Interview: Italy’s Cesura Lab collective talk about their origins and motivation

We’ve been a fan of Cesura Lab for some time, and of collective founder and artistic director Alex Majoli for as long as both Matt and I have known his work. When Daria Birang wrote in to us about some upcoming workshops hosted by Cesura Lab, I thought it’d be a great opportunity to talk to the group about their philosophy and operations. The answers we got back during the interview were a bit enigmatic at times, but illuminating as to how a group of photographers might operate in the new media environment mixing editorial, gallery, commercial, and any other means of getting photography out to audiences. The questions and answers (formatted as received) are below:

Dvafoto: What is Cesura Lab?

Cesura: Cesuralab is a photographer’s collective

What does the name mean?

It means something like “cut off lab”, which comes from the name of the little village, Cesura, where the studio in alex majoli’s house started years ago, and since we are in the middle of the country side in Italy, cut off from civilization, we kept the name.

Why have the photographers come together?

what we can do together we can’t do alone. we are putting our forces together so everyone gains.

What is Cesura Lab as a whole?

it really is a studio, a playground in which we come and work, edit, talk, come up with projects and talk some more. we smoke a lot of cigarettes too.

What is it’s mission?

We think that photography has perfectly represented a world in the past but that world has changed completely. Most of contemporary photography seems to apply the dictates of that photography trying talk about contemporary reality with a language that doesn’t belong to it anymore. What we aim to do and what we might consider our mission is trying to not adapt the world to old photography, but to adapt photography to the new world.

Is Cesura an arts organization?

no, we are an independent group of photographers trying to stay out of the system, we want to make a difference, on our own, without a funder with a big voice.

A journalism organization?

we don’t like to put ourselves in one particular category, we all do different photography and we try to encourage each other’s differences.

An education organization?

no, but we use our resources, space and contacts for photography workshops and masterclasses.

Do these distinctions matter to the group?

not at all.

How do the disparate types of photography fit together under Cesura’s roof?

we use our differences in a way to learn, be it through critique, encouragement or jokes, but we don’t want to pretend we always like each others’ work.

Many of our readers are interested in working together with other photographers in a collective arrangement or otherwise. How does it work with Cesura Lab? How are the organizations day to day operations handled?

over time, we all got our “tasks”, it doesn’t always works smoothly, but it works.

How do projects get off the ground?

we have done numerous things because we just needed an audience for our work, nobody knew us, we really had to get out there and show it, so for example we went to the photo festival in arles one night and occupied courtyard in the middle of town and projected a slideshow on a huge, we had a friend with many contacts to help us get the people in. we had a standing ovation, it was fantastic. we come up with ideas, we make fanzines, we organized a fashionshow/slideshow once in the local public pool, we participate in festivals because we’re asked. we keep ourselves busy, it’s the fun part of this job. How do the individual photographers contribute to the group? like i said before, we have our (unwritten) tasks.

The photographers are all very different. Was this a conscious choice among the members?

it was not a conscious choice, our collaboration mainly exists because of encounters rather than selection, some of us went to school together, some of us were friends before cesuralab, we are members of a collective, in any way we have a similar mindset.

What’s good about having such diversity among the members?

being all the same or similar would be boring and repetitive, wouldn’t it? What’s bad? we have heated discussions and sometimes we have difficulties with agreeing when we need to reach a common idea or goal.

How is the organization funded?

alex majoli pays the expenses of the studio while we work for him and we have clients for printing, mounting, and preparing exhibitions. we also do postproduction, which goes into the collective.

Does a group like this need funding?

we like to think we don’t, but for some projects we definitely could use some money.

Where do Cesura’s projects get shown?

festivals, our website, exhibitions, our fanzine and magazines.

Are the members pursuing editorial work, corporate/advertising, art, book publications?

yes, but it’s hard. we are photographers, we understood you need a certain brain for business. we can use a creative commercial brain for that to be more lucrative.

You’ve just added a new member, will you be adding more?

sure, why not.

How many members are right for an organization such as Cesura?

it depends on the size of our dinner table.

On your site, “education” is right at the top. How does education fit into Cesura Lab?

we don’t want our workshops to be like the mainstream photography workshops where students are like customers who pay their money and you forget about them, it is also a learning experience for us, not only because these people are coming form all over the world from all walks of life, but because it really is an intensive week of talking about and looking at fantastic art and photography. it is an occasion for us to reformulate photography.

You’ve been hosting workshops (Dutch Masters, Masterclasses, Postproduction). How have these workshops arisen?

the traditional workshops are kind of superficial and lack the personal attention you need in order to actually get something back for your money. if you go to a workshop to learn something about photography, you also have to learn something about yourself.

Who are the participants?

anybody really, but somehow they are always surprising.

Why does Cesura host these workshops?

we have a huge space that we wanted to use as a gallery but failed at terribly, so we thought it would be a great idea to host workshops there. it’s perfect for that.

What can the participants expect to get out of the workshops?

a very intensive week of talking about art, photography, literature, film, life etc, but also getting the most out of yourself. the goal is that the students learn how to translate a concept into photography and refine it.

What happens after the workshops? Is there an exhibition of student work?

with alex’ masterclass, the students come in january for a week and in june for a week, and in between they have conversations about the student’s projects. he really follows their work. it’s up to them to show it somewhere. a great example is that one of them had an exhibition in denmark with a project he started at the workshop with alex majoli.

Do students keep in touch with the teachers after the workshop?

most of them do, with some of them we do projects together. they become friends of cesuralab.

Be sure to take a look at the Cesura Lab website.

3 Responses to “Interview: Italy’s Cesura Lab collective talk about their origins and motivation”

  1. Worth a Look: Cesuralab photographs Berlusconi riots in Rome | dvafoto

    […] a photography collective in Italy who we interviewed earlier this year and friend of dvafoto, just published a terrific collaborative essay about the riots in Rome this […]

  2. Cesuralab’s Micalizzi and Majoli photograph the Egyptian revolution | dvafoto

    […] Micalizzi also from Egypt. We’ve written about the collective Cesuralab before, including an interview from last year, and their art director is Majoli. But Micalizzi’s work is also tremendous. I’ve been […]

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