Marco Maria Zanin


Marco Maria Zanin, credit: Maledetti Fotografi
Marco Maria Zanin, credit: Maledetti Fotografi

The photography of Marco Maria Zanin evokes simplicity and silence.

His sparse and minimalist compositions avoid all detail to focus on the object itself and capture its silhouette, its outlines, its texture. The fishing tools are shot like sculptures on pedestals, they become totemic figures. Their aura is intriguing because part-dream part reality, projecting us somewhere introspective that’s so serene it seems otherworldly.

The alchemy underpinning these pieces transforms the ordinary into an ambiguity which blurs the line between poetry, painting and sculpture within the single frame of a photograph. It is an ode to the rural world that is described in shades of light and dark, in the grain of the wood and the fissures of the stone. Both palette and composition are pared down, their muted tones paint a zen-like atmosphere.

If these photographs could be sounds, then whispers that echo the ‘inner pulse’ of ruins, tools and debris from the Earth and the Sea. The eloquent beauty of these fragments speaks of the passing of time. This brings us back in tune with past traditions, with nature and therefore, with ourselves.

In this interview, Marco will tell us more about his work, his projects and what inspires him.

Which element best describes your personality and your work?

Earth and Air. Earth is the core of my work: each photograph reflects the wisdom of the rural world and how rural traditions are endowed with a sense of balance that is rare today.

If only this rural sensitivity to nature could rebalance our relationship with the planet…

Air reminds me of spirituality, sacredness and philosophy. The cultural horizons I depict in my photographs are linked to the earth and I would like them to be read in terms of their spiritual, sacred and philosophical appearance.

Is there a particular person or situation that inspired you to become an artist?

I studied philosophy and international relations, not art. My career path began in a slightly informal way.
The person who inspired me to pursue art was Antonio Papisca, my professor when I graduated from the university of Padova, and a key figure in writing the international declarations for human rights.

He aspired for the so-called “Harmonia Mundi” chair, a degree course in which human sciences could be in dialogue with the arts to propose strategies for economic and social development.

© Photograph by Marco Maria Zanin. 'Pesi' from Ritualia -Portugal- series (2016). Fine art print on cotton paper
© Photograph by Marco Maria Zanin. ‘Pesi’ from Ritualia -Portugal- series (2016). Fine art print on cotton paper

Do you consider yourself spiritual and how does this feed into your work?

Yes, spirituality has always been important to me: growing up, my father taught me about the essential ‘search for truth’, and this idea manifests itself in my work as I seek what is sacred in nature, what is sacred in ideal forms which an artisan produces…

This sort of ‘upward tension’ is continuous.

I feel it relates to Pasolini’s thought that peasants’ way of life is holistically spiritual and therefore capable of countering the emptiness of modernity.

Is there a type of music and/or author in general that stimulates you?

I love Brazilian music. I spent several years in Brazil and learned Portuguese by translating the texts of Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Maria Bethania, Cartola and Paulinho da Viola.

When I was living there, Brazilian music helped me connect with the local culture and its distinctively open ‘life flow’ -different from the Italian classic mindset that’s deep- rooted in the past.

The FAAP (Fundacao Armando Alvarez Penteado) in Sao Paolo is where I had my first artist residency which I won with my written project on the song ‘Sampa’ by Caetano Veloso: I crossed the city embodying the figure of Benjamin’s flaneur who transformed himself just like Caetano in his song. This mutual resonance echoes a dialogue between Italian and Brazilian culture which I have maintained ever since.

© 2019 Spazio Nuovo. Photograph by Marco Maria Zanin. ‘Mezzogiorno Locale Vero’ (2017) Fine art print on cotton paper
© 2019 Spazio Nuovo. Photograph by Marco Maria Zanin. ‘Mezzogiorno Locale Vero’ (2017) Fine art print on cotton paper

Can you tell us more about the meaning of rural environment/traditions/crafts in your series Sintomo, Natura Morta and the landscapes around the Veneto, how you chose to depict/express this?

The objects I photograph are generally tools used for rural work or other types of craft activities. In the series ‘Ferite/ Feritoie’ (Wounds/Loopholes), the carpenters’ designs become statues and totems. In Ritualia, tools for artisanal fishing off the Portuguese coast are turned into anthropomorphic shapes.

These objects are too peculiar to be just devices.

I rid them of any reference to their function by paring them down to their essence, their intrinsic value as symbols and archetypes. Made of scraps, they still have a hidden aesthetic which brings them back to life.

© Photograph by Marco Maria Zanin. 'Agulhas' from Ritualia (Portugal) series. Fine art print on cotton paper
© Photograph by Marco Maria Zanin. ‘Agulhas’ from Ritualia (Portugal) series. Fine art print on cotton paper

The debris from demolitions of buildings where the Italians lived in Sao Paolo are a nod to the painter Giorgio Morandi; and emblems of renewal, of sacred families.

The Veneto scenery in Italy is the starting point for all things tied to the earth. My first subjects were the rural houses in my region. They reflect my enquiry into the ‘earth’.

I use photography as a tool to highlight the land and to enhance how we read and perceive it.

© Photograph by Marco Maria Zanin. 'Padova 108' from Cattedrali Rurali (Rural Cathedral) series (2014). Silver gela-tin print.
© Photograph by Marco Maria Zanin. ‘Padova 108’ from Cattedrali Rurali (Rural Cathedral) series (2014). Silver gela-tin print.

Please tell us what your are currently working on and what you are looking forward to this year in terms of exhibitions!

I recently returned from Portugal where I was invited to an insightful artistic residence called “Spring Encounters”. Held in a tiny village north of the Spanish border, this project brings together contemporary art with anthropology for a strategic study of rural contexts.

I was lucky because on the first day I met a craftsman in the only bar in the country who in his pastime made stunning masks and other objects.

These were not for sale, inspired by local traditions but absorbing pop influences from magazines or TV. I gathered all his pieces, including those he had given to the people of the town, and photographed everything. There are about 200 objects which I would like to use as the basis for a large polyptych.

Regarding my own projects, in September 2019 I will have a show at UNSEEN in Amsterdam and in November at Paris Photo in the Prisme section – both with the Spazio Nuovo gallery from Rome.


Marco Maria Zanin was born in Padua (Italy) in 1983.
He first took a degree in Literature and Philosophy, and then in International Relations, obtaining a Master’s degree in Psychology. At the same time he developed his artistic career, and travelled widely in different parts of the world, putting into practice the “displacement” so essential for a critical analysis of social contexts, and to fuel his research aimed at identifying the common spaces of the human community.
Myth and archetype as the submerged matrices of modern behaviour are the focus of his investigation, which is based on observation of the relationship between man, territory and time.
Lives and works between Padua and São Paulo, Brazil.

Check out his latest projects on his website.

Header Photo: © 2019 Spazio Nuovo. Photograph by Marco Maria Zanin. ‘Natura Morta III’ (2015) from Lacuna e Equilibrio series. Fine art print on cotton paper

Author: Alexandra Etienne