The exhibition Walking Milan by Rory Gardiner is the first Italian solo show by the photographer, which takes part in the programme of cultural initiatives curated by C41 in the regenerated spaces of BiM (where Bicocca meets Milan). On the 2nd of December 2023 from 11:00 AM, it will be possible to visit the work that the Australian photographer was commissioned by C41.

A city is defined by its intersecting geometries and topography, which are constantly evolving, particularly in the outskirts. Australian photographer Rory Gardiner is driven by this concept in his exploration of city architectures. Walking Milan is a series commissioned by C41, in which Gardiner visually captures the architectural and social aspects of the arts scene in northern Milan. The photographs selected for the series are a result of his initial walk through the area, providing an insightful investigation into the vernaculars found in the city’s periphery.

Rory Gardiner is an Australian photographer of architecture, interiors, and landscape. Gardiner shoots primarily with medium format and film cameras, and collaborates with leading architectural firms such as Taller Hector Barroso, Tadao Ando, and Winwood McKenzie among others.

On the occasion of the opening on the 2nd of December 2023, the exhibition is accompanied by a Live DJ Set by Populous. Anticipating and following Populous’ activation, there is a B2B by DJs DJ JUCK e xx.buio.
The exhibition is on view until March 31st, 2024, Monday to Friday, 11 AM to 5 PM.

Ilaria Sponda: What’s your background? Where did you grow up?

Rory Gardiner: I am Australian, but I am partly Irish too as my mother’s Irish. I grew up in Australia but I’ve always had that connection to Europe and came over to Ireland quite often. I studied in Melbourne at RMIT, which is a photography college there. After studying, I left for London straight away. I think I’ve probably always had that in mind because Australia culturally feels quite small and condensed.

IS: How did you stumble onto photography? Was it something you always had in mind?

RG: I picked up a camera in school and found it pretty fascinating. My dad taught me how to use a manual SLR and I just had this instant addictive feeling about needing to use it and take pictures. I always intended to work in international relations and politics but then I went to see a careers counsellor, which is something you do to get help with figuring out what you might want to study. I walked in thinking I was going to do international relations and I walked out knowing I was going to be a photographer. That turned out to be a really good decision because my path into photography and working as a photographer has been super linear and straightforward. There was a time when I tried out other kinds of photography instead of architecture photography but during university one of my lecturers said to me: “None of the other photos are really worth much. But the pictures of buildings are really good. You should stick with that” And that turned out to be really good advice. My father is an architect, so I guess that kick-started that interest or maybe it was more subliminal. From there, I went to London and assisted fashion photographers for five or more years. And I think that had a huge influence on me. I guess a lot of architecture photographers are architects who turn into photographers and that has its benefits. But coming to it from the position of the average person who experiences architecture, I think I’m able to convey that experience without the technicalities involved. Move past the technicalities, in a way. And combined with that, working with fashion photographers just taught me to loosen up and be responsive and intuitive rather than too rigid. And that’s served me pretty well, I think.

IS: How did your experience in London direct you towards an objective or subjective photography response?

RG: I went to London to be involved in a broader photography or cultural scene
I didn’t intend to work with fashion photographers there, but I think particularly at that moment in London, a lot of the really new creative moments were coming through fashion photography. And I felt like I was part of that by proxy. It was super, super interesting. But what that fashion photography movement at that time—with people like Jamie Hawksworth and Harley Weir and so on—did was draw on a lot of contemporary photography from the 70s and 80s, the classics and people like Stephen Shore and Eggleston and all those obvious ones. But they really brought that into this commercial practice and it’s a bit belated, but we’re seeing that in architecture photography now. Obviously, there were outliers, particularly in this part of Italy, where it was happening for a long time, but across a broader spectrum of commercial architecture photography, we see a lot of those tropes of that style of photography bleeding in, which is, again, a nod to photography playing that sort of human role in architecture, where there’s a lineage that people who are photography or architecture literate or will understand and make connections that a program can’t do.

