Lele Saveri’s life is full of great tales. Luckily, most of them are documented in his photography. From growing up in the suburbs of Rome, becoming a mod skinhead and moving to London where he decided to pick up a camera, it’s probably fair to say that Lele likes to challenge himself. In chatting with the Vice Italia Photo Editor, it becomes evident how little you know of one’s life until you ask.
Not too long ago you moved to New York from Italy. What city were you living in prior to moving? How is the adjustment for you? Sensor overload?
Two years prior to moving to NY I was in Milano. It was strange for me to go back to Milano cause I was coming back from living in London for seven years. I wasn’t used to Italy anymore. I’m from Rome originally. New York was somehow similar to both of these cities. They were both big and exciting like London, but at the same time very “local” like Milano.So it wasn’t too hard for me to adjust at all. Plus I was familiar with New York already. I think being older makes it somehow easier to understand a city.
You were back in Europe for over month in the summer. What kind of projects were you working on down there?
I was in Italy mostly. I had to finish a documentary on this crazy music scene from Naples, in the south of Italy, where the mafia is still very alive in the everyday life. I then shot 3 fashion stories for Vice. In addition to all these things I had to do some smaller portraits projects, worked on some small books, and also released some books for a friend’s publishing company. Plus I was involved in a group show featuring young Italian photographers. I somehow managed to squeeze in time to go visit my family and spend some time with my friends, which is always very nice.
What kind of trouble did you get up to when you were a youth? Were there any bands or music back then that you were into that helped with your personal growth and cultivated culture in your life?
I grew up in the suburb of Rome, where people don’t really care too much about anything else but cars, fast scooters and soccer. Luckily I had few friends that shared some of the same interests as me in many different ways. I went through very different phases growing up. I was into hip hop, then I was a skinhead/mod for long time. I was going to crazy “Gabber”raves, which played hard techno music that coming from Holland. The one thing that I always had with me during these different phases was graffiti. I was into vandalism since I was 14. I think every one of those things helped me grow into who I am now.
When I met you in New York, you told me you were really into mod culture back in your younger days. What was it about this particular culture that drew you in?
I think the passion for the aesthetic, music and obviously the love for scooters. Then when I realized that it was something stuck into the 1960’s, I moved on from it.
You slept in a cemetery once while on a cross country trip on your Vespa. Tell us a bit about that adventure.
It was 2 summers ago. I owned a Vespa in London which I wanted to take to Milano however, it would cost too much money to ship it there. I also wanted to distribute this zine we had made with ‘ithoughtiwasalone’, so I asked my friend Giorgio to come with me and in 2 weeks we were in Milano.
The night we had to sleep in a cemetery, our Vespa had broken down in the middle of nowhere soon as we got to Belgium from Holland. The only garage that could fix it didn’t have the piece that I needed and I had to order it from the closest city which was about 80 KM away. Since there were no hotels or hostels, we didn’t have a place to sleep. We walked around to get tired, then fell asleep in the only park we could find, inside a cemetery.
Did you document your experience with photos?
I took pictures, and some came out in Apartamento. We were planning of making a small book but never got around to it. Now I would like to do a Vespa trip from SF to NY, but we’ll see…
For me very much so. That’s one of the reasons why I still can’t get totally used to digital photography. At least with film I will always have my negatives. I’ve lost my very first 100 negatives during moving. So now I am very protective of the one’s I do have.
In our parents generation they printed and preserved their photographs in photo albums, now most people’s memories are found on their desktops. How do you feel about this?
It is weird, I guess. I think we are stuck between two generations. We can be confident in storing all out albums in a virtual folder, but at the same time we have all also seen each others photographs printed inside a touchable album. So for us it’s still is a bit strange sometimes.
I also realized that many people are now printing books from digital files, so probably printed materials won’t die. I guess now it will be more about the selection of the photographs, which isn’t a bad thing.
Do you like to capture your own personal memories and share it with an audience?
Yes, I often do in my work. But I’m trying not too be too vernacular with my photography. I feel like too many photographers are only showing their friends and family, and sometimes if you don’t know the story, it feels a bit “empty”, if you know what I mean.
