At the site of a large construction project, Alessia Rollo looks to find images for life, because life itself is not dissimilar to a building site. In addition to her assignment to document the progress of the building construction, she gave time to her latest, personal project, titled An Endless Day. She spoke with us about how the project came about, how an autistic person expanded her perception, and how she translates irrational aspects of human existence into metaphors.
An Endless Day is about ViaSilva, an urbanization project launched in 2009, occupying an area of 570 hectares in Rennes, France. It’s not a reportage, but rather a visual essay about the transformation of the landscape. How did you come up with this project?
In 2019 I was invited to do a three months residency in Rennes, to produce a project about ViaSilva, using a not strictly documentary approach. Unfortunately I had to postpone the project due to the pandemic; but in July 2020, I succeeded in getting there and developing it. Every year for the last four years, the Les ailes de Caius – the cultural association who runs the residency – has been inviting two artists to work on ViaSilva; one for a nine-month residency with a documentary approach, and one short one with an artistic focus.
Where does the title, An Endless Day, come from?
It comes from the fact that life is a work place: it changes always, it’s about construction, deconstruction and reconstruction. I feel that future inhabitants need to accept this change, and so I stressed it in the title!
Paul, whom you met there, seems to be a central figure within your project. How were you influenced by him?
I met Paul on the very first day I arrived there, and I was immediately attracted by his way of seeing. His autism opened up a new way for me to read reality.
How did Paul’s perception open up new perspectives for you?
When I started to speak with Paul, I perceived that he had a very deep and particular way of looking at reality and of elaborating thoughts. I was extremely fascinated, as he was able to feel in a holistic way, speaking about the emotions of nature, understanding the connection between the death of his trees and the working site just behind them. I started to go to visit Paul and his wife, Helene, frequently, because he gave me another way to look at ViaSilva. Apart from the human work, I understood that there was a natural, powerful and mysterious world to explore. So, I started to elaborate a series of pictures that captured the cyclical and endless forces of the environment, independent from humankind.
What metaphors did you find for this purpose? The light installations are quite special.
I wanted to connect the present with the future, revealing places and structures that will disappear, and creating a vision of what this landscape will look like in the near future.
You show natural motifs that are sometimes blurred or very dark, and pieces of landscape where you have placed certain items. How did you come up with your metaphors?
I try to work on the irrational side, the emotions, the fears human beings have about change and transformation. Speaking with the inhabitants of ViaSilva – a very rural place that will host 20,000 people in 15 years time –, I understood how much the prospect of abandoning their lifestyle scares them. So, I use the night as a metaphor for the unknown, the irrational instinct, and blur for the inability to see, observe and distinguish in a precise way when we are undergoing a transitional, emotional change.
There are some images that show elements glowing in the dark – some are geometric, some have natural shapes. What were your thoughts about those?
Observing this 570 hectare-large work site, I was trying to imagine how it might look in 15 years time, when ViaSilva is finished. So I decided to create some light installations to underline ephemeral structures, such as the mountain of gravel and cuts on the ground; or to place “future” buildings and houses that will occupy the space in the next years, within the landscape. For one of the glowing elements, I collaborated with Francois Lepage, my colleague at the residency. We made the picture for my book cover together, as a way to connect both our projects.
You also photographed details like leaves and soil. How did you match those into the edit and why?
What I like to do in my projects is to mix documentary images with staged ones. I always try to find precise stylistic elements according to the topic I’m working on. For ViaSilva, for example, I included reportage photos that describe the place itself, pictures of nature, materials, portraits of inhabitants and workers; and at the same time I staged more metaphorical images about transformation and fear. For the book, The Endless Day, I edited the pictures into chapters to create a narrative storyline from reality to chaos. For the exhibition we held in July in Rennes, I edited the photos to turn the work site into a visual experience, printing on different materials that are reminders of the ones used at ViaSilva.
Which Leica system did you shoot the project with?
For this project I just used a Leica SL with Vario-Elmarit-SL 24–90 f/2.8–4 Asph, APO-Summicron-SL 35 f/2 ASPH. and Summilux-SL 50 f/1.4 ASPH. It is fantastic how these lenses are so smooth and bright! I think that’s why I used more natural light too. It was a pleasure to shoot with the SL, and the lenses and dynamic range are so excellent. They create such a different aesthetic every time in different situations, that it would be a pity to not take advantage of it.
What future projects would you like to talk about at this point?
Nowadays I am working on Parallel Eyes, a project about rituals and cultural heritage in southern Italy. Southern Italy, where I come from, was studied, classified, judged by a group of anthropologists, film makers, and ethnographic photographers, during the 1950s. The result of a process started by Ernesto De Martino is the conviction that our culture is a subculture, backward, ignorant and completely dominated by irrationality and religion. Parallel Eyes is my personal research of the culture I belong to, the rituals and the way of thinking of a society that has never had the chance to speak about itself.
The visual artist Alessia Rollo was born in southern Italy, in 1982. After earning her Undergraduate Degree at the University of Perugia, she completed an MA in Creative Photography at the EFTI International Center of Photography and Cinema (Spain) in 2009. She holds an MA in Publishing from the University of Milan. For Rollo, rather than explaining or documenting a situation, photography is a medium that permits a myriad of metaphors, and tells the truth as she sees it. Her artistic practice is based on visual and cultural stereotypes. Her work has been shown in solo and group exhibitions in Spain, Italy and Brazil, and has been displayed internationally at Photolondon, Triennale di Milano, Unseen, Phest, and the Shangai Photofestival, among others. This year, she has released her forth book, An Endless Day, which follows her third book, The Matter. Find out more about her photography on her website and Instagram page. Find the Leica blog article on her project The Matter here.