Simone Arrigoni

PX3 Prix de la Photographie Paris 2020 – Non-Professional
First Place Winner in Special – Sky Painters

If Joseph Mallord William Turner’s sunset paintings were combined with Henri Michaux’s abstract drawings, the pictorial language might bear a resemblance to Simone Arrigoni’s ‘Sky Painters’ series. Yet, remarkably, the Italian photographer made his painterly images by photographing flocks of starlings in Rome last fall on his smartphone.

Arrigoni, 47, was standing on the Tiber embankment at sunset when he noticed the flocks of starlings, who would tend to rest on the plane trees along the river at night, flying in unison. He immediately asked himself how he could create “drawings” of their motion in the sky which was “dyed with pastel shades typical of Roman sunsets”.

“Starlings are well known for the wonder they create up in the sky with their synchronized flight in flocks but I had never seen them photographed at long exposure,” Arrigoni says. “My shots remind me of the Impressionist style, which I especially love. Nevertheless, what strikes me most about this series is not the stylistic similarity with painting but rather the technical one: it is as if the starlings were made in charcoal on a watercolor background.”

The operatic quality emanating from Arrigoni’s images can be traced to his training as a classical pianist under the tutelage of the late composer and pianist, Guglielmo Brezza. The environmental sensibility, meanwhile, is connected to how Arrigoni has achieved success as a free-diver after being forced to abruptly end his promising career as a concert pianist following an accident. The common thread between his trio of passions – music, diving and photography – is his “search to blend with the environment”, he says.

“It’s about not simply noticing but more properly feeling and entering into harmony with every smallest sensorial detail that I have around me at that moment,” Arrigoni explains. “This approach allows me to always go in search of new sensations, vibrations and emotions thanks to the endless wonders that the world offers us. With free-diving, what I feel thanks to water is more introspective, while with music and photography I have a greater chance of communicating with others.”

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Arrigoni has been editing images for a forthcoming book about his ‘InvEarth’ project on flora, fauna and the natural elements, including black-and-white underwater photographs of jellyfish. A period of hospitalization unrelated to Covid-19 has hindered him from progressing as fast as he would like but stimulated more reflection. “I came up with some interesting ideas for my new photographic series and I can’t wait to regain my strength to be able to realize them,” he says.

By Anna Sansom