freud was clearly part of my research when I decided to use the human body to navigate this project.

The most beautiful fact is that the people came on set without knowing anything about the project, and only after a few visual references and some words, started to perform with similar repetitive movements; all in a different and personal way, but all very similar in the final result. They all erased their identities, becoming one similar human being. That makes me think of the fact that even though I directed them, they all expressed the same discomfort and suffering of energy as a common thread.

The bodies of your subjects are so physically distorted with concealed faces and twisted bodies that some almost appear as landscapes or sculptures— is there an intentional distance in terms of a figure’s psychology? Age, gender and ethnicity are also often difficult to decipher – is this something you wanted to play with? 

The subjects entered the set as individuals, but ready to become an anonymous body. The idea was to play with the cancellation of identities, creating in this way a documentation of the human condition today, without elevating any identity over the other. There is an implicit elevation of the differences as “no difference”.

I used them, and they came to be used, to be documented, finding themselves protagonists and active parts of the opera. The real opera was the performance that I documented through the camera.

The book follows on from your last publication in the Abuse series which featured a series of photographs of decomposing flowers – how has the Abuse project evolved over time? 

It’s actually the same approach and it’s just the evolution of the same project; that’s why I’ve divided them into two chapters. They are both symbols of the same thought. I see the flowers as bodies, flesh and the performers as identity-less pieces of abused nature.

There is a fanzine-style publication inside the book inspired by an encounter you had with a Syrian refugee in Milan, where you photographed the man’s clothing, which he sold to raise money. He is absent, though human traces are present. Can you tell us more about this significant encounter and series?

There was something attractive about this person and his clothes. When I bought them I didn’t have any artistic intention, I wanted to help him with some money, but when I opened the bag with the clothes back in my studio in Paris, where I was living at the time, I felt they brought out the presence of the bodies that had worn them.

I started to open them as if they were “skins left on the way”, and to explore the parts that had touched flesh. And at that point the urge to document came and I deposited the garments on a white sheet to be documented by my camera. I imagined those bodies, their fluids and skins and documented them instead of the clothes that the camera was taking.

Imagining the absence I evoked their presence. And after a while, studying the essay Event by Slavoj Zizek, I discovered the connection between the images and his theory. The book brought me back to that work that I left for a couple of years closed in my archive. The connection with my Abuse project and especially the second chapter The Uncanny was so incredibly relevant that I thought I could put them in a dialogue, separated but together in this new publication.

As well as your art practice, you are highly respected for your commercial photography work, where the faces of your subjects are also often obscured and figures are in motion. Can you tell us how the two fit together and influence each other?

My point of view always drives me whether it is for a commercial purpose or my very personal research. I started my ‘disruption’ in 2010 with a couple of editorials that magically are still relevant, being posted and “regrammed” almost every week since… From that moment my research evolved and still is.

The commercial market has evolved too, and lately asks for very unique points of view. The voices are so many that an original, true signature always finds its place.

What exciting projects do you have coming up?

I have a limited edition of 100 copies of a special cover for Event coming out soon and a couple of exciting collaborations; the dialogue I find with other voices is for me the most exciting experience.

And also the final chapter of Abuse is on its way to becoming real.


Alessio Bolzoni’s new publication, Abuse II, The Uncanny, will be available to purchase through John Rule Book Distribution and Donlon Books, London from 4 February 2019. Further details can be found on:

Abuse II, The Uncanny, 2018 © Alessio Bolzoni