Today on a balmy spring day I’m in a charming coffee shop in the West Village (New York City) in the company of an extraordinary Italian artist, Alexo Wandael, a photographer to be precise, to whom I asked, after having loved his works, to tell us about the path from his city native Bolzano, for many years here in New York to pursue his passion through which he tells, with some wonderful portraits, of an Italy courageous seeking its fortune here in the New World.
Alexo, what prompted you to come to the US at that time?
I studied architecture in Ferrara then I moved to Berlin where I worked for three years as an architect, then after a brief experience of three months in Los Angeles, in 2000 at the age of 27 years, I came to New York. Here I started working as an architect for seven years, but always with a passion for photography and so I decided to just take the path of photography in fashion and fine art, and shows and exhibitions in the gallery.
What is photography for you?
Photography was precisely the key to run away from architecture, then a reconnection with the human relationship with other people and to not have to be locked in a cubicle all day. It was an escape from the world of the cold and boring architecture office.
I know you’re an avid traveler and have also made a great motorcycle trip through America a couple of years ago. Tell me a bit about that experience and what it left you with?
It was a beautiful and unforgettable experience to travel for 29 days alone on motorcycle. A one-way trip from New York to San Francisco with the goal of discovery of America “inside”; that is not the modern coastal America that we all know, but rather the truer and more real, perhaps a bit more provincial but with immense spaces and evocative glimpses.
An experience that made me grow a lot cause I could only rely on myself even in difficult times in which I also was afraid of not making it, like when I had to cross the desert at 2 pm in Arizona driving for hours at very high temperatures, or drive under a sudden violent storm, without any protection, with the risk of hail beating against your head.
Of all the crazy places I visited, I liked very much Utah and Arizona that are incredible and vast areas, which are so peaceful, but feeling like maybe Wyoming stayed inside me because it still seems like the far West, where people wear big hats and cowboy boots, with guns attached to their belt. The people I met were curious and incredulous that I really came from New York on that old bike.
Traveling is one of the greatest riches of which a man can treasure.
What idea do you have of the concept of man’s freedom?
Freedom now is rather limited. I’m reading a book of Seneca the Younger which is called De Brevitate Vitae and time, that is the most important thing that a human being can have, coincides with freedom. Today unfortunately men are not free. There is individualism and almost everyone, rich or not, lives to work and to maintain the standard of living that he has carved out, often beyond his possibilities. Too often we become slaves of ourselves and so no longer free. Moreover social media have made us even more lonely and dependent and if on the one hand they are useful, on the other they can be abused to the point that it seems that everything depends on appearances, and again this is not freedom.
Tell me what and how did the project ITALIANY come to be?
The project ITALIANY was born to talk about this outflow of talent from Italy and so began from the fact that I had already photographed Italians here in New York such as Roberto Bolle, Jennifer Missoni and other talented people. So I decided to give life to this project talking about all those Italians who have took this courageous step to leave their country, their comfort zone and friends to come to America and take risks and get involved to try to follow the dreams.
Who are your ITALIANY?
That was the interesting part cause I tried to give a 360 degree view of society, from artists, to cuisine, to lawyers, to doctors, to bankers without getting stuck in certain categories or certain types of people who have been more successful or those who have become more famous. And the portrait of an Italy that bravely rolls up his sleeves to improve. Even if not all succeed in the task, however, it is always an act of courage at the center of these portraits.
My ITALIANY are a little captain courageous.
From April 1, here in New York your show REVEALING MUSES WANDAEL will open at Lilac Gallery Fifth Avenue. Will you tell me about this project?
It is an interesting project and it was born when I came into contact with the curators of this gallery, the Lilac Gallery and they were fascinated by some of my projects and bravely decided to put together three different ones but with similar guidelines and so now we will see how it will be perceived by the public.
In detail, there will be a project on the veils, then another called High Muse, that I had made in the early 2000s on mannequins and another dating back to 2010 which is called Light Emphasis, that is photographs where there is a great use of white space and negative space in the shot. The exhibition will be a small retrospective journey in my photographic world, especially for the fine art aspect and will be open until 30th of April.
Your stage name sounds very good, although not really Italian. How did it come to be?
(Laughs) I thank you for asking. So my real name is very Italian, Alessandro Cacopardo and my stage name is a composition of two names: Alexo and Wandael, which comes from the name of my grandmother Wanda, with whom I grew up. When she passed away, ie the period of my transition from architecture to photography, I decided to pay her a tribute by making her name my last name, because I always thought that she would become my guardian angel, adding EL ’cause at that time I was reading a book about angels explaining how all the angels have a name ending in EL and so, I became WANDAEL.
Alessandro instead became Alex with the O at the end that my ex girlfriend at that time suggested to add, so it became ALEXO and it was the name by which I always was signing when I was in college.
What do you think is an important ingredient for success in the US?
Perseverance and definitely knowing how to adapt to various situations which are not always easy ’cause the US and New York in particular, will always put you to the test and if you persevere with great capacity for adaptation, I think you have a good chance of success. In this also we Italians and Europeans in general, we have a leg up, due to our cultural background.
So according to you then Italians here can succeed where they failed in the Bel Paese, while doing exactly the same thing?
This is a good question! I would say that here meritocracy is very strong and I think it is what distinguishes this country from our own, which is still very crystallized in how you must necessarily be very “connected” in order to achieve important things. Instead here even if you don’t have connections, but have great ideas and want to work, you can succeed in doing them quickly and prove your worth.
Bingo! So to close, your next commitments beyond the shows where do they bring you?
Tomorrow I leave for Los Angeles to take the third part of ITALIANY then I come back here in New York for the opening of the exhibition and then from May on I will dedicate myself to the exhibition of ITALIANY in Los Angeles and the related book, which encompasses all the shots New York, LA, Miami, and which I hope to release next year.
Great, then I wish you great luck!
Thanks and cracks and good luck to you for this new magazine!
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