Stefano Perego is an architecture photographer and author of the book Soviet Asia. The Italian photographer is particularly fascinated by abandoned buildings, and he travels around the world to document their unique atmosphere, aesthetic, and the stories that they tell. In a Q&A with Martin, Stefano talks about how he got into photography, travelling, and how to get a good shot.
When was the first time that a picture you took of a building made you feel proud?
In winter 2006 I noticed a huge, abandoned factory in an industrial area not far from the place where I lived. I felt the need to go inside, curious to discover what the interior looked like. Once inside, I saw an incredible scenery: empty spaces and huge columns that made the building look like a steel cathedral with impressive perspectives and geometries. The frozen tones and the silence were interrupted by the sound of falling drops of melting snow, which created pools of water with mesmerizing reflections. I felt something that was completely new to me – now I know it was inspiration.
In that moment I decided to buy my first camera and to go back to that place to capture those sensations and keep them with me forever. That was the beginning of my career as a photographer.
Do you remember what sparked your interest in architecture?
After my first exploration with a camera, I consistently photographed abandoned buildings of different kinds – first in Italy and then in the rest of Europe. In the meantime, I developed a strong interest in the architectural styles from the second half of the 20th century. During a trip to document abandoned structures in the countries that were formerly part of Yugoslavia, I was amazed by the raw concrete buildings and monuments scattered all across the area. That was without any doubt the turning point in my photography.
Why did you decide to photograph modernist and brutalist architecture?
First of all, because of their look. Whether you like them or not, you can’t take your eyes off of their unconventional beauty and their powerful visual impact. Architectural styles tell a lot about an era and its artistic value, and they show the idea of modernity of a country – even of countries that don’t exist anymore, like the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. These buildings have futuristic shapes, they are located in the present context, and their facades, which are often ruined and untouched, make them look like they’re stuck in the past. It’s a very interesting mix that I love to photograph as a whole.
And of course the materiality of raw concrete is unique.
How do you plan your photography trips?
Before traveling for my photography, I spend a lot of time searching buildings online, in books, and using satellite images to explore large areas of countries. I then create a very detailed map with the coordinates of the structures and the best time to photograph them, using specific apps to determine the time of the day with the most suitable light. This can take days or even weeks, but it really helps with doing a great job on site and enables me to see a huge amount of buildings in a small number of days.
What’s your routine to get a good shot?
I take my time to observe the building to get familiar with it and to detect the most impressive angles. Then, I open my tripod and enjoy the process of creating a balanced and powerful composition.
What’s your favourite building in Milan?
Without any doubt, the complex of houses and offices by Luigi Moretti, built between 1949 and 1955. A real masterpiece of modernist architecture, way ahead of its time.