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Interview with Italian photographer Sandro Santioli

Sandro Santioli is one of Italy's leading photographers and his stunning images have been regularly published in international travel and current affairs magazines including National Geographic Italy and National Geographic Traveller, Geo, Meridiani, Bell’Europa and Bell’Italia. Timeless Travels was delighted to catch up with him recently at his home in Italy.

Black and white photo of Italian photographer Sandro Santioli at work

Where did you grown up?

I was born and raised until the age of 14 in Abbadia S.Salvatore, province of Siena, the last mountainous strip south of Tuscany, at the foot of Monte Amiata.

What led you to photography?

When I was a student at the Siena high school, I travelled several times in a year through the beautiful countryside of the Val d'Orcia. Depending on the season and the light, the colors of the fields changed and the mix of colours, lights and shapes of the gentle undulations, always created new charms. I would have liked to collect the beauty contained in those landscapes, to keep those moments forever. If I had been able to paint, I think I would have tried painting. Here, I think, my passion for photography was born.

Was there a camera or photo albums in the family? Did you find specific inputs already as a child at home, which would explain your interest?

No, my relationship with photography was not born from a family album, but from a vision of the landscape that surrounded me, especially from the beauty of the colours and designs of the nearby Val d'Orcia, which I observed in the various seasons.

When I attended the Scientific High School of Siena, I crossed this stretch of territory many times by car or bus, and I often thought that I would have liked to collect the beauty contained in those landscapes, capture its colours, and retain those moments forever. Photography was the only possible medium for me.

Of course, especially since 1985, the year in which I began to earn my living as a photographer, interest has spread to other themes. However landscape and colour are always at the center of my photographic research.

I think the more a photo comes from our deep feeling, the more it gives us pleasure, and the less we reflect when it is made.

What inspires you and do you have subjects that you prefer to photograph?

Although I have a deep relationship with the landscape and nature in general, I love to photograph different subjects. I think the search for beauty is at the basis of my visual interest. And we can find beauty everywhere in the world, in an infinite number of subjects and situations.

What matters is the act of photographing, through which the subject is not simply reproduced, but recreated in a totally new dimension: ours.

As for the landscape, I don't like looking for an exclusively documentary approach. Often excluding every non-essential element, I leave what according to my personal vision represents its synthesis. I like to look for the boundary that exists between reality and the imaginary.

Do you have an idea why colours are so important to you?

I feel the impulse and the strength of the colour from the first moment. I connect it to an emotional perception which fills my sight and senses. I have a connection with colour that is deep. It comes from within. Today it gives me strength and emotional drive. I am not interested in the exact reproduction of color. It is my interpretation that I am interested in obtaining. There is no single way in which I interpret the colour in the photo; it is the perception of the moment that pushes me in one direction. But I feel the strength of the initial colour intimately, and this is what gives me the input to photograph.

Do you usually look for, or wait for, the subjects of your photos? Do you have an image in mind that inspire you, and then make it concrete with a shot, or is it the photo that finds you?

It is the photo that comes towards me, I never go out on the street with a preconception or a fixed idea. In every landscape or urban reality I immerse myself in the reality I find. I observe, evaluate and decide. The decision is quick and often instinctive. The technical evaluation is almost automatic, it takes very little time.

What does photography represent for you?

For me, photography represents a sign of beauty and hope. A beauty that comes from the world, from everything around us (nature, living beings, man's works). My job is to cut and combine pieces of this reality according to my selective mental synthesis criterion. In this direction, my experience is destined to grow every day. New combinations, new syntheses, are the result of different attention, of a capacity to combine, of an inventiveness that changes with time.

When I go out on the street or follow the lines of a landscape or look for a particular point of view of something that has caught my attention, I try to free my intuition. I don't ask too many questions. I am looking for an inner concentration, a contact with the subject. I always try to act with "readiness" and "lightness". I think the more a photo comes from our deep feeling, the more it gives us pleasure, and the less we reflect when it is made. I think when we can take a good picture it means that we have tried something inside us. We certainly cannot transmit emotions if we cannot try them ourselves.

I look around and evaluate the environment, the lights, the shadows, the people, the movement, the colours ... and I begin to select mentally. The resulting photo is a "summary" of this process…

You travel for work all over the world. Does the eye with which you photograph the different places, change according to the subject, or do your shots reflect your own personal choices?

In every place in the world there are many "variables" to combine: people, lights, colors, weather conditions, emotional situation, centuries-old traditions to consider, and so on ... In these situations I try to perceive, according to my personal vision, the subject, concentrating on it. So I look around and evaluate the environment, the lights, the shadows, the people, the movement, the colours ... and I begin to select mentally. The resulting photo is a "summary" of this process…

Do you have any tips for other aspiring photographer? What paths or schools should they follow in order to succeed?

There is no sure way to success. There are many individual avenues and it is impossible to say which is the best. I think that to become a good photographer it is not mandatory to study 4/5 years in a very expensive school. All the great photographers who are self-taught or from "parallel" studios demonstrate this. It is certain that the example of a teacher is a great stimulus. The contact with those who practice the profession certainly makes it grow faster. Attending seminars and courses or workshops is of great help and triggers hidden mechanisms of our mind many times.

But I think the practice of photography is essential. Practice combined with constant verification of one's work. Knowing the technique is important. But we must learn to master it easily. We must almost forget technique when we shoot. Photography is a mix of intelligence, intuition and organization. The synthesis we make with our click is unique and not repeatable. What comes out of a photo is our sensitivity, our personal perception, our culture. It is where we must grow.


Image of Italian photographer Sandro Santioli

Sandro Santioli

Sandro's photos are the result of intense trips and researches through the years, taking photos that are unique and finely selected, like the ones in the project Aerial View about amazing areas in the world.

He said "Shooting from above, the outlook is focused on the dynamics among the elements, highlighting any details and recreating them in a brand new way with a new appearance: from this moment on we’ve been tossed into a world apart, feeding our imagination in stunning ways."

Sandro has held over 50 exhibitions of his work in Italy, Germany, France, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, China and the United States.

To see more of Sandro's stunning work visit his website.


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