Giovanni Savino Photography | Blog

....after thirty years in the business of creating images, the best and probably only advice I can give is: work hard, enjoy the journey and worry less about the destination...


Street photography and ethical behavior in the age of street surveillance

April 03, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Let me start by saying that I am a big fan of “ethical behavior”, something I try to practice in all my daily activities, including photography, and I highly value in anybody else.

Reading an article by Joerg Colberg “The Ethics of Street Photography”, I agree with most of what he writes, but, based on my personal experience of photographing in the street of New York City, a few observations popped to mind.


Colberg writes:” Over the past few years, the public’s understanding of photography appears to have changed considerably in various aspects. In particular, people appear to have become much more wary of being photographed without being asked. Of course, this would appear to be ironic given that there are surveillance cameras everywhere. But I think one needs to understand that there is a difference between these two. If you enter a store that you know has surveillance cameras you implicitly give your consent to being filmed or photographed.”


I agree. And trying to focus back to “strictly street” privacy issues (that is photographing in public spaces), I share the following, from the Big Apple, where I live:

“…there are now approximately than 15,000 surveillance cameras in public places in Manhattan as a whole. On average, that's ten cameras per city block.”

Please be aware I am quoting an old article written in 2005, which also states:” Times Square contained (at least) 258 surveillance cameras, fully twice the number we spotted in 2000 and more than three times the number spotted by the NYCLU in 1998. In May 2005, we counted 604 of them.”


And, from the same old article an interesting clarification: “If the number of surveillance cameras in Times Square has dramatically increased over the last five years, it is because more and more private companies are putting up more and more cameras. The inability of these cameras to deter or prevent crime is no obstacle at all to private companies or the security firms that they've hired. Private companies don't care if crimes take place on their premises, provided that they have the insurance to cover their loses. And getting insurance (of all kinds) is much easier when you've installed surveillance cameras, because they can be used to cover a very broad range of risks, including those associated with fires and explosions, slip-and-fall accidents, theft by employees, workplace sabotage, strikes, etc. etc.”

Again, that was the situation in 2005.


So, I think it is quite clear that we are all constantly being photographed, like it or not, all the time, in public spaces, without our consent, for whatever reason.


I read on Joerg Colberg’s article: “In actuality, it would be impractical to ask every person in the frame whether they’re OK with a picture. That said, if someone clearly does not want to be photographed or if they are for their photo to be deleted after the fact, then I do think those wishes have to be respected.”

I am not sure I entirely agree with this, as the privilege (or the right) to have a photo erased could be solely exercised by asking a photographer whom you have actually noticed taking a picture of you, while Law Enforcement and corporations, constantly monitoring and recording your activities, cannot even be confronted with such a request.


Besides, Law Enforcement/ corporate recording is mostly automated and remote, usually from a high vantage point, on a pole or a building wall, so most people, don’t even think (or feel particularly aware) of it.


I often ask myself questions about the degree and necessity of intrusion in one’s privacy. While photographing in the streets, I establish borders to my “art driven” intrusiveness, simply based on common sense and respect for my fellow citizens, in an antithetical attitude of what Colbert defines “macho culture of the Winogrand era street photographers”.

But a security camera can “unobtrusively” close-in a detail fifteen blocks away and there are no information available on the ethical righteousness of the person at the controls, nor a clear indication of how the image recorded will be used and by whom.


Perhaps it’s just my own problem, not being able to accept and digest the great number of Civil Liberties I am witnessing being constantly eroded, silently and often without any widespread public indignation in our society, but I don’t really think a “street photographer” should be attributed such great responsibility in the invasion of privacy, nor that he should be penalized (by asking him to erase a photograph) until the indiscriminate and rule-less visual surveillance going on in our cities is also subjected to an accurate scrutiny and much firmer rules.


An important element in this “case study”, which I experience daily, is that of visibility and presumed purpose of the act of photographing.


If I take a photo in the street I am visible and my purpose is mostly assumed to be a desire to monetize through my photographic activity while not offering a monetary compensation or the option not to be photographed to the subjects in my frame.


If Law Enforcement and corporations photograph us, from a high vantage point, undetected by us, we tend to think it is strictly for “security” purposes, to protect us from something hiding amongst ourselves, hence we condone it and even support it, as a clearly ethical and certainly necessary image gathering exercise, perhaps a little annoying, but useful to us and the whole community.


Mayor Bloomberg recently said we’ll soon have drones in our cities, taking even more pictures of us, from even better, hard to reach vantage points. He also said: “that’s the future…there is no going back”.


