They have a weakness for vintage cars and a certain sense of style: young Italians known as the Biscioni Torino, a group who meet regularly in downtown Turin. The portrait and car photographer, Davide de Martis, artfully sets the stage for a combination of both genres.
You describe yourself as a car and portrait photographer. What’s your fascination with cars?
I find peace of mind in photographing cars. I’m totally free to express myself as an author, and I can cross over between different photographic genres that I love: reportage, portrait, landscape; and all of this using my own photographic language. As a photographer I couldn’t ask for more. It’s the perfect field in which to “play for both teams”: the commissioned work and the personal work.
How did you learn to photograph cars?
I was eight years old when I discovered my grandfather’s camera, and, of course, it was love at first sight. I started taking pictures of literally anything, with no clue of what I was doing. Until one day somebody gave me a lesson about shutter speed and aperture. I loved the fact that with the camera I could stop that movement – it was magic. I always loved cars. My dad used to be a part-time, rally car co-driver, and we had many photos of those kind of races at home. At the beginning of my career I had the chance to photograph cars in a studio, but I refused. It wasn’t my way. So, I kept shooting cars the way I wanted to, and occasionally I posted some photos on my blog, until someone noticed. I learned to photograph cars naturally, combining my love for both photography and automobiles.
What is the most important thing for you when photographing cars?
I shoot cars like wild animals in their habitat, and treat them with all the respect they deserve. Most of my car portraiture is of vintage cars: vehicles that made history in their own times, and are still unique specimens of design. I usually take photographs of every little detail that the car stylist penned. Sometimes it takes a long time before I start to shoot. I have to lose myself in the design, to admire every angle of it; and I always try to emphasize it with great, natural light. That’s my way of showing respect for the team of people who created such a work of art.
Does this project have a name? How did it come about?
Sure, Biscioni Torino. It’s the name of a group of authentic Alfa Romeo enthusiasts based in Turin. They are not your usual “Sunday car meeting” kind of people: they’re guys living in 2019 as though it’s 1970. For them being a Biscione is a lifestyle. They say that Turin has the perfect surroundings, so they can spend every meeting like in a short film from the seventies, where the protagonists are their cars, the pilots are the actors, and the direction is their common passion.
What camera/s did you use and why?
There are two camera systems in my photo bag: the Leica SL and the Leica Q. The Q is that super fast, stealth camera that you can fit in any bag; and it truly is a powerhouse. You can shoot in high-speed sync with any flash. Then there’s the SL, my favourite camera. I also love everything about the SL: the design, the quality of its construction, the fact that is a mirror-less camera; plus the quality of the lenses paired to the camera and its sensor is at a totally different level. It’s fast and direct: what you see through the viewfinder is truly what you get, no need to look at the display.
Do you prefer photographing cars to people?
There is a main difference between taking a portrait of a car and a portrait of a person. A car has lines to express itself. A designer sketches an expression on a car, just like you would photograph an expression on a face – like a smile. Let’s say that the front view of a car, or the car nose, are equal to a smile on a face. When I take a portrait of a person, I usually try to make them laugh, to establish a connection; but I don’t usually move that much. While photographing cars there is no back and forth between myself and the subject. If I want to underline the car’s expression, I do have to move to find the correct angle to make it smile more or less.
Who are your photographic role models?
I’ve always wanted to be genuine, to be myself, as a person and as an author; and I find searching for new ideas elsewhere is very helpful for protecting that integrity. In the end, I think that the most authentic source of inspiration is found within ourselves. Even so, I’ve also taken inspiration from other visual art forms, mostly from paintings, cinematography and comics. Sometimes I joke about it, saying that my role model is Peter Parker. I really never had one favourite photographer: I have many from very different genres of photography to the one I practice. However, if I had to give you names, I would say without hesitation the Italian artists, Luigi Ghirri and Gabriele Basilico.
You also work as a teacher for the Leica Academy. What classes can attendees expect?
I love to teach. To be able to convey my knowledge to somebody else is something very special, and I am very grateful for that. I have been teaching two classes in Turin for the past three years: the basic and the advance photography courses. This season the Leica Academy Italy is adding my first car portraits workshop. It’s called Slow Shutter, Fast Cars. I am very excited about it. It’s a two full days experience, where I will talk and demonstrate my approach to photography. It’s a workshop open to all photography students – not just sport photographers or car spotters. What you learn in my workshop is applicable to any photographic genre: from portrait to landscape photography.
To see more of de Martis’s photography please visit his website.
His Leica Akademie workshop, Slow Shutter, Fast Cars. Fotografare Auto, will be held in Turin, from October 5 to October 6, 2019.