For this interview, Francesco invited me to his home: his wife had taken their daughter to her parents, so the flat was empty and we could talk without interruption.
I found myself in the suburbs, on Smolny Street, a stone’s throw away from Vodny Stadion (“Aquatic Stadium”) metro station. It was a weekday in summer. The sun was shining; there were few cars around, and fewer people still. It was one of those typical five-storey buildings, set back amidst the dense greenery of surrounding trees.
It seemed somehow unlikely to encounter an Italian in such surroundings.
The cosy arrangement of the compact apartment hardly seemed in keeping with my host who was turned out in a well-pressed azure shirt with long sleeves and cufflinks, and blue (clearly not casual) trousers. He looks a lot younger than his 37 years, with large eyes lending him the outward appearance of severity and meticulousness. But such eyes cannot hide that Italian temperament.
─ You’ve chosen to live fairly far out. All the Italians I know try to rent places a bit nearer the centre of Moscow…
─ Ah, but we’re not renting. My wife and I bought this flat. It is our home now.
─ So, you have settled here properly, for the long term?
─ I am not even thinking about going back, not to Italy anyway. It feels marvellous to be in Moscow. I would go so far as to say that when I arrive back in Italy, I immediately start thinking about when it is I will be coming back to Russia.
I am not even thinking about going back to Italy. It feels marvellous to be in Moscow.
─ What is it about Moscow that appeals to you so much?
─ Its energy. I see that there is a lot of work here for me, a lot of people prepared to listen to new ideas, people I can work with. As far as I'm concerned, and the same goes for Moscow, there is no such thing as a closed door. And people here are very considerate, prepared to lend a hand, and cultivated.
─ It seems to me that you may be idealising somewhat…
─ By no means. Sometimes Italians I know say: Muscovites hardly ever smile. They do smile! But, in contrast to us Italians who are prepared to smile all of the time and to everybody, Russians smile at those they want to smile at. And that seems perfectly reasonable to me. It is not compulsory to smile: it should be for a good reason. That’s something I really appreciate in Russians.
─ But how did an Italian photographer come to settle down in Moscow?
─ A lot of serious upheavals happened in my life all of a sudden, in and of themselves. I was born in and lived in the city of Bari: that’s southern Italy. I worked as a photographer there. I was already quite well-known.
At some point, I put my name down for… a dance school. There were a few Russians employed there including a lady interpreter who put on festivals of Russian culture. Such festivals are a regular occurrence in Bari. Artists and entire performance troupes go over there from Russia.
Anyway, they needed a photographer and cameraman. They called for me. One day I met the director of a Russian Orthodox choir. We became friends.
The woman who is now my wife was singing in that choir. She is a professional singer, a soprano, with the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre…
─ …which includes in its repertoire the operas of Gioachino Rossini…
─ Yes. We started to get to know one another and, after a few months, we realised that we got on really well. And then, I came to Moscow for the first time… And the next year we got married: in November of 2010.
─ Did your parents not have any objections?
─ Let’s not go there! Bari, I mean, it’s southern Italy. They still live according to centuries-old traditions there. Especially when it comes to family. I had already imagined what their reaction would be, which is why once my fiancée and I had decided everything, got all of the necessary documents together, I made known my intentions just three days before leaving for Moscow.
It was like a bolt from the blue! My parents had already met my intended. But in no way did they expect things to lead to marriage. And when I told them that I was about to go and live in Moscow, well…
Naturally, in the days up until my departure, there were all those conversations: “But how, though? It’s a different culture there, a different language. You don’t speak Russian”. And it’s true that, at the time, I only knew one phrase in Russian which was “Goodbye”. But I said: I’m getting married whether you like it or not. My parents came to terms with it in the end. Within a week, they had sorted out passports, visas, and tickets… And were at the wedding! Our marriage in Italy took place in Bari ten days after the one in Moscow. For the first few weeks of our married life in Moscow, they called me from Bari every day: How are you? Is it not really cold over there? Are you eating properly?
For the first few weeks of our married life in Moscow, they called me from Bari every day: How are you? Is it not really cold over there? Are you eating properly?
─ And what about work?
─ I landed myself a job as a chef in one of the Italian restaurants.
─ A chef?
─ I really love cooking. And I know how to do it. I have quite a lot of experience in that area. I once worked for a long time in Bari both as a photographer and in the kitchen of my aunt’s restaurant. To be more precise: Monday to Friday in the restaurant, and at weekends, when people were getting married or going to church for First Communion, I worked as a photographer.
─ So how did the transformation from Italian chef to Moscow photographer come about?
─ I didn’t work as a chef for that long. Our daughter came along. My parents were staying in Bari, and my wife’s parents live far away, in Perm. We had to sort things out for ourselves somehow.
We decided that my wife shouldn’t leave the theatre. But that’s rehearsals every day, as well as the performances… So, I took the primary care of our child and the family upon myself. It was a conscious decision. For me, family is the most important thing. It meant sacrificing a lot, I won’t pretend otherwise, including doing the work that I love.
Staying on at the restaurant was simply not physically possible. But, all the same, I had to work somehow, to pay for the flat… And so I started photographing weddings.
─ But wedding photographers are a particularly cliquey bunch. You still had to get your foot in the door…
─ I got work with a wedding agency and, in two years, I was already working for myself. I got to know one colleague, and then another… At first, I think, the guys took notice of me more out of curiosity: some Italian who had appeared out of nowhere. But then they realised that not only did I know what I was doing but that I stood out in some way as a photographer. So they accepted me into their circle.
