This interview is part of a series in which Olaf Willoughby talks with Leica Meet members about their photographic projects, their stories, goals and learnings along the way. This month’s interview is with Adam Marelli, New York City-based artist and photographer who was inspired by author Italo Calvino to see further and discover more of the landscape. This work won honorable mention in the 2014 IPA International Photography Awards for the categories of Historic and Cityscape.
Q: To start can you give me an overview of your project, its title & its main theme?
A: The title of the project is “Invisible City,” which is loosely based on the Italo Calvino novel “Le Città Invisibili.” A few years back I decided to learn Italian. Being a single language American started to bug me, so I decided to connect back to my family roots and learn Italian … not really for practical purposes or anything. But I was spending enough time in Italy for it to make some sense. I was also interested to see what happens when we think about a place using a different language. I used the book like a pair of binoculars, to see further into the landscape … and as I was able to understand Italian more and more, different images emerged. In Calvino’s “Le Città Invisibili,” explorer Marco Polo is describing to Kublai Khan the cities of his kingdom that he will never see. As the ruler of an empire, Khan cannot travel to the far stretches of his lands and thus envies Marco Polo’s ability to move from place to place. So the book feels like a series of discoveries for both the reader and Kublai Khan.

Q: And how does that theme develop as a story throughout the project?
A: The project is about the desire to see more and the tension that develops when we realize that we cannot see everything. Even with development of airplanes instead of boats and horses used by Marco Polo, we still face the same problem. We have limitations to how much we can explore in a lifetime and the challenge to select locations that provide fulfillment for us.
Q: Is the project purely for yourself or do you have a commercial or cause-related end in mind?
A: Almost every project I shoot, starts for myself. Often, parts of it have commercial or editorial fall off, as I call it, but I design it as if it were just made for the purpose of art, which is a sensory experience. Editorial and commercial work has one dimension: to sell pages or products. It’s much easier to pull a section out for those purposes. But taking a commercial project and converting it into a broader project never works; it always feels like a tricked out catalog.

Q: What photographic choices have you made: colour palette, composition, use of flash, etc.?
A: Our senses – sight, taste, smell, etc. – all do their best if we build up an experience. Have you ever tried to smell more than five perfumes in one sitting? Your nose gives up. It’s just too much; our senses thrive when they are tempered with subtlety. So I wanted to make a project that became visually richer over the series.
Q: What’s your vision for the project and how will you judge if you’ve been successful?
A: You have caught me at an interesting point in the project because it’s not done yet. My vision is to understand where the urge to explore an unknown location comes from and whether exploration ever leads to fulfillment. As for the success of a project, I follow the philosophy of Andy Warhol, who said, “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”
Q: Not all projects are smooth sailing. Have you had any setbacks and what were your learnings?
A: This project has developed slowly, which has its pluses and minuses. The plus is that there is really no rush to finish. I go to Matera once a year and have time to reflect a lot in between trips. The minuses are that I go there only once a year and it can get a little frustrating to have to wait for the next round. I’ve been going to Matera, in southern Italy, for three years now. This will be my fourth year. It’s a bit like chipping away at a block of stone, but not knowing exactly what you want to sculpt. After you spend enough time, shapes and senses start to emerge. Then when you get to the core of it, everything gets really clear. It’s like a sprint to an imaginary finish.

Q: What Leica equipment do you use and how is it particularly suited to the needs of this project?
A: The images have been made with a combination of the M digital cameras: the M9, Monochrom and M 240. While any combination of cameras could be used for the project, the thing that always stands out for me with Leica is that while the guts of the camera change, the experiences of shooting them is pretty similar. The aperture is on the lens, the shutter dial is on the top and the viewfinder is optical. They are small, portable cameras with wonderful prime lenses that are not off-putting because they don’t look professional.
Q: Are there any technical or workflow challenges you’d like to mention?
A: The technical challenge about location shooting is that you have to wait. If the day, the weather, or the people are not right, there is nothing you can do but grab a drink and wait.
Thank you for your time, Adam!
-Leica Internet Team
To see more of Adam’s work, check out his blog or portfolio.
Adam Marelli is based in New York City, graduated from New York University (with a degree in sculpture and photography), apprenticed with a master builder for 10 years, and spent seven years studying with Zen monks before opening his present studio. He’s also a member of The Explorers Club AR’13, exhibits his sculpture and photography internationally, and is represented by Invisible-Exports. Marelli is an instructor at the Leica Akademie in New York and runs international photography workshops where he teaches the lost lessons of classical design. His works and writings have been featured in the New York Times, GQ, Forbes, Gothamist, Art Photo Feature, Doc! Photo, Phaidon Press, Origin Magazine and on the Leica blog. He was introduced to Leica Meet at their New York Soho shoot, just before the opening of his exhibit “Traces of a Lost Ceremony” at the Leica Store SoHo in NYC. 
Olaf Willoughby is a photographer, writer and researcher. He is co-founder of The Leica Meet, a Facebook Page and website growing at warp speed to nearly 5,000 members. In October, Olaf will be co-teaching ‘Visual Conversations’, a creative photography workshop with Eileen McCarney Muldoon at Maine Media College in Rockport. If you have an intriguing project or body of work, completed or in progress, that we might feature contact Olaf at: or