The "True" images of Claudio Serrapica (1940-1994)

Stefano Pasquini

 

Urs Luthi and Claudio Serrapica, Bologna, 1976. Ph. Paolo Frascaroli.

 

Itís hard to write about Claudio Serrapica, a Neapolitan photographer based in Bologna who died ten years ago, because he was, first of all, a friend. I really miss going around parks taking photographs with him. He was such a free spirit that he would take a sudden day off his busy fashion photography schedule just to hang around with a camera lover adolescent such as myself in 1987. What I didnít know then was that Claudio had been around everyone that counted at a time when Bologna was still a fervent town.

He came to Bologna from Naples in the early 60s with a piece of paper that said he could photograph, a TTL camera and not much else. He worked here and there for photographers such as the illustrious traditional Villani Studio. By the early 70s he was able to open up a studio for himself. Together with Paolo Frascaroli, in a hidden road behind the DAMS University, they developed the legendary Studio Serrapica. Today, if you ask anyone over 40 in Bologna about Claudio, they would surely have an interesting story to tell you.

Though for most of his life he was occupied with the tedious task of taking photographs on commission (not disdaining even the odd Saturday wedding), his constant energy drove him to meet absolutely everyone in every situation, with a particular keenness to the oddest figures. When he entered a bar he would always start chatting with the weirdo in the corner, the neglected granny, the problematic youth. He had no preconceptions about anyone, an open mindedness quite unusual in a province.

Even though his life was centered around photography, he very often would be going around without a camera, or would forget to take a shot at Man Ray when he allegedly visited his studio in the early 70s. In a sense, his approach to photography was always focused on truth, and the casual way he photographed proved that he really wasnít interested in the aesthetics of neither photography, nor it documentary aspects. He wanted the here and now, and one shot was enough to say, "I was there". Claudio would drag Paolo and later the third photographer of the studio, Stefano Stagni, to boxing matches to take portraits of the sweaty youngsters after a match, or to art events.

Bologna at that time was quite an interesting place. In 1975 the first Italian Art Fair, Arte Fiera, was born, and by the following year it became an international event. In 1976 Claudio met Marina Abramovic and Ulay and documented many of their happenings. He photographed Urs Luthi, who also did a performance piece in the photographic studio, as well as two performances by Hermann Nitsch, in 1976 and 1977. He really enjoyed the company of artists, and found that body art performances were really close to his idea of life: you think of something, you do it, and it becomes real, because you did it.

He became involved in the actions, collaborating with the likes of Pier Paolo Calzolari (better known for his Arte Povera affiliation) and Giovanni Mundula, who he accompanied in performances. In the late seventies Claudio even got to meet Andy Warhol during an exhibition at Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara, and getting to know the king of Pop Art gave him the go ahead to throw himself where the money really was: fashion photography. This, unfortunately for us, signed the end of his exciting art times, whereby one artist could just call him up and set up a performance the same day, to be in all the local papers by the following day.

By the 80s, though Serrapica Studio had become the most popular fashion photography studio in Bologna, Claudio had also abandoned his interest in contemporary art almost completely. When we talked about Transavanguardia and the well-known painters of Bologna, he would dismiss everyone bitterly as people who sold themselves, who got away from the truth. He would get much more excited talking about young unknowns who showed in university bars. To him, it was much more exciting to spend an afternoon talking with the next door granny than to go to glamorous openings with fur-coated fakes. This heartfelt simplicity is clearly visible in his early photographs. The grass on a field, a double exposure of a pillar and a landscape, the quiet flowing of a water fountain. These are photographs that Claudio would never show in public, his diary of events, purely dictated by his own search for the truth - a truth that he would put his finger on within a moment of beginning a conversation, and that he shared with all those who were lucky enough to know him.