Attuning the Senses: Interview with Marta Roncalli

Marta Roncalli, The romantic shelter of a magical landscape. Umbria, 2020

Marta Roncalli (b.2000, Milan) currently works and studies in Milan. Passionate about the publishing world and visual communication, she started studying photography on her own in 2018. For her it represents a powerful means of expression, a way to connect with nature and an essential tool to understand reality and society. Experimenting both with the analog and digital format, in the digital exhibition Sign of the Times she has presented two analogue photographs: The romantic shelter of a magical landscape. Umbria, 2020 and Sand and wildlife around. Tuscany, 2020.
In this conversation with curator Bianca Callegaro, she discusses the inspiration behind her work, her learning experience and the impact of the pandemic on her creativity and artistic research.

Bianca Callegaro: As one of the featured artists in the exhibition Sign of the Times, could you share with us the main themes that you explore in your showcased pieces?
Marta Roncalli: Well, when I was reading for the first time the exhibition brief I realised that it totally fits with what I’m doing with photography in this particular historical moment. During and after the first lockdown in Milan, the city where I’m living, I chose to learn about the reality surrounding me in my own way. That means focusing all my attention on catching slow moments, calmness, peace – all of that for me is inevitably connected with nature. So, in my two pieces selected for the digital exhibition, I explore and capture the powerful relation that was born inside me during the COVID-19 pandemic between the idea of time, photography and nature.

BC: You are presenting two analogue photographs for this exhibition, even though you have previously worked mostly with digital photography. How do you explain this transition from digital to film photography in your work but also specifically for this particular project?
MR: Until 2020, I had been always working in digital because it was the easiest way to learn about photographic techniques. I grew up with photography throughout my education, experimenting in different ways across time. The digital format allowed me to understand the camera’s workings and to learn about composition and editing. At the beginning it was useful to have a medium that would let me take a large quantity of shots with only an initial investment. Then, about a year ago, a friend of mine gave me an analogue camera and I started shooting with it with the intention of trying something new. This format has brought new possibilities, new ways of confrontation and observation, and it even enabled me to know better who I am. Film is definitely very special and magical for me. In the past, I would focus on the technique, and the digital allowed me to do so, but now I am looking to express myself artistically through the possibilities of analogue photography.

Marta Roncalli, Sand and wildlife around. Tuscany, 2020.

BC: Film photography has indeed become very popular lately. How do you explain this trend? What is the potential that differentiates film photography from the almost limitless possibilities of the digital?
MR: As described in the statement about the presented project, I think that analogue photography is very powerful because of its artistic identity. The digital is extremely useful, its benefits are countless. However, I don’t think that when it was invented, the real meaning of photography was quantity. It is of course quality. In my opinion, the main reason why people are looking back and bringing analogue photography back to life is related to the true value of art. We shall see what will happen.

BC: Overall, your artistic research often explores your personal relationship with nature, depicting spaces (both outside and inside the house) and freedom through a minimalist approach. Could you tell us more about this choice? What is the role of nature in relation to your practice?
MR: Social distancing, isolation, the situation we lived in 2020 are factors that made me realise what I really like from my visual point of view, what I would like to achieve. I became more conscious of the meaning behind shooting and the reasons for photographing certain subjects. My personal approach and artistic research are still in progress, but nowadays they are certainly more expressive than in the past. Photos are more evocative than any other means of communication; for me, they are a way to express what I feel, what I need, what I miss. Nature, together with minimalism, is the guiding principle, the driving force behind my work. They enable me to feel and be free.

BC: In relation to this, has your connection with nature been transformed in the past year? What was the impact of the pandemic on your creativity?
MR: Yes, it has. I mentioned before the great impact that social distancing, isolation, and restrictions had in my photographic path. At the beginning, staying at home was very productive, creatively speaking. I picked up brushes to paint, needles and thread to embroider. But then, the situation brought silence, melancholy, and great uncertainty. All those sensations have affected my way to elaborate ideas and create new ones. On the other hand, nature was and still is my ‘therapy’. The transformation consisted in recognizing what nature means for me and for my creativity.

