Gown to Earth
Born in Rome in 1980, it all started with a graffiti obsession for Lele Saveri: Having documented the writings on walls since the nineties, he experienced a serious visual epiphany while shooting some pieces in London, fell in love with photography, studied it at the U of Greenwich, then relocated to NYC where he branched out once again: working for a ton of magazines both in Italy and the US, Saveri also got into video and curating events/shows, started hosting zine fairs called 8-Ball (usually in billiard halls) – and for a while he even did a pop-up zine store called The Newsstand inside a Brooklyn subway station. Having opened his own gallery/art space called Muddguts recently, he’s also known for his video work with household names such as Michael K. Williams (“The Wire”) or No Age. For our photo special issue, Saveri revisited his stunningly dark, netherworld-flirting series “Incubi et Succubi” (full of demons, gowns, ghosts of night and day, originally released as an 88-page hardcover book by Seems Books) and even dug out a few unpublished exclusives.
Lele, how’s life these days? What are you up to, what are you currently working on? Do you still do those 8-ball zine fairs or the Newsstand?
I’m good. Working on getting stuff together for the LA book fair that’s at the end of the month, as well as few other things. I still do the fairs and everything else related to 8-ball, and the Newsstand is taking a break.
When and how did you first get into zine culture and indie publishing – was that through photography?
I used to buy music and graffiti zines in the mid ’90s, but didn’t get to make more “artistic” zines until the early 2000s, when I started making little journals with photos I was taking.
So the graffiti thing, that was when you were still based in Italy?
Yeah, that was when I lived in Rome.
When and how exactly did photography enter your life then?
Kind of by chance. I was shooting graffiti in London where I had just moved, until I took one picture that seemed more interesting… and I’ve never stopped carrying a camera since.
You also studied it?
Yeah, I studied photography in London.
Since you seem to be involved with so many different things – fairs, zines, videos, music – what made you stick to photography?
I guess the fact that it was paying the bills.
Running Muddguts gallery in Brooklyn, does that mean you have a permanent visa now?
Sure, I have had a visa for five years now, but I still go back to Italy whenever I can…
Let’s talk about “Incubi et Succubi”: There’s an amazingly strange, sinister, almost medieval feel to that series – how did you get started on the project and where did you find the right people and places?
It was an idea I had been playing with for a while, so when Nick from Seems Books asked me to publish a book of mine, I decided to start the project more seriously. I did lots of research for things that would visually represent my inner fears, and then I shot it all in about seven months. I shot in Rome, Sicily, Milan, Jersey, Staten Island… anywhere I could find the right things I would go.
Did you have the concept first or did it take shape as you were out shooting?
The concept was pretty much all there, but obviously it shaped up during the process.
What’s your take on death and spirituality anyway?
I’m not very sure but definitely fascinated by spirituality… and pretty ready for the end.
What’s next for you?
I am working on a photobook of a new series of nudes that will come out with Dashwood books, as well as a few more side projects…
Words/interview: Renko Heuer