You can learn a lot about someone by what they choose to post about on social networking sites. There is so much junk to wade though that those that actually have a voice stand out and speak to me as a human being. This is how I first became aware of the work of NYC based photographer Giovanni Savino .
I am not sure exactly how our paths crossed in the image making digital stratosphere. Most likely it was though our mutual friend art historian John E. Walford. I very quickly became fascinated with Giovanni’s candid NYC street portraits. His brilliant black and white portraits on the New York streets stood above the much of what people unfortunately call “street photography.” It didn’t hurt either that Giovanni often hit the streets armed with my favorite camera, the Ricoh GR.
I did what I usually do when I come across work that I can relate to, is I want to dig deeper and explore more of the artists vision of the world. His website’s images came alive. The portraiture of everyday people in the DR (Dominican Republic). His images were unpretentious, and full of soul. I instantly developed a rapport with the images, I wanted to know more about the man behind them.
I read his blog. I waited with anticipation for the next images top be posted on Flickr, Facebook or fascinating thoughts on his blog. Again, I was drawn into his world. We started some backchannel conversations, and I decided, since I was coming to NYC, if he was down, we should link up for a face to face meeting.
It was on a freezing snowy Tuesday in February that I headed uptown on the A train, last stop, Inwood 207 Street. Any further and I would I have been in the Bronx, or New Jersey. The absolute top of Manhattan.
Before heading up to Giovanni part of town, I made a quick stop in a hungover haze to the Moma, thanks to borrowing friend, Jerry’s MOMA card. I got there before the galleries opened and I knew all I really wanted to see was a small selection celebrating the 75 anniversary of the publication of Walker Evan’s photographs . It was a pleasure to see them in the flesh, as printed by the master himself.
In a quiet corner of the Museum I stood gazing at a Jackson pollock painting. Away from the noise of school children running amuck, I just stood and stared. The splats and splatters danced and pulsated like never before, possible due to my underestimating the power of NYC sized martinis versus Tokyo ones.
The trip to MOMA, was only the beginning to a beautiful day. Giovanni greeted me just outside the station like a long lost brother. In fact, he often used the word, “brother,” when referring to me. I instantly knew this was going to be a good day.
Inwood is a dominantly DR neighborhood, yet, it is on verge of gentrification like most of the city. Giovani told me the hood was much different 20 years ago when he first moved in. Giovanni and his wife took me to their favorite DR place to have some roasted chicken, sadly, they were out, but that didn’t stop us. We had a great meal and then he showed me the sights around the neighborhood.
He would occasionally take out one of his “cursed” e-cigs and puff on it as we chatted about the streets of New York, photography, life, and everything. There was nothing off limits, and we both opened up and were happy to be in each others company.
The sun had finally come out by the time we reached a view of the George Washington Bridge. It was time to head back to his studio and really dig into photography.
He brewed us up a cup of black espresso using an Italian stovetop maker. This coffee was for sipping, but we would soon brew up another batch for developing, in coffee. I would love the way Giovanni would say “in coffee!” There was such wonderment in the way the words would just roll off his palette. Just the simplest of pleasures that photographs can be developed in a brew of homemade Caffinol.
He told me that he had been depressed at the end of last year. His doctors wanted to put him on anti-depreesents. He wouldn’t have it. He knew that there had to be a better way. And there was. He brought out his large format camera, and started developing “in coffee!” So coffee and photography was part of his progress to a healthier life. That was so beautiful to share with me. We all struggle with depression, and to find happiness by getting our hands dirty by making a clean mind.
He told me that our energies that create our work come from either the light or the dark. I want to be in the light! We both do. We are both comfortable with our place, and the work that helps us though, and understand the truth in life.
It was time to bring out the lights, and big old fashioned Tachihara 4×5 camera loaded with first poloraoid then Fujifilm positive, with a mounted Schneider Symmar-S 210mm lens for a portrait session. First with polaroids and then some negs that would be processed, “in coffee!” I hadn’t used a large format camera since my high school days, but we set it up, mixed up some different temperature lights and got down to business.
There is no waste in Giovanni’s studio. After peeling off the back of the polaroids, we taped them down and removed the plastic to save the negatives that most people discard. I loved that low tech way of making images. Perfection in it’s imperfection.
Then it was time to brew up the Caffinol and another portrait session. Giovanni explained the chemicals needed, and we went to town. I sat in the light, and he squeezed the cable release. We went into his light tight darkroom/bathroom, and in complete darkness set about to develop the negatives. It was so dark that after a few minutes you think that you can see. Our conversation continued in the pitch black. About my life in Japan. Giovanni’s history in NYC, as a news cameraman, his work at ground zero after 911, his support of his wife’s family in the DR and beyond. A good soul, with a gentle heart.
Such an oddness two photographers in the dark, chatting. I loved every minute of it. But, all good things don’t necessarily have to end. The conversation has been started. The lucid communication will continue. Giovanni is full of love and joy, and that shines though his art of photography. I know that I will always have my photographic brother in NYC, Giovanni Savino.
Check Giovanni’s images, and writings with the links below.
some more images from my one day adventure in Inwood, with NYC Giovanni Savino