An interesting question we could ask ourselves is: why someone would ask you to erase a photo you take of them in a public place?

Any number of reasons, of course, but, in my opinion, mostly because of an increased popular awareness of the power, the implications, the dangers of being photographed today while retaining no saying in the fast, potentially worldwide distribution, the type of usage, the manipulation, the de-contextualizing an image of us can be subjected to by any unknown individual.

All of which is not only absolutely possible but also fairly unavoidable in our visually hyper-connected digital world.


Today, open access to the photographic evidence of our existence is something particularly uncomfortable to accept for many of us but increasingly difficult to avoid.

Actually, I think deleting a street photo of an unwilling subject of ours won’t help matters very much.

However, courtesy, a friendly approach and civility always go a long way, and the picture can even get erased in the end. No big deal, 99% of the time.


Whether a photo deletion happens or not, this whole issue rings one more alarm call invoking for a different approach to our lives and all our activities: a reality check about who we are and how we interact with one another, a plea to master fast advancing technologies and not be mastered and manipulated by them, to try much harder exercising good judgment and common sense in all we do.


Things I do when I don't take pictures

February 04, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

I spend my time experimenting with electronic waveforms, creating sounds on the Synthi AKS, a venerable first generation analog synthesizer by EMS, extensively used by Brian Eno, Robert Fripp and many others...

It has been my prized possession for years and, by now, I know it intimately. And, yes, I love spending time with it.

This Synthi, housed in a retro plastic briefcase, has been my favorite partner in crime for the creation of music scores and soundtracks in several of my own films. To know more about this forefather of electronic music start from here

My small, big achievement in 2012

December 30, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Georgette proudly holding her book

A couple of years ago, in a small Dominican town near the Haitian border, I met and became friend with Georgette Michelen and her family.


Georgette lives in a beautiful, enormous wooden house her father built at the beginning of last century: “The House of the Sun”.


The house has thirty-three external doors and it shines in a decayed, almost surreal beauty, replete of a long, fascinating oral history, virtually embedded in its walls.


With Georgette’s blessing, I embarked in a completely self-financed project: an extensive photographic exploration of the house, for nearly two months.

During my daily visits, I audio-recorded many hours of Georgette’s recollections and photographed the entire house both with traditional techniques and also using VR panoramic photography equipment.


My work was primarily motivated by a sense of impermanence I shared with Georgette; a feeling, perhaps a certainty, that this house and the marvelous mnemonic capsule it embodied wasn’t to last much longer due to Georgette’s age as well as to a brutal agenda of urban “modernization”, quite rampant in many Dominican cities nowadays.


While brainstorming with Georgette on how to save and protect the house in a likely bleak –looking future, I promised her that I would try to edit the best shots as well as some of her thoughts and recollections, derived from the many audio recordings, into a book.


Hopefully, though the book and some web presence, such as an interactive VR panoramic tour of the building, we would find someone interested and able to help preserve the incredible house her father built.


Two years and many working hours later, on my own and with the help of several friends of mine, both a self-published book and a website now exist: my own, humble contribution to preserve at least some of the images, sounds and memories associated with this wonderful building, if not the building itself.


Although a powerful architecture-loving magnate has not contacted Georgette, to help her save The House of the Sun, yet, I recently had the immense pleasure of traveling to see her in the Dominican Republic and present her with a copy of the book.


As she turned the pages, almost in disbelief, her face glowing, she would only stop smiling to thank me over and over again for all my hard work and commitment.


Unfortunately I haven’t been able to raise any real money or find anyone to finance the restoration of the building yet, but as I left Georgette inside her mastodon, crumbling home, delightedly immersed in admiring and enjoying what she already called “her” book, I felt this probably was to be remembered as one of my biggest achievements of 2012.


And indeed, this felt a damn good reason to keep doing what I had done for the past thirty years: tell stories worth telling, through my images.

New Year Resolution: Achieve more with less

December 28, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

I am not ashamed to say that I never went to photography school.

I began learning visual story telling, as a child, at the Uffizi Museum, in my native Florence, where I was fortunate enough to gain access out of public hours, and I could admire many master painters in the silence of those empty galleries.

Anything else I was able to learn, in photography, I learned “hands on”, by doing it. At first assisting some wonderful image-crafters, and eventually building up my own techniques and conceptual trajectories.

After many years spent photographing an extremely wide variety of subjects and finding my personal style, my desire is now to focus mainly on portraiture. I feel that a portrait is one of the most concise and often most effective ways to “tell the story”.

