Franco Marinai grew up in Florence (Italy) where he was part of “Gruppo Stanza”, a group of six artists committed to political satire by means of silkscreen printing and photography.

After receiving a doctorate in Political Science from the University of Florence, he moved to New York where he turned to filmmaking, frequently showing his experimental films in some of the mythical venues of the East Village and Soho:
THE PYRAMID CLUB, 8BC, INTERNATIONAL WITH MONUMENT GALLERY, STOREFRONT FOR ART AND ARCHITECTURE, PS.122, THE MILLENNIUM, ANTHOLOGY FILM ARCHIVES, THE COLLECTIVE FOR LIVING CINEMA, THE KITCHEN.
His 16mm film "Blue Pleasure" is still being shown (most recently in Germany, in Austria and in Brazil) in various retrospectives featuring the Downtown New York "NO-WAVE" cinema.
Winner of the Ann Arbor Film Festival in 1988, he was awarded the Jerome Foundation Filmmaking Fellowship in 1989. He has been twice the recipient of The New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in the category of filmmaking (1989, 2005).

In the past decade, he has expanded his artistic activity by devoting time to printmaking and to producing artist’s books in very limited editions.
His books and prints have been exhibited in solo and group shows both in the US and in Europe.


THE INTERVIEW

In December 2011, after Franco published the limited edition book titled COLOR FILM, the artist Douglas Collins, the powerhouse behind the nonfigurativephoto blog, emailed Franco a few questions before publishing a post featuring his chronophotographs.
Here is that interview.


DC: How did you get into making this kind of picture? 
What motivated you? 
How long have you been doing it?

FM: About the time I became a teenager I was given the key to a fantastic world of surprises and inventions.  I was given unrestricted access to the attic of my family’s home in Florence. There, among old uniforms, leopard skins, lion skulls, bows and arrows, swords, and other fascinating paraphernalia... (sometime in the mid 19th century one of my ancestors had been the British consul in Kenya where they owned a coffee plantation) anyway, in the attic, I was saying, I also found some old photographic equipment that had belonged to a grandfather I never met. I also found chemicals, old photographic paper - I still have it, unopened - and primitive batteries made out of glass jars of sulfur and coal. It was truly fascinating. I began tinkering.  With a piece of galena and with my father’s directions I built a radio receiver.
At one point I set up a darkroom in what had been the coal storage room, in the cellar. I developed and printed by contact, mixing chemical powders that had been stored for decades in crumbled up paper, with no guidance but some old manuals.
So, my approach to photography was very much driven by curiosity and the experimental.  Mucking around was the driving force. Process is still a great deal of what I am involved with now, considering my involvement with photogravure…
Going back to your question, for the longest time I had been captivated by a photograph of Jaques-Henri Lartigue, the one with the distorted car speeding out of the frame while the spectators are tilted in the opposite direction as if the car was pulling the ground off their feet. I enjoyed its immediacy, its imprecision and its aerodynamic appeal, more or less like the futurists, I guess.
A few years ago I got a book on the error in photography (Fautographie). Apparently, Lartigue’s picture was the result of a photographic mistake, a “bad” picture. The book had an explanation for what might have led to that photograph: the malfunctioning of the shutter curtain. I was intrigued. I searched off and online, got some ideas on how to mimic that effect and started experimenting with a cheap Holga camera which I modified with a device made from an empty medicine bottle, plumbing supplies from Home Depot and lots of black tape.
I used 120 B&W negative film that I developed in the bathroom. I kept on going out, shooting randomly, shooting anything that moved basically. I used the camera both hand held and on a tripod, often attracting the curiosity of passerby’s and the NYPD too “never seen this contraption, what does it do?” all the while not daring to venture into the subway which is eventually what I will do at one point because I can predict really great shots, like many others which I am not going to anticipate at this time.
Anyway, back to the B&W, I used snippets of those films to produce a number of photogravures (two of them will be featured in the “Multiple Encounters 2” exhibition in New Deli this coming January) and, encouraged by the unexpected and promising outcomes, I upgraded to a Bronica SQA and improved the apparatus. I started shooting “motion pictures” with color reversal film. You see some of the results in COLOR FILM.


DC: Is your background in experimental cinema related to this work?

FM: My experimental films have featured plenty disfigurations of the photographic image, mostly through post-production hand-processed image manipulation. In fact, from the very beginning I have treated film as a surface to work on by painting, scratching, dyeing and bleaching the Super8 and the 16mm emulsion. The original goal was to challenge the viewers’ passive acceptance of the obvious, to divert their attention from figurative representation to the reality of film as an object, and to stimulate a sense of discovery and invention. 
When I was a kid, smoking was still allowed in movie theaters, and I was mesmerized by the streaks of light from the projector as much as by the action on the screen. Sometimes even more so, like when the two protagonists were face-to-face about to kiss (subtle color shifts) or during the cavalry charge and its frenetic color bands bursts.
The chronophotographs that I am producing at the moment are not properly disfigurations of the photographic image, like in my films, but they share the same goal, it’s a call to reality.


DC: Tell us something about your method.

FM: Up to now I have been shooting in the streets of New York. I choose a spot that has a lot of pedestrian traffic and try to keep out of the flow, especially if I use a tripod. The camera and the attachments are rather bulky and heavy and preparing the shoot is quite laborious, so photographing the marathon was a very convenient choice. I could rely on a continuous stream of thousands of runners and could position myself out of their path, with all my gear, without disturbing anybody and allowed me plenty of time to set up and shoot.
The chronophotographs pictured in COLOR FILM were taken in Queens, just past the halfway point on the Kosciusko Bridge. Of course I would love to photograph New Yorkers in other settings, in the subway for example, or in Grand Central, but I am afraid that that wouldn’t sit well with the Transit Authority or the NYPD. I guess I would have to ask for permits, be covered by insurance and who knows what else.
Anyway, my “method” consists in thinking of an action that might be interesting to capture (but, basically, anything that moves works for me) set up the equipment and capture the events as they take their course.
There is a lot of randomness in this. There is no choreography. It’s just picturing time and reality as it happens. That’s all there is.


DC: How is your Bronica SQ-A camera modified?

FM: Out of modesty, I feel it would be inappropriate to reveal the most intimate details of my apparatus, but I'll tell you that it has to do with what is known as 'slit photography'.
Imagine you are looking through a keyhole or, better yet, through a crack in a wall.
Assume that on the other side there are figures passing by. What you see is only partial figures, thin slivers. Now, if you were to piece together all these slivers, you would get a composite picture, a strip of slivers, that would represent the motion of the figures as they pass on the other side of the crack in the wall.
I modified and added to the camera to do just that.
So, the end result is a 120 film that has chronologically recorded the passing of a figure through a specific plane.


DC: The colors you obtain on Velvia Fujichrome film are very soft and muted.  Is that a characteristic of the film, or of your method?

FM: I think it’s a combination of both.

 

DC: You describe your work as an attempt to reproduce time as a continuum on the plane.  Is that mainly the result of panning across a background with shutter open, as others have done, or have I missed the point and this is something absolutely new

FM: My work does indeed reproduce time as a continuum on a plane, as does 'slit photography', or the well known 'foto-finish'.
What is absolutely new is the way I look at it.
The method is not new, but - as far as I know - no-one has ever considered chronophotography as a two-dimensional (geometrical) representation of the fourth dimension. Like I say in the short introduction in COLOR FILM - chronophotography does support the contention that reality is a razor thin (color) film between past and present, on an ever expanding sphere. Disprove that...


DC: Do you want us to refer to these pictures as ‘chronophotographs’ ?
FM: Yes. Thanks!

THE POST