Alpha Universe Story Detail
Alpha Universe Story Detail
Behind the Beauty: Capturing Rome 

Massimo Siragusa 

“Personally, I’m convinced that the ugly and the chaos, has its very own form of beauty – you just have to look for it.” So says Massimo Siragusa of his two-year project on ‘the borgate’.

Documenting the chaotic housing developments on the peripheries of Rome, it’s an intriguing and challenging collection of images that show the jumbled suburban sprawl in deliberately cluttered frames.

Massimo Siragusa sony alpha 7RM2 an empty scene showing a flaking red wall with windows

© Massimo Siragusa | Sony α7R II + FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA | 1/125s @ f/11.0, ISO 400

Mismatched and jumbled architecture is peppered with graffiti and shot through chain-link fences; tangles of street furniture and lamp posts knot with parked cars squeezed into the tight streets, and the ancient architecture rubs up against modern high rises. The combination can feel stiflingly, maddeningly unkempt, but look deeper, and the collection takes on a cohesive beauty. There can be balance and charm found in this chaos.

“Photography is a language and, like any language, it has its own rules,” Massimo explains. “In photography these rules are rarely separated from the desire to create formal harmony, and aren’t dependent on the so-called ‘beauty’ of a subject. As a photographer, you make of it what you will.”

Massimo Siragusa sony alpha 7RM2 a wall painted mural of three ladies dancing

© Massimo Siragusa | Sony α7R II + FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA | 1/200s @ f/11.0, ISO 400

It’s a typical project for Massimo, who with his photography looks at “the transformation of a territory, through long term projects that often become a book or an exhibition”.

However, shooting this project was not easy, and with the aid of his α7R II and α7R III bodies, Massimo had to overcome several challenges along the way. “For starters,” he says, “in some specific areas there is a particularly high crime rate. So I often had to shoot my pictures very quickly, in order to avoid any reaction from people who had noted my presence.”

“In those situations, two features of my Alpha bodies stood out in particular,” he says, “the small size and the unimposing look of the cameras allowed me to work without being too visible during the shoots, and in the same way, I could shoot with relatively long exposure times without setting up a tripod, thanks to the five-axis SteadyShot Inside stabiliser. Working handheld meant I could just shoot and move on.”

Massimo Siragusa sony alpha 7RM2 a sign for a physiotherapist in rome

© Massimo Siragusa | Sony α7R II + FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA | 1/60s @ f/11.0, ISO 400

SteadyShot stabilisation was even more important due to Massimo’s desire for as much detail as possible in his shots. The α7R series’ high-resolution sensors combined with him deliberately sticking to smaller apertures throughout, allowed him to draw detail from these highly textured scenes.

“In general,” he explains, “I use those very small apertures, because I prefer to have the maximum depth-of-field and to keep the subject perfectly sharp. I want every single detail in my pictures to be recognisable. All parts of the subject, every graffiti, every advert, every license plate, they’re all essential components for the comprehension of a territory.”

The huge dynamic range captured by the α7R series’ sensor also came into play for Massimo, allowing him to control the diverse range of highlights and shadows, common to architectural images, and exaggerated by the Roman sun. “The α7R files have a depth of quality which makes them very easy to post-produce,” he explains, “so it’s simple to keep the detail I’ve captured in bright highlights and deep shadows.”

Massimo Siragusa sony alpha 7RM2 a wall painted mural of a masked lady

© Massimo Siragusa | Sony α7R II + FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA | 1/200s @ f/11.0, ISO 400

Although Massimo’s images don’t contain human subjects, only graffiti and statues to represent the people who live in these places, he says “I believe that often a space can tell us more about our culture and our society when it is shown in the absence of human beings.” And the pictures still have an undeniable humanity, despite being vacant.

That humanity is something which partly comes from his consistent use of a standard lens, with its natural view so close to that of the human eye. Working with an FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA, it’s “the perfect lens to ‘enter’ a scene,” he says, “and, at the same time, to keep a certain distance. In projects like this, I find it important to get used to one focal length. It allows me to concentrate on the subject and to immediately find the right point of view.”

Massimo Siragusa sony alpha 7RM2 a wall painted mural of a pregnant wonder woman

© Massimo Siragusa | Sony α7R II + FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA | 1/200s @ f/11.0, ISO 400

Whether the viewer takes on that point of view and sees simple, if troubled, beauty, a documentary of social and economic change, or something deeper in the human condition is up to them, but says Massimo, “I’m convinced that doing this kind of visual research is an important way to understand a place, and by doing that you find your place as a photographer within it.”

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Massimo Siragusa
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Massimo Siragusa

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"Photography is, for me, first and foremost a means of expression"

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