The young Italian, who BJP picked out as a new talent back in our June 2016 issue, has a solo show of his moody monochrome series Farang in Paris
“I was 13, standing on the balcony at home holding the first digital camera my family had ever owned. I was staring into the viewfinder trying to frame a flower, my eyes wide at its reproduction on the small screen,” says 30-year-old Francesco Merlini of the first picture he ever took.
“I was struck by the immediacy of the photographic medium, the ease with which you can create something visually pleasing.”
Merlini studied industrial design at Politecnico di Milano, and though photography featured in his life from an early age, he never considered dedicating himself to it. Like many of his generation, he used his camera for little more than documenting his life – his mates, girlfriends, trips.
“Some photos worked but there was no meaning behind them, there was no purpose,” he says. “They were snaps.
“The turning point came in 2010 when I started working at Prospekt [the agency of which he is now a member] as a photo editor and sales manager. I started doing scans and photographing events, developing my own projects in my own time.
“Working with photographers and agency staff, I realised the strength of a photographer doesn’t lie in a single image but in the stories he tells and the ability to unite his own language with content to stimulate reflection.”
That’s precisely what attracted British photographer George Georgiou, who selected Merlini for BJP‘s 2016 Ones to Watch. “The language of tone and texture within his photography complements the visceral power of his work,” he says of Farang, a series of black-and-white images shot over three years in Italy, France, Turkey, Thailand and Kosovo.
“When I work on personal projects, I’m generally not interested in documenting the truth or showing my subjects for who they are. I’m not interested in whether they are a person, place or thing,” says Merlini.
“What connects the images in Farang is that – having spent so much time working on projects in my comfort zone – they are the result of circumstances beyond my daily life. I didn’t try to document my subjects objectively; instead, I filtered them so that they were a reflection of me.
“I used reality as a mirror to reflect myself, imposing my perception on the veil that cloaks the subjects whose own reality I’ve discarded.
“After Farang I shot a reportage in Chad. It was 51°C and I started thinking about a language that would reflect the sense of suffocation – not only as a result of the weather but also because of the social unrest. I put aside the language I used in Farang for one suited to this purpose. I don’t ever want to be known as ‘that photographer who shoots those kind of images’.”
Georgiou is impressed. “I love the way Francesco has moved from extreme contrast in Farang to working completely within the grey spectrum in Le Tchad Dense,” he says.
This article was first published in BJP’s Ones to Watch Talent Issue #7848 June 2016, which is available via www.thebjpshop.com