BC: I am curious to learn more about your initial approach to photography and visual communication. Could you tell us how it all started?
MR: Since I was a child, I’ve always been passionate about the visual arts, design, architecture (mostly the visual language of architecture). I remember that, during my high school years, I would spend my free time visiting museums, or reading on the Internet about the ongoing exhibitions in Milan. I was constantly looking for something new to see, something different, something curious. That was and still is the way I learn about photography and visual communication in general. Then, my academic studies are also related to this issue. I believe that if you really want to explore something because you love it or whatever your motivation is, it is impossible to just do it in class. Exchanging my ideas with other people has been a key factor in my artistic development. During the last years I could get close to and understand what I really like thanks to dialogue with people who are passionate about what they are studying, where they are working or simply about an issue. It literally opened my eyes.

BC: What drives your artistic process? How do you go about creating and conceiving a new project?
MR: Definitely nature, the relationships with passionate people, and in general peace. When I feel good, in a place I really like, my mind starts creating and conceives an idea. I can not quite explain it, because I do not know how it happens. It is something automatic perhaps, I am still learning to go from the initial inspiration to the practical realization of the idea. Ideas are not immediate. It takes time, energy and a lot of patience.

BC: What are your favourite photographic genres to explore at the moment?
MR: To be honest, I am still studying so I would not say I focus only on one genre. I started as a street photographer, but I have been drawn to exploring more styles. Professionally, my interests are oriented towards product, gastronomic and architecture photography. It is still a work in progress, but I am using all my free time to train and hopefully become a professional photographer in the next few years. My biggest dream would be to combine my social studies with the art of photography.

BC: You are currently pursuing a degree in Political and Social Science, Communication and Society. How does that tie in with your visual work?
MR: In my academic career, besides the economic and sociological aspects, I have been able to study subjects related to the audiovisual sector. Photography was born as a hobby that I would like to cultivate also professionally. I took many many courses and I am still learning, but there is nothing like continuous exercise and experimentation. I am strongly convinced that Photography is an ongoing process for everyone.

BC: Do you work exclusively with photography or does your artistic practice extend to include other media as well?
MR: When I was a child I used to draw a lot. I was 7 years old when I attended a course in atelier, it was about painting, something for kids. I love painting but now I am not used to it anymore. I hope that soon I will be back at it, it is magic, a therapeutic craft.

BC: Was there any important experience that significantly impacted your artistic vision? Perhaps a trip, a course.
MR: I think that travelling always inspires me a lot. When we were able to travel freely, close or far it does not matter, I could appreciate different realities here in Italy or around the world. With time, I know that everything I saw and visited has changed my perspective. I am not just talking about photography or creative ideas, but also about life, where I am heading to. An extremely significant experience for me was the time I spent in Mexico City in 2019. I travelled that far on my own, and, when I had just arrived, there were many new things to discover, a different situation to adapt to, people to meet. It was something that I had desired so much yet, at the same time, it felt like going to school, as I had to get used to a different reality. I understand now in retrospect that the deep relationships I established with that world and its people helped me figure out what I want to do with myself and also with photography.

BC: Lastly, do you have any anticipations on new projects that you are working on at the moment?
MR: Until the end of this challenging situation, I will continue to express my thoughts and feelings through the connection between nature and photography. For example, I have recently been portraying my friends and their sensations when performing activities in contact with nature.
As well as being pure photographic experimentation, it is my way to ‘stay alive’, to remember that we can keep growing and that something good can come out of it, no matter the distance, fear or uncertainty.

To see Marta’s work together with the other featured artists, check out the digital exhibition Sign of the Times – live at (prints of Marta’s photographs are available for purchase on the website)

Follow the exhibition on social media (Instagram) on @relevoarts and @artgateblog

Find Marta on Instagram @martaroncalli

Published by Bianca Callegaro

Bianca Callegaro is the co-founder, editor and manager of Art Gate blog. She is currently studying History of Art with Film and Television Studies (MA) at the University of Glasgow. She is a columnist for Glasgow University Magazine and volunteers as a museum guide at the Hunterian Art Gallery.