Stefano Cavanna was born 51 years ago in Genoa, Italy, where he lives and works as civil attorney for important companies and animal rights associations. The job allows him to travel, find new ideas and inspirations and get in touch with different and particular environments.
He started getting closer to photography since he was young, using a SLR camera. He wanted to study and find the right tools, such as rolls and diapositives. When digital photography was catching on, Stefano stopped shooting, except for some experiments with compact cameras and underwater photography at the very beginning of 2000s.
In 2014, he took up the camera (DSLR and mirrorless) focusing on street and travel photography, and also on photojournalism, aiming for the aesthetics and unusual framing. Stefano actually uses DSLR, mirrorless and smartphone: he’s a committed supporter of mobile photography. He displayed his shots in an exhibition called “Tanzania del sud, un ecosistema in lotta per la sopravvivenza” (Southern Tanzania, an ecosystem fighting to survive). Stefano chose this story, because he’s an animal-rights activist and wanted to raise awareness on the risks to the african territories. He also took pictures of the Fish market in Dar Es Salaam: Stefano aimed to show what food the Tanzanian city offers and how the citizens can stock.
Hello Stefano, thank you for taking part in the interview.
How and when did you develop the passion for mobile photography?
It’s all because of Picwant! At the end of 2014, I just started shooting again, after the first experiences when I was younger and used my SLR camera. I read in the number 265 of “Il Fotografo” (photography magazine), an article that promoted Picwant, the first photography agency that licenses photos and videos only taken with smartphone. I immediately liked the idea of challenging myself with the professional photography. Then, I got into the selection: in the end, I still take pictures and the judgment of the photo editors allows me to improve my technique. Furthermore, I can shoot with real aims and follow specific rules, “discipline” my photography. One day somebody told me: “You’d be surprised what you can do with your smartphone.” He was right!
Saint Aygulf beach – Frejus, France. They seemed like big commas in the sky. When you see a particular scene like here, all you have to do is shoot… I slightly post produced the image in Snapseed.
Where do you draw your inspiration? What are your favorite subjects?
When I talk about discipline, I don’t want to be misunderstood. This all started as I don’t have a specific favorite genre of photography: I always go around with a device to take pictures: DSLR camera, MILC or smartphone (I obviously prefer this last one) and I spend time trying to capture unexpected, unusual moments or, on the contrary, rigorous geometry. Briefly, I look for the beauty in accordance with my Italian taste, or the tragic nature of the modern urban areas, but I always take care of visual aesthetics.
My photography ranges from reports on people (street photography, shots of African and South American people), to photographic safaris (big and small African animals), photojournalism (political meetings and events), architecture, products and shows (Air Show, yachting) and everything I found interesting overall. I’m helped by my “other” job – I’m a business lawyer – that allows me to travel a lot and visit various places. It also taught me to develop and use one of the most important traits that I think a good photographer should have: curiosity. I chose to take this adventure to clear my shots up, everything I capture on smartphone.
French presidential elections. First voting round. In the French system, there are as many papers as the candidates and people take all the papers, go to the ballot box and insert only the paper of the chosen one. At the bar I met a woman who had just voted at the Alliance Française’s office in Genoa and I asked her to arrange the remaining papers on the table. I like those beautiful crossed hands and the refined cuffs on the background, because I think they give a sense of calm and solemnity. I applied the Snapseed filters to emphasize the contrasts.
Would you like to experiment another genre of photography?
Mobile photography itself is experimentation and I realize that every day. The smartphone, that sometimes is not very ergonomic but very quick and easy to use, allows you to rely on the camera without being sure about the outcome. But every day I discover something new. I accidentally use the food settings for a low light scene and moving subjects and…voila, here is a beautiful and colorful motion blur. Good to know. I think that the beauty of photography is that you can choose many different settings, effects on all sorts of subjects and the images can be a fine surprise!
I also love comparing myself to the other photographers as it helps me, both consciously and subconsciously, to improve my skills. For instance, flicking through an old magazine these days, I found a photo pretty much the same as I recently captured in the London tube. Clearly, I was subconsciously influenced by that image or, maybe, it’s getting harder to be original. I once didn’t love black and white photography, but now I’d like to do something close to the wonderful monochrome features created by Paul Yan and Krzysztof Janczewski. Other two photographers from whom I usually draw inspirations are Andrea Izzotti and Marco Gaiotti.
How would you describe your style?
My photography is multifaceted, but still connected to the Italian style. This morning a Japanese friend told me that my style would be appreciated in the East, because it’s very Italian. Let’s just say that the fate was providential because if I hadn’t met that friend of mine I wouldn’t know how to answer to this question. I would think about not having a definite style…
Ferris wheel in Frejus – Saint Raphael. The intense lights of the environment gave the shot this vibrant shade. I took many pictures of this element, because of the Picwant’s pic-up on summer amusements.
Did you take some funny shots or do you recall photos associated with funny moments?
I’ve just told you the mistake about the “food setting”, how many good shots you happen to take quite by chance… Sometimes I’m well rewarded for my efforts, for instance I can mention the shot of the Ferris Wheel: I manually set the exposure time. Other than the technique, I think the funniest thing I can told you is about a special assistant on which I always can rely on: my dog, Cusco, that looks like a fox.
From time to time he gave a little help to capture particular photos. I recall the french supermarket in Frejus. My wife went to the grocery store and I suddenly noticed that I could see through the shop window. Then I came up with an idea: I drew the attention of Cusco to Valérie, my wife, while she was choosing some products in the supermarket. The dog “struck in pose” and I took this picture that was selected and displayed in an exhibition, whose topic was “new family concepts”. In the same way, I could capture other funny shots.
What model of smartphone do you use?
Samsung Galaxy S7. For me it’s amazing. I know that most of the people love iPhone, or Huawei P9 because of the collaboration with Leica. But I read dozens of reviews and then I decided basing on the most important feature for me: the aperture f/1,7, whereas the other models offer f/2,2. I don’t regret my decision, even if I miss the telephoto zoom lens.
Do you post produce your photos? What apps do you prefer?
Mobile photography makes me often reconsider the shot, because it means to experiment. At first, I didn’t like post producing the images, because I was aware that you’ve to know how to do things and the post production requires precise skills. Then, I decided to try, taking the risk of being wrong or overdoing. I loved Photogene, that was the best app in the past, but unfortunately its developer (with whom I was in contact) can no longer work on it and today it’s unusable. I switched to Snapseed, which is complete and is regularly updated. Every shot I take is processed with Snapseed, even for a little adjustment.
Do you have in mind special photography projects?
I like capturing spontaneous, everyday moments, but I also started experimenting storytelling, such as the features of the Fish Market in Dar Es Salaam or the History of the Italian hat. I’d like to shoot the traditional workshops you can find in city centre of Genoa (Italy), the religious festivities in Sri Lanka and something about the classical music, such as showing the backstage of a well known string quartet.
Thank you very much Stefano and keep shooting. Keep experimenting!