Interview with Caterina Erica Shanta


In my career I was born as a video and film editor, I am used to seeing thousands of images, cutting them, fragmenting them, recognizing and placing them in degrees of semantics. Often the sound carpet is the second level of the film, which is sometimes a story in itself. A personal working method emerges from this amorous intertwining. Specifically, my relationship with photography arises from the relationship with the archive, that is the desire to collect and compare and relate images to generate research and discourse. These images are often preserved and forgotten, yet I always wonder why they survived at the expense of others. The answer often has a biographical and autobiographical connotation, it mixes historical and documentary aspects that intersect in an interdisciplinary way with philosophy, media theory, visual ethno-anthropology, digital archeology and cinema. From this interlude the research in my work is generated, which analyzes the visibility parameters connected to the infrastructure that conveys these images, so they are more or less usable depending on the context and the way of seeing / storing them. Images circulate, reproduce and settle, or are extinguished like a fire in the dark. They fill up with dirt, decompose in the earth, pulverize into digital clouds.
In my artistic practice I collect countless stories: I have often started a search because I found a photograph, or a film that I perceived as “out of context or out of place” compared to a predominant narrative. In this way I explore themes that often deal with traumatic events, historical silences and moments of visible war that translate into personal memories, often not translatable in a linear way. What is photography for me? After these premises, photography takes on different characteristics and functions: first of all it constitutes an object of relationship – a bit like the camera was for Jean Rouch, as a shared object, it never tells a single story but as many as there are relationships that they cross it – and in the second degree it conveys the story of its keeper; it is also the significant result of the infrastructure that generated and preserved it; it is therefore a document and fruit of a context of which it bears the marks like scars on itself. When I study and do research, I always try to see as many images as possible, in order to understand what characterizes an imaginary visible in a certain place / cultural basin: of these imaginaries I always try to understand why a certain image is more pregnant or pervasive than others . I am also interested in identifying those images that are on the margins, which are on the verge of collapse and disappearance. At the limit of visibility. I find that from this peripheral vision it is possible to have a broader look at the state of things and also to lay the foundations for a social and political critique of images. This is why I do cinema and photography.

References (art, literature, music, other)

I often find myself having to revise my references as they collide with a certain idea that I am maturing at the moment. However, I can mention some * authors * who have influenced me in my research practice and in certain recurring aesthetics in my works. I watch a lot of documentary cinema, I love looking at people’s photographs – family albums, mobile phone photographs, etc. Some names that come to mind: Harun Farocki – cinematographic works and his writings. The philosophy and aesthetics of Hito Steyerl All of Chris Marker’s cinema, especially the essay films. The way in which Agnes Varda deals with personal issues The ever-current documentaries of Werner Herzog The post-colonial cinema of John Akomfrah The installations of Kader Attia The cinema of Clemens von Wedemeyer The research, the use of documents and images a simulation purpose, the visual, formal and communicative outputs of Forensis Architecture All the texts by Jorge Luis Borges The book that Andrej Tarkovskij wrote – Sculpting time Carlo Ginzburg, was radical in identifying a more human, passionate methodology for writing history. Animal Studies. The Caliban and the Witch by Silvia Federici.

Research methodology

Which method? I go through research phases, usually three.

Research: as I wrote about photography, I always try to have as wide a panorama of images as possible, in order to be able to capture recurrences. This allows me to identify what is more than anything else on the edge of the visible. In this phase, I also try to study the historical context in which certain events took place, the moment and the production logic in which these images / objects were created. In accordance with what was written by the historian Carlo Ginzburg, this ambivalence of the document and of the story is placed between micro-history – which has to do with the personal and the most intimate and emotional dimension – and History which concerns a wider group of people.

Development: What was a hypothesis up to the preliminary stage, with the inspection and the direct relationship with people, can become the way forward to tell a story. I always try to identify a nucleus of people with whom to interact and through them, broaden the network of social relationships, in such a way as to collect a transversal narrative that becomes collective from the personal. This is the most delicate phase, since in this moment the bonds are established that will give birth to the project still on paper. In this phase I also try to see and digitally duplicate even the family albums / those images that you have kept-forgotten, can become a good starting point for the final phase of the work.

Production: I have to digress here. As far as moving images are concerned, between photography or frames there is no real clear distinction – at the level of the final formal presentation of course there is, but in the production phase in which I create the materials digitally, I do not go far from conceive images and objects as documents or archival documentation, even if they are filmed. The element that really varies is the viewer and his relationship with time and the story told through the image. So the relationship with time is the cornerstone of the whole process. If I choose to take a photograph rather than a film, it is because I want to reflect on the time of use in relation to the time that underlies the work. In the case of La Tempesta, all those objects that have remained on the ground to decompose or transmute over time, with the ground conceived as an open-air archive, are part of the photographic project. There are objects from the 1966 flood (flooded nineteenth-century plaster casts or photographic plates, or photographs with oxidized silver salts found under the cellars) and there are objects from the ground left by Tempesta Vaia – 2018, molds and transfigured wood (the lunar mountain landscape and the bark beetle woodworms).
In any case, the production of the work is the moment in which in the cinema we say “ciak si gira!”. After having organized the entire production machine, empowering the people who will collaborate with me, having viewed the photographic material, we go to create the images. “On set” with people I spend a lot of time. It usually takes me 90 minutes to do an interview, so you can get an overview of emotions, from the initial pre-set embarrassment, to the intermediate phase in which you forget the camera, to the final phase in which you have run out of every topic and talk about something else. I waste a lot of time “chatting” and I find it functional to my work and projects, as it is the relationships that surround the images that interest me.


Digital archives, digital archeology. In this universe made of images, contaminations and hybridizations occur through various states of the image itself, from paper photographs, to digital, to clouds, to big data used for predictive and reconstructive purposes. At a behavioral level, photographing has become a simple gesture, part of a personal ritual that nevertheless becomes collective. This assumption transpires very well from my work Il Cielo Stellato, where through an open call I collected thousands of photographs of the same object destined for destruction. Those photographs as a whole can digitally reconstruct, through the technique of photogrammetry, what is no longer visible. Photogrammetry of this type is used in the archaeological field, but it is a technique of primarily military origin, when Oskar Messter – during the First World War – put a stereoscopic rifle under the belly of an airplane to make three-dimensional surveys of enemy territory. . With the same technique, but in a much more precise and sophisticated way, with drones it is possible to reconstruct the entire morphology that surrounds us in three dimensions, including cities and woods. During the studies on Palmyra this intuition emerged with all its strength, as the international archaeological community collected millions of photographs also taken by tourists, to map and reconstruct the entire archaeological site. In 2016 a part was reprinted in 3D.