Growing up, Federico Clavarino had a conflicted relationship with photography. His father was a keen photographer and, as a teenager, Clavarino felt that taking pictures often spoiled experiences. “If you’re thinking about photographs all the time you’re not really living things,” he says. “You live them in a different way, which is something I really didn’t like.”
He studied literature and creative writing instead but, happiest when “out and about, walking and talking to people” found he wasn’t drawn to the literary life. And when he moved to Madrid, at the age of 21, photographs became a good way to communicate with his friends back home in Italy. Using it to collect and show parts of this new experience, making images became a good excuse to drift around the unfamiliar city.
Working as a barman in Madrid, he heard about the Spanish photo collective and school, Blank Paper, and eventually enrolled in an introductory course. By night serving drinks, and by day teaching English in the suburbs of of the city, he made photographs in the times in between. “I slowly got addicted,” he says. “It was a moment where I could step out of my ordinary and rather boring existence, and shape it into something different. It was an adventure.”
His latest publication, La Vertigine [“Vertigo’], was first published in 2010, during these foundational years at Blank Paper. One of the teachers at the time was Ricardo Cases, who was then working on a publishing project called Fiesta Fiesta, in which he would exhibit ongoing bodies of work by students, teachers, and alumni in the bar next door to the school. It was mostly an excuse to have a party, says Clavarino, but also to publish A5 zines, presented in small bread bags and sold in limited copies over the bar. La Vertigine was one of them.
The photographs were made between 2008-2010 all over Madrid, as well as in the south of Spain, Berlin, Italy, and in Lisbon, where Clavarino is now based. “It was very instinctive. It was only later on that I understood, saw, noticed that there was a series of themes,” he says.
He went on to publish well-received books such as Italia o Italia (2014) and The Castle (published in 2016), but – several years after La Vertigine zine was first made – publishing coming Witty Kiwi approached him about making a new edition. This gave Clavarino the opportunity to go back and produce a more comprehensive edit, and work on the layout with a designer. “I noticed how so much of the things that came out back then still inform my work now,” he says. “They are things that I consciously continue to work on.”
Clavarino is drawn to shadows, hands, and the spaces in between things; his images are tightly cropped, which helps when combining pictures together in a book, and also creates a tension between what is shown in the image, and what could be outside. “There is a very active frame in all of the pictures,” he says. “It’s more about that than the actual things I photographed.”