In a portrait there is a subtle and yet extremely powerful interaction of two elements: character and light.  

It is a challenge to achieve more with less.

DSC_0308 In portraiture, one of my strongest inspirations is French baroque painter Georges de La Tour, as it can perhaps be seen in some images from my recent body of work “Rural Portraits”, which I accomplished during the last couple of weeks of 2012 in very remote locations of the Dominican Republic.

In all my work, and especially in my portraits, to quote Cartier-Bresson, I strive not to be ever separated from the real world and from humanity, trying to create images that might inspire or simply focus for a moment the viewer’s ever-shortening attention span to the complexity, the poetry and the mystery of human condition.



Strobist without a strobe: New York Street Portraits

November 13, 2012  •  Leave a Comment


One of the magic moments I periodically come across while  photographing the streets at the bottom of New York City urban canyons is when the sun reflects a harsh, almost strobe-like strip of light onto the face of my subjects.

I have my favorite spots in the city, where, on a sunny day, at a specific time, I can expect a similar illumination to happen.

I guess what I really find intriguing is that different combinations of sun, reflections and shadows can offer me, naturally, a light effect that I would usually try to recreate in a more controlled environment with lighting tools such as powerful strobes, grids and snoots.

Capturing this specific natural light phenomenon in an otherwise very dark street, easily allows me to isolate my subjects from their surroundings and focus solely on their expressions, movements, attire, just as if they where on a theater stage under a spotlight.

They become unique, lone interpreters of their own being, at least for the instant my camera shutter opens and closes, in a bustling New York City street.






See more HERE:

Sandy and I: A difficult relationship

November 05, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

I live on the very northern tip of Manhattan, so I have been counting my blessings, as we did not experience any major inconveniences from the storm up here.

On the very day the storm hit, I received several request from national and international news outlets asking me to go out there and cover it.
 With my greatest frustration, I had to turn everybody down as I had been booked weeks before by a French production company to shoot something completely unrelated to Sandy…

As it happens, the French producer was in town already, stuck in a hotel without power or water.
So, after lending my own studio as a temporary production office, we ventured into New Jersey as soon as they re-opened the George Washington Bridge.

Although the images we were shooting in New Jersey were completely unrelated to the storm, I was able to take 1 (yes, one) decent photograph, from a ramp leading to the Lincoln Tunnel, illustrating an eerie and unusual Manhattan skyline, the Empire State being the only lit building.

After another couple of days of growing frustration at not being able to cover the events, still at work for the French production company, I finally managed to break free and reach Coney Island. There I photographed the painful clean-up operation, the sand-covered boardwalk and the many story-telling, somewhat surreal, everyday life object the storm had left scattered along the beach.

See a slideshow HERE








Pride in America

August 24, 2012  •  Leave a Comment


In an America increasingly plagued with Christian fundamentalism, bigotry, right wing extremism and "plain old fashion" racism, it is indeed a reason to rejoice, whether one is gay or not, to see it is still possible to parade and openly state your sexuality in the streets of a major city.

I think these street portraits I shot at various gay pride events in and around New York City, reiterate the fact that America, despite a frightening number of people opposing sexual equality and an historical, widespread American Puritanism revival, is still a democracy, where we all have the right to come out of the closet, with our sexual orientation and persona, more freely than in many other parts of the world.

Having said that, here in America, many visible and invisible discriminatory factors against gay people sadly remain, first and foremost the stubborn and completely absurd unwillingness to recognize and legalize same sex marriage nationwide.

With this body of work I point my attention towards the conceptual paradox, unless we simply want to call it hypocrisy, of a society allowing a public display of your sexuality in the streets while continuing to legally deny you the most basic human right: the right to love and marry whoever you want, regardless of gender.



Ms Colombia

















Summer in the City

August 06, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Summer in the City is a body of work documenting various aspects of summer life in the inner city (mostly in the Bronx), entirely shot and post-processed using an iPhone.
My favorite and perhaps most visually dynamic subject, was the "hydrant battles", going on in the sweltering streets, being enjoyed by children and adults alike.

In this particular instance, working with an iPhone enabled me to get closer to my subjects and shoot more candidly than I probably could have done with a professional camera.

Also, trough the iPhone I was able to post one-two images everyday to my Instagram stream (@magneticart), establishing a constructive dialogue with many of my followers and experiencing first hand the real strength of the Instagram platform, which is not, as some believe, in its gimmicky camera filters effects, but rather in its powerful "instant broadcasting" capabilities to large, worldwide audiences.














Giovanni Savino Stuck Here



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