I had just moved to London to work in a pizza place. On my only day-off I would go and take picture of this new city I was living in. After sometime I realized I liked photography and that it would be nice to make money from it. So I took a photography course in Greenwich. After 3 years I was getting payed to take pictures.
You have quite a bit of tattoos. What was your first one?
The very first one is my initials on my left arm which I did myself with a needle I stole from my mum when I was 13.
The eye tattoos on your palms must have hurt. Are they symbolic in any way?
The eyes on my hands were done by the guy who came on the Vespa trip with me. He had never done a tattoo or had any on himself. He did it on me using just a needle again. It has meanings but I would rather keep em for myself. Sorry…
How did you start working for Vice? When did you become the Photo Editor for Vice Italia?
I started some years ago. I was still in London, and the UK Vice had just started. They had proposed to a friend of mine to become the editor for the Italian office. So I helped him a bit finding photographers and shooting stuff. Then 3 years ago they asked me to start properly working for them from the Milano’s office, so I did.
What kind of responsibilities do you have there?
I mostly arrange fashion shoots, talk with photographers, selections photos, and shoot what I can myself.
Do you have any new projects that your are working on right now?
With Vice UK I’m doing a series of portraits of people I like around the world. It’s called ‘Lele’s World’, you can find it on Vicestyle.com. I’m also working on a series of small books which we’re publishing with a collaboration with ‘ithoughtiwasalone’ and Surith, a small publishing company that was started by a few friends of mine from Rome.
Currently I just did a small video of Ari Marcopoulos for Incase and and 3 small videos to present with zines I made for NY Art-Book Fair.
Quella Villa Accanto Al Cimitero
Paura Nella Citta Dei Morti Viventi
E Tu Vivrai Nel Terrore
Did you ever have any pets?
I’ve always been allergic to pets, since I was 5, so we were not allowed to have them. All we had was a small rabbit that lived in our bathroom for 7 years. I know it sounds pretty sad, but we would try and get her to go out, but she never wanted to leave.
Can you tell us about ‘The Ones We Love (Portraits of Pets)’? Did this series just come together organically or was this a project that you planned to work on?
The project started by chance. Constantly, I take loads of photo series, and animals have always been one of my main inspirations.
I really like that photos that you took of Chloe Sevigny and her place for Apartamento. The photos that you captured of her look really natural and intimate. Can you tell us more about the experience?
I have known Chloe for about 3 years and at that time I would stay at her place when I was visiting New York. One day we just woke up and decided to shoot and we took a couple of rolls. It was fun, and I think you can see it from the series.
What was the strangest photo assignment that you ever had to do?
I once had to take pictures for a medical company. They needed pictures for their catalogues or something. They needed me to snap pictures of doctors in hospitals, nurses, people wearing anti-radioactivity outfits. It was weird, but I needed the money so I asked a friend of mine who’s a costume designer to help me. We shot people in different bizarre locations. It was actually pretty funny in the end.
Tell us about ” Ithoughtiwasalone”? How did this photo collective come to be?
I had just come back to Italy after 7 year stint in London and realized there was no exposure for young Italian photographers anywhere. At Vice Italia I had just started working this new girl named Serena. She was super smart and super interested in photography. Plus she knew lots about blogs and websites where I was totally ignorant of both these things. So we talked a bit and came up with the collective. It wasn’t something new or anything, but we wanted the older people in Italy to start giving importance also to things online.
We do shows, publish small books, and update the site with new series of photos as much as we can. We have few things planned for the future which I’m very much looking forward to.
You have some very talented photographers that are part of ‘ithoughtiwasalone’. How do you find the talent that you represent? What are some qualities that are shared between the group of photographers that you’ve curated?
Serena and I work a lot on searching on the web. We also get loads of submissions, but I must say at the moment we don’t find too many interesting photographers that way. We try not to have a ‘too’ specific style of photography on our site, but find talent that we believe in their style of photography. Often it has to do with the mood it gives us when we see their pictures.
Is the future bright?
I bloody hope so.