The Bewildering Bacteria Landscapes by Luca Marziale

March 22, 2020

Contemporary photography abounds with various techniques of staging, framing, developing and processing images. Needless to say, the very notion of this medium has changed in the past two decades due to a constant influx of technological advancements accessible to all the people, making it hard to make a difference between a professional and an amateur. Nevertheless, what makes someone’s activity worthy and authentic in artistic terms is not necessarily a diploma, but a genuine approach and a specific aesthetic.

Luca Marziale surely is an artist whose practice stands out, not only for its painterly but also for its conceptual qualities. After obtaining a BA in Fine Arts from the New York School of Visual Arts, he started a career in painting; however, Marziale quickly turned to photography by developing a different perspective on the natural landscape.

By focusing on fascinating formations found in nature such as ancient microorganisms, this rather young artist developed a well-articulated visual vocabulary rooted in solitude and tranquility, but with a potential of the social commentary of the contemporary moment colored by the concerns for the environment.

Luca Marziale was kind to answer a few of our questions in a brief, yet interesting interview and emphasize his photographic practice.

Luca Marziale Cryo X, Cryo Series
Luca Marziale - Cryo X, Cryo Series

Translating The Landscape

Widewalls: At the beginning of this interview I would like to ask you to explain what made you go from painting to photography - Did you find two-dimensionality limiting?

Luca Marziale: The move from painting to photography as my main medium was gradual. When I was younger, I struggled with dyslexia, making academics challenging, but painting was a subject where I found the space to use my imagination and creativity without limits or judgment. It gave me a chance to push boundaries in a way I was not always able to do in other subjects. I really enjoyed the process of painting, layering the oil paints and creating thick impasto strokes.

I’m a tactile person and I love images with loads of depth and texture. The ones you’re drawn into and really want to reach out and touch. I had that feeling with my paintings and I try and mimic that in my photos. But the textures in my photos are made by Mother Nature and not man-made.

Both practices are very meditative for me and I don't find either of them limiting, but I do like the freedom of how instantaneous the camera is in capturing a moment.

Widewalls: You are focused on the genre of the landscape that has been explored throughout the art history for quite a long time, which brings us to the question: what makes your representations of the natural environment different?

LM: Traditionally, landscapes are vast and capture large areas, but can microscale bacteria still be considered a ‘Landscape’?

By challenging assumptions about what typically defines a landscape, I have developed my own version of what it means to me. Rather than presenting the wide shot, increasingly I have focused on the micro shot, zoning in on smaller worlds that often get overlooked. I try to frame and represent the landscape in a more abstract and nontraditional manner.

Often, landscape photography evokes the question of where the image was taken. I aim to frame images free from any points of reference, focusing on formations, perspective, and scale. By doing so, the images have an abstract quality and the viewer becomes unsure of what they are looking at which allows the imagination to free itself from the constraints of reference, encouraging them to become more present in their experience of the images.

Photography inspires me to re-frame reality, this is what I want to explore more, challenging our perception of how a landscape is constructed.

Left and Right Luca Marziale - Afar VII Afar Series
Luca Marziale - Afar VII, Afar Series

The Origins and The State of The Earth

Widewalls: At the center of the series such as "Studies" and "Afar" are bacterias. Could you emphasize briefly what drew you to these extraordinary formations? Apart from the apparent visual effect, was there something else?

LM: Apart from the visual effect of these formations, they are also incredibly mysterious; they remind me what life might look like on another planet. The more I photographed and studied these Thermophiles, [the more] I realized there was very little scientific information about them.

We know they are some of the oldest living organisms in the world, dating back 3 billion years. They are called Thermophiles (Latin for heat-loving bacteria) and they live and thrive in extreme environments. Scientists are fascinated by them due to their ability to withstand tremendous amounts of heat and because they can be experimented on over and over. Most bacterias cannot handle such high heat pressure. The intense color tones and saturation all add to the extraterrestrial feeling.

Widewalls: Do you treat your photographs as a sort of geographical or rather geological studies that tell much about the human’s lack of understanding of our planet, of its history and constant transformation?

LM: Inadvertently some of my photographs have become witness to historical transformation due to global warming.

One of my first series, Testament, captures glaciers in Iceland. Looking back at those images, I realize now their meaning has shifted. The images have become politicalized as people have realized the potentially devastating effects of climate change.

Photographs provide a window into these different environmental situations and simultaneously bring to light a lack of understanding we have about our world. If you think, we have only explored 5% of our oceans, an indication of how much there is still to learn about our own planet.

My series of Thermophiles explore the context of evolution and as our technology evolves and we continue to explore nearby planets we are discovering these thermophiles are living in other extreme places in our solar system. As we have discovered from Rover, Mars has similar examples of these thermophiles living on its surface.

In the future, we will have more information about how these bacterias came to be and how they helped shape the evolution of our planet. These thermophiles could be a key ingredient in understanding how life started on our planet and others.

Left Luca Marziale Drifter, Testament Series Right Luca Marziale Glacier II, Testament Series
Left: Luca Marziale - Drifter, Testament Series / Right: Luca Marziale - Glacier II, Testament Series

The Future

Widewalls: How do you relate your work to contemporaneity, are there any social or perhaps political layers behind your landscapes?

LM: I would hope my photographs spark a discussion about the planet and conservation; that people shift from human-oriented behavior to environmental-oriented behavior.

It seems the younger generations are sensitive to these issues, which is great. Ideally, overtime issues of environmental change will no longer be seen as someone else's responsibility, but that of each individual. If by documenting the beauty in even the smallest of landscapes I am contributing to the awareness of social responsibility and consciousness towards the environment, then I am happy.

In the end, Earth will find a way to survive the negative influence of human existence, we are the fragile ones.

Widewalls: Although it is hard to tell having in mind the current global turmoil, what are your future plans?

LM: Of course, right now is an unprecedented time in regards to the coronavirus, I hope everyone is keeping safe and well.

Before the outbreak, I was planning on traveling to Norway for the opening of a group exhibition I am a part of on-board the National Geographic Endurance. The theme is bringing awareness to the depleting polar regions around the world, curated by Zaria Forman.

As countries start opening up their borders once again, I will be looking forward to heading out and shooting my next series.

Left Luca Marziale Study III Studies Series Right Luca Marziale Study XVII Studies Series
Left: Luca Marziale - Study III, Studies Series / Right: Luca Marziale - Study XVII, Studies Series

Selassie I, Selassie Series, Luca Marziale
Luca Marziale - Selassie I, Selassie Series

Featured image: Luca Marziale portrait. Image courtesy of the artist.

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