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Der Greif X MPB: Behind the Image with Valia Russo


Artist Valia Russo, the recipient of our Scholarship for the Guest Room “Photography and Drawing”, gave us an in-depth look into his practice. Valia Russo lives and works between Paris and Arles, and graduated with a Master's degree in photography from the National School of Photography, Arles, in 2022. Der Greif Guest Curators Heather Canlas Rigg & Emmy Lee Wall nominated the young artist for an image of his series “Junkspace”. Here we are sharing more works from the series and insights into the project with questions he generously answered for our community.

This format is brought to you in partnership with MPB, the largest global platform to buy, sell and trade used photo and video kit.

"For this series, I'm intentionally overproducing photographs of these spaces that I pass through in my daily life to compose a large bank of images. Using Photoshop's automatic tools, as well as artificial intelligence, I've created hybrid and absurd compositions." - Valia Russo

Der Greif: Can you tell us the story behind your winning Guest Room image “Tag”?

Valia Russo: I started my project “Junkspace” by wandering in an urban environment that surrounded me. It was a way to observe, and document but also question the urban environment. “Tag” is a montage of seven photographs that merge: a bank front, a clothing shop, an insurance company and a door with writing. I wanted to explore the ambiguity of the 'tag', which refers both to the practice of graffiti as a way of reclaiming urban space and also to a term used in industry as a label for categorizing and collating data.

Der Greif: How does the Guest Room’s theme “Photography & Drawing” relate to your series “Junkspace”?

Valia Russo: My series “Junkspace” explores digital collage. In this project, the drawing part is left to Photoshop, which automatically cuts out or selects the elements according to my photographs. The final composition is shaped by the way the AI reads my images. It’s a kind of collaboration I would say.

Der Greif: Can you expand on the themes that your photography explores? Perhaps you can tell us more about your project centered around "Junkspaces," the term coined by Rem Koolhaas?

Valia Russo: Kem Khoolas describes the junk space as a generic, undifferentiated, uniform and repetitive place, created by globalisation and rapid urbanisation. This type of urbanisation is becoming increasingly common, especially in cities. As a photographer, I'm fascinated by the presence and power of images in those places and also the role of photography in the way we produce and consume those territories. We are surrounded by a constant flow of images, which overwhelm and condition us in often subtle and insidious ways. I want to create images that are not simply faithful representations of reality but propose a reflection on the construction and hybridisation of our environments, as well as on the architecture of the image itself, its fluidity and instability.

Der Greif: What inspires your work?

Valia Russo: Among others the work of photographers like Lucas Blalock, Felicity Hammond, David Brandon Geeting, Miguel Angel Tornero... I’m also really inspired by painters like Sigmar Polke, James Rosenquist, Rauschenberg, Basquiat...

Der Greif: What is the biggest challenge you have faced in photography?

Valia Russo: I would say that making a living with photography is quite challenging.

Der Greif: How do you engage with technology in your work?

Valia Russo: Technology is really at the core of my practice: I’m always wondering: does the trust we place in it, to enhance our environment and ourselves work? Will it be worse? I’m interested in AI and how it’s starting to merge and replace the way we are doing photography. I think as artists and photographers we need to challenge those tools and play with their limits or anomalies to engage and question them.

Der Greif: Lastly, can you tell our community what's next for your practice?

Valia Russo: Right now I’m trying to continue my project “Junkspace”, and I’m still accumulating materials. I’m planning to make a book, and I would love to collaborate with writers which I have already quoted. Also, I would like to explore the relationship of my work with painting and sculpture, which requires a lot of experimentation.

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