IS: You mentioned you are a person who experiences architecture without technical knowledge of it. Your approach to architecture photography is therefore subjective and you try to convey your own impressions and emotions.

RG: Yeah, absolutely. I don’t really believe in objectivity in photography. I think it’s always going to be a subjective interpretation of your own experience. I mean, that’s the inevitability of photography. It’s powerful. I feel like there are two things in my approach to conveying the human experience. The first is experiencing it myself in that moment and allowing myself the time and space to breathe when we’re there. The second is this process that has evolved naturally where I post-rationalise my images and look at what’s going on and what my response was on that day to then let my interpretation of that response inform the next time I do it. It becomes this sort of iterative cycle of response, reaction, and then subsuming that back into the practice.

IS: And what can we say is the value of architecture photography today, when representation in photography has been quite undermined?

RG: Yeah, I think this is a huge topic at the moment, particularly with AI of course, but it’s been happening with 3D as well. It seems quite straightforward to me now that we’re living through a mini revolution where instead of photography constantly trying to go forward and create more polished images, for photography to go forward, it has to go backwards and embrace reality and the rawness that AI and 3D can’t offer. To build on that, it’s about conveying human life, those little moments and observations that really speak the human language within a building that programs don’t seem to be able to do. There’s a sort of temporal nature to conveying these elements of life and fragments of things happening. You have to be there physically and those programs are not there. They don’t exist in space in the same way. So being able to experience the building and then capture that and bring it to the viewer feels like quite an organic process that’s very hard to replicate. As you said before, architectural photography is also your response or the photographer’s response to the place so it’s a very subjective act by definition, I think. I don’t really subscribe to the objective movement that came out of Germany. Even though I love the images, it feels like a push at something impossible or an attempt to deny a reality that exists. And I think in my early years of photography, I tried to use photography to do that, to cleanse an image of a lot of things that now I try to lean into and just let evolve. And as you do that, the thematics build. I mentioned post-rationalisation, where you start to see things as a benefit or point of interest that you didn’t see previously or was an irritation. You see that when you let them be.

IS: What was your first impression of the QT8 area in Milan? How have you found roaming around this area and seeing the place for the first time while having to shoot straightforwardly?

RG: I always find that turning up somewhere and responding to your initial impression is a good way to go. It’s like trusting your instinct a bit, but for me, this is a super foreign landscape and the topography and materiality feel different. The light is amazing, of course. Just today we had this amazing Northern Italian light, which is something that I miss a lot, not being in Europe anymore. That fresh response has been quite helpful in interpreting the architecture initially. I find the neighbourhood really quite interesting. I keep noticing all these temporal thematics which are a product of the war in a way and the eco situation and design thinking of the time. To see that half articulated a long time ago and now sitting in juxtaposition with current life and people using it in whatever situation they’re in now, which is half optimistic and half bleak. There’s a range of socio-economic situations happening here. It was a sincere attempt to create different styles of housing and meet a multitude of needs, going against that brutalist, modernist idea of housing for the Nazis and as a machine. The scale feels very approvable. And that huge emphasis on green space, which has remained. In a way, it’s sad to feel that it’s a semi failed experiment where key resources and places are missing like supermarkets. It’s not as thriving as it could be. I like the way Italians just hang their sheets out of the windows on Saturdays (laughing). It’s so good. There are several vernacular architectures that seem to be sitting in a limen here. It’s surprising to have this pre-conceptualised suburb that allows for a variety that doesn’t necessarily evolve otherwise

IS: Is “vernacular” a concept that guides you in your personal architecture photography?

RG: Yes, absolutely. My interest in architectural vernacular is not so theoretical. It’s more of a visual guideline. It’s about offering intersecting geometry to work with and exploring housing through geometry. The second element is more topographical in terms of how it all connects. That’s something that I’m still articulating in my practice. Intersecting vernaculars sitting next to each other. Typologies of architecture that include volume, proportion, materiality, geometry, planning, and programming. It’s quite visual for me. QT8 was a real surprise.