No Panic! Photographer Chico De Luigi: “Dare yourself always, you may find you have what it takes.”
Jean Moncrieff speaks to the Italian photographer who dares students to shed more than their inhibitions, to discover their full potential through the lens of a camera.
It’s late on a Saturday night as I sit beside Chico (Enrico) De Luigi, scrolling through photographs for his latest project. “Is this what you would describe as an odd photograph?” he asks. “I want to make sure I have the correct understanding of the word odd,” he says looking at me through wide eyes – eyes once described by Italian film producer Domenico Procacci as: “those fool-like wide open eyes could see and frame reality with such ability and sensitivity.”
Born in Rimini, Italy, in 1966, photography has been part of Chico’s life since an early age. He recalled: “I have always been in contact with photography, because my father was a keen amateur photographer. Since we were little, my brother and I photographed all over.” At the age of 24 he moved to Milan and began working with various agencies and publications before joining Fandango as a still photographer, tasked with recording Italian cinema. It was here, working on sets of films like Il partigiano Johnny and Super 8 Stories as co-director with Emir Kusturica, that Guido Chiesa noticed him, describing him as, “having the unusual gift to catch the suspension of film-making.”
I observed this gift – the ability to frame reality with his own perspective – first hand on a routine trip to a nearby take-away store, when upon entering, he immediately noticed an elderly woman seated against the window. Her Hip Hop cap and blue tinted glasses had caught his keen eye and the lens of his camera, something he carries with him like a gunslinger would carry a gun in the Wild West.
Chico records moments like this on his blog, something he has been doing daily for over 6 years, regardless of his health or mood. “I can look back over the past 6 years and witness how I have evolved. You should try it yourself, combine photography with learning Italian, it will challenge you,” he tells me.
While his workshops could easily be described as odd, his approach is simple: regardless of the technique, regardless of how you think, regardless of the technology, always dare yourself to step out of your comfort zone. He isn’t concerned with all technical aspects of photography; he is focused on developing the person behind the lens. “Let the camera do the technical work, that’s what it is there to do. You need to do the creative work and interact with your subject,” he told me on our first photo outing.
During the workshops students are blindfolded, either in a state of semi-undress with a model, or on the beach in the company of strangers.
“I want them to be vulnerable, to drop their daily masks. Putting them in these situations forces them to interact with strangers in a very vulnerable and unknown state.” And while it may sound daunting, Chico is always close by, gently directing this photographic dance. It’s because of this need for direction that he works almost exclusively with Italian students, “the instructions are important and difficult to translate, and they lose meaning in the moment.”
‘No Panic’ workshops are hosted at his home; a large sun-drenched apartment near the centre of Rimini. Here students live together here for the duration of the workshop, seeking their own unique perspectives in shared meals, evening outings to local bars, and whatever strange scenes the group may conjure up.
Chico himself never stops learning and experimenting. This week he has hosted two photographers, Carlo Furgeri Gilbert and Giulia Bersani, both from Milano and both passionate about analog photography. “We’ll shoot exclusively on film and plates,” he tells me excitedly. “They challenge me to experiment with analog techniques again. Look, I have all this expired film, who knows what results it will bring.”
It’s not often one has the opportunity to meet a person whose life is his craft. Since taking his first photograph at the age of 3, photography has been Chico’s passion, his life. Now he shares his gift with other people, helping them find to discover their own unique perspective through the lens of a camera.