Stefano Perego: photography as means of historical investigation
By Carlotta Ferrati & Andrea Carloni
Stefano Perego was born in Milan in 1984. Over the years he had the opportunity to go many times to the countries of the former U.R.S.S. to photograph the architectures belonging to this historical period. Stefano Perego’s work over the years has become an important research tool that testifies to what was built on one of the most important and still little known geographical areas of the 1900s. His photos have been published by the most important international magazines, as well as exhibited by numerous galleries.
The Face House, by architect Kazumasa Yamashita, 1974. Kyoto, Japan. Photo: Stefano Perego
In the title of your site there is written “Stefano Perego architecture photographer”. But the architecture you picture is not the glossy and perfect one we see in the magazines. Can you talk about it?
My photographic journey begins in 2006, initially exploring the forsaken industrial areas around Milan, and then expanding my research into the rest of Italy and Europe.
The turning point towards architectural photography was in 2015 during a trip to the countries of the former Yugoslavia. The modernist buildings, built during the socialist period, which I saw during the trip, had caught my attention. I was curious to find out more and to see what my photographic approach to these structures would have been and from that moment this my ongoing research project started.
I photograph different types of architectures, but I prefer buildings with facades and elements in reinforced concrete in a savage style.
Karaburma housing tower, “The Toblerone building”, by architect Rista Sekerinski, 1963. Belgrade, Serbia. Photo: Stefano Perego
The architectures you photographer are fascinating, but at the same time disquieting and often forsaken. They are a direct testimony of the work of man, I think that your judgment about us is not too positive.
In reality most of the buildings I photograph are still used, some of them for their original purpose, others for different purposes. It happens to find restored buildings that maintain the original characteristics or that have never been subjected to interventions and therefore their appearance is wonderfully decadent, as if they were pieces of history of the past in a contemporary urban context. At the same time, many of them have been closed and abandoned for years for multiple reasons.
As far as I’m concerned, I find the visions that the architects have had when they designed the buildings I am photographing to be surprising, regardless of the political situation of the time.
The former Motel Miljevina, built in 1973 and abandoned since 1997. Miljevina, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photo: Stefano Perego
You are a photographer but also a traveler at the same time. In your opinion, how important is this second aspect of your job?
The journey and the organisation behind it are fundamental for the result of my work.
Before leaving I spent several months looking for interesting buildings to photograph using books, search engines and observing satellite images, after that I dedicate myself to the study of the space and the light, identifying favourable positions where it is possible to have interesting and unusual points of view, but above all to know at what precise moment of the day I will have the best luminous condition that will allow me to photograph a certain building in the way I prefer.
This planning allows me to see and photograph a large number of buildings in a short time, and to familiarise myself with the shape of the various cities I will visit.
Even the experience of the journey itself is very important, the atmospheres, the foods, the perfumes, the encounters and the occasional chats. All this impacts on the emotions that these places awaken in me as a photographer and human being, and that I try to convey within my photographs.
Soviet war memorial and residential buildings. Chiatura, Georgia. Photo: Stefano Perego
Why are you so fascinated by what was done in the former U.R.S.S.?
Many modernist architectures in the former Soviet republics are truly surprising and completely experimental. In addition to their strong visual impact and unconventional beauty, it is interesting to see how elements of local traditions are included on the often reinforced concrete facades, such as patterns and colored mosaics, as well as the use of different materials, such as red tuff in Armenia. Furthermore, looking at different buildings it is possible to see the idea of modernity and projection towards the future of a nation that no longer exists.
Bus station, by architect Henrik Arakelyan, 1976-1978. Hrazdan, Armenia. Photo: Stefano Perego
Looking at most of your work as a whole it is possible to read a message of denunciation towards a certain behavior of man. Do you think it is right that art has a political role?
No doubt architecture and art of a certain period are connected with the type of society and political situation that exists, but as a photographer I prefer not to deal with this aspect. With my photography I want to document the existence of buildings that are often little known, but that describe a period in the history of experimental architecture and great creativity, and show them with my personal point of view. Many of these structures are at risk, in recent years there have been several demolitions. In this case, photographing them also serves to make people aware, raise awareness and save their memory. Another point of my work is to show how these buildings fit into today’s urban context, which has changed over time, sometimes creating strong contrasts and anachronistic situations.
House of Fashion, by architect Vasilij Iosifovich Gerashenko 1962-1967. Relief “Solidarity” by sculptor Anatol’ Yafimovich Arcimovich. Minsk, Belarus. Photo: Stefano Perego
Thanks to your work you are an important witness of what is left of the past, do you think our present will leave us something better?
I don’t feel like saying “better”, certainly different and interesting. Many spectacular architectures that were designed and built after 2000, up to the present day, will also be seen in a completely different way in 50 years, and will become the symbols of a certain historical period.