We were “able to catch”*.1 Milella in-between travels and teaching assignments to ask him some pressing questions.
Tell us about an experience in which you were shooting and something became truly hilarious to you. Or do you find photography to be a somber exercise?
I always say that I photograph like a German, but think like an Italian. I think this is already kind of hilarious. Working often with assistants from my home town, good friends, and my brother too, we come and depart from Bari (a city of thieves, merchants, travellers, and artists), we come from an ancient suburb of the Mediterranean, we like to do things our own way, surely not the correct way. We often climbed into forbidden archeological sites, and literarily—with no permission—we stole shots in extreme unorthodox ways, with heavy- duty large format equipment. Like the picture of Myra, in Lycia, where they officially told us [we couldn’t photograph] and we jumped into the ruins at sunrise and got the shot anyhow. Strangely enough that site is the same as where my people stole the body of our patron Saint, Saint Nicholas of Bari, in 1085 AD.
How do you know when a photograph is done? Do you ever?
Working with film and large format, the timelines are long; sometimes I don’t see the work I do until weeks later. I forget about some pictures, and discover them again. I photograph very little, from 50 to 150 sheets of film a year. My archive since 2001 is made of—more or less—1000 good negatives and 500-800 secondary shots. Photography is about time. It takes time.
“But what is your perception of contemporary Italian photography? Which are the most inter- esting photographers and tendencies from your point of view?”*.2
Never have ideas been so confused about photography as today, yet it is the most prolific time ever for the medium. Oddly enough photographs are increasingly ignorant: there are a lot of good photographs and photographers, but very rarely image makers. A lot of illustrations, very few pictures. Where has the legacy gone? Time, tears, and mystery?! I have no clue, I keep searching.
*.2 Severo, F. Hippolyte Bayard. January 2010. † Original question read: How do you see photography as it relates to fine art in the 21st Century?