Elia Pinna lives and works in Pavia, where he studied Modern Italian Literature at the University. He taught at school for many years and, in 2013, he started collaborating with a local photography studio in a freelance capacity. After taking photography courses on studio lighting at Milan’s John Kaverdash Academy, in 2018 he completed a Master’s Degree in Photography at IUAV University in Venice.

He did an internship at the Alberto Sinigaglia Studio in Vicenza in 2017 and another one at the Guido Guidi Studio in Cesena, the year after. In 2018, his project LAVINIA was shortlisted for the Francesco Fabbri prize in Pieve di Soligo, Treviso. In 2019, his project SAMPLE was recommended by the panel of the Premio Combat Prize, Livorno.

In 2018, he co-founded Altana, a small collective based in Milan with a focus on photography projects and self-publishing. Altana took part in several book festivals, such as Temple Arles Books, during Les Rencontres de Arles in 2019, and Sprint – Art Book Fair in Milan in 2019 and 2020.

About SAMPLE – words by Elia Pinna: 

The book casts a spotlight on Japanese shokuhin sanpuru (the Japanese for “food sample”), which are perfectly faithful food replicas. Almost every restaurant in Japanese cities uses these three-dimensional copies to advertise their courses. They are exquisitely displayed in the showcases, captivating potential customers and luring them in. «Fantastic imitations», as Italian writer Goffredo Parise puts it in his reportage on Japan, L’eleganza è frigida (“elegance is frigid”). There is a small thriving industry devoted to producing these fake food models in Japan. They can be made in wax, but more often in plastic today. In almost all Japanese cities you can find shops where to buy food samples and other gadgets such as key rings or phone cases with these food imitations. These models are also used for food photography in advertising. The fake model substitutes the real-world referents and photography completes the fiction.

SAMPLE consists of a series of snapshots taken in the streets and restaurants of various cities during two trips to Japan, and a series of still life images I shot in my studio, in which I played with fake food models I bought in Japan. The idea was for the snapshots to resemble a mixed flow of food images, like the flow of images that often saturates those streets crowded with Japanese restaurants. They are pictures of finished plates, food advertising, people in restaurants, illuminated signs, fake food and real food. The still life images on the other hand, deliberately in contrast to the snapshots, are intended to underline the suspended perfection of shokuhin sanpuru. 

In Tokyo-Ga (1985), a documentary film by Wim Wenders [images 1, 2, 3], there is a beautiful sequence in which he documented creations of food samples in a factory in Tokyo. Focused craftsmen make dishes and courses by cooking food made of wax and assembling one piece after another. Wenders questions the appearance of these objects, so real that they confuse the perception of true and false. And we, the spectators, through the images of the movie, remain even more enchanted in front of these “simulacra” of food.

The series is a visual exploration that questions the redundancy of food representation and, more than anything, a meditation on the subject of photography genre – still life in particular. These plastic food samples, perfect copies free from taste and smell – created for the only purpose of showing themselves and indicating something identical but substantially different – tell us something about the nature of copy and imitation, and perhaps also something about photography itself.