And now, what gives me particular joy is the fact that we have formed a friendly and tight-knit team. Like a family.
When work comes up, we phone each other, let each other know. And it’s not a matter of what the job pays. The important thing is who is calling you. You work with people you trust and respect, professionally and as people.
─ Do you get many photo engagements?
─ It varies. In summer there are about 10-15 a month, and 2-3 in winter. I don’t only photograph weddings. I’m asked to work at children’s parties, and other kinds of events. I go off and my wife stays at home with our daughter.
I don’t only photograph weddings. I’m asked to work at children’s parties, and other kinds of events.
─ It is clear how Francesco Rossini became a professional chef. But how did he become a professional photographer?
─ For six years I carried around my father’s ancient camera: and I haven’t parted with it to this day. I very quickly realised: this is for me. At first, I photographed anything and anyone including those enjoying the local beaches. My sister had a motorbike and we’d ride around along the coast of Apulia: and I’d take photos. Sometimes, over the summer months, (in those days they were still cameras that used film) I would click away, shooting up to three and a half thousand frames. I spent the money I earned mainly on photographic gear. Then, I was shooting adverts, I got into documentary films, and even made it as far as assistant director.
─ What language do you speak to your clients?
─ To be honest, the process of learning Russian was a long and arduous one. On arriving in Moscow, I only managed to get to lessons four times. I learned some more on the streets, as they say. I listened to the TV. I must be the only Italian in Moscow who doesn’t have a dish that gets Italian programmes: I can only get Russian ones. After a year, I was beginning to speak it. And, until then, I used to communicate in English and my wife would translate from Russian.
I must be the only Italian in Moscow who doesn’t have a dish that gets Italian programmes.
─ With such a life there must be absolutely no time left for any other kind of interests.
─ No, why? I am very interested in fashion, new trends, which I try to follow closely. And I take this extremely seriously. I prefer, for example, whenever possible, to have my clothes made to order, depending on my own requirements. And, if I buy anything ready-made, I often send it out to be altered, again, in a way which is more me.
─ I see that you are immaculately dressed today, too…
─ I’m into the habit of it now. Wherever I may be, wherever I am working, you’ll always find me in a suit with a shirt and tie. Sometimes, my colleagues even ask: look, how do you manage it everyday? It can be funny: a few times officials at the Registry Office have taken me for the bridegroom and asked me to step forward with my passport…
I believe that a professional should be professional in each and every way, starting with knowing how to present oneself to people. After all, like it or not, you become part of the celebration, part of the event you are shooting… And you should be in keeping with the overall tone.
─ Italian style is Italian style…
─ I have to admit that if there is one thing which annoys me about Moscow, it is the inability of men to dress well, tastefully. You often see that they are well proportioned, good-looking, intelligent, but the way they dress… Of course, I appreciate that before in Russia, fashion wasn’t the be all and end all of everything. And then, in the nineties, there was something of an explosion. Suddenly people were inundated with a plethora of different styles they could imitate: American, Italian, French... And they all got mixed together. Alas, this cacophony persists.
I believe that a professional should be professional in each and every way, starting with knowing how to present oneself to people.
─ How do you relax, amuse yourself?
─ I now have a lot of friends in Moscow. We meet up, go to someone’s dacha in the summer. It’s true that sometimes I am not completely in tune with the rest of the company: I am teetotal. Completely.
─ Not even wine? It’s the first time I’ve met someone like that from Italy…
─ What can I do? Such is my constitution. A glass of dry wine and I’m lying down on the sofa falling asleep. Other than that, I try not to spoil the party.
─ And do you have friends in Bari who you go and see?
─ I usually go for a couple of weeks in winter. Sometimes, like this year, in the summer as well.
─ Do you go in winter to escape the cold here?
─ It might seem a bit odd but I don’t like the heat. I much prefer snow and the wintertime.
It might seem a bit odd but I don’t like the heat. I much prefer snow and the wintertime.
─ So, like all Muscovites, you are looking forward to this summer’s brutal heatwave finally abating?
─ I’m looking forward to September. But there’s another reason for that. My little girl is three now, and in September she’ll be going off to kindergarten. For me, it will be yet another pivotal moment. Finally, I will be able to devote myself wholeheartedly to the work I love.
─ Will you be photographing weddings every day?
─ I really don’t want to be spending my whole life being a wedding photographer! It’s good money: one wedding can bring in up to a thousand dollars. But from the professional viewpoint, it has long ceased to be of great interest to me.
Believe me, I have never liked photographing deliberately posed people. And, even at weddings, I try, as far as possible, to capture real-life moments so as to show someone’s individuality and character. What is more, when I am taking photos for my own pleasure, I virtually never photograph something which I have shot already. I don’t want to repeat myself, to feel emotions I have already experienced.
It’s the same with people. Once I’ve photographed them: that’s it. You won’t get any different results after that. With the exception of children: they are always changing, showing a different side to themselves. So, at any given moment they present you with completely contrasting emotions.
In my view, photography is an historical record of a particular moment in real life. That’s why I am not a fan of special effects. “Pure”, “classic” photography: that is what I am about.
─ And toward which kind of instances are you intending to aim your lens this coming autumn?
─ A project has been ripening in my mind for a long time now: putting together a series of photo-reports about Russia. Photo-histories with a story, with a beginning and an end. On various subjects.
─ Will you invite us to the exhibition?
─ Of that there is no doubt.