Zurich photographer and filmmaker Alberto Venzago masterfully shuttles between the worlds of reportage and advertising, documentary, and fiction. In gripping photo essays and films, he casts a critical gaze on world events, while in parallel creating carefully styled imagery for global brands and world-famous stars. Venzago’s first museum exhibition in The Zurich Museum of Design showcases his work in an opulent retrospective.
From portraits of Andy Warhol, Jean-Luc Godard, and Penélope Cruz to a voodoo ceremony in Benin, from scenes within the Pentagon to indigenous people in the rainforests of Sarawak, from geishas in Tokyo to a lone iceberg in Antarctica—Alberto Venzago has seemingly had half the world in front of his Leica. This self-taught photographer (not to mention filmmaker) has traveled the globe more times than he can remember, always in search of that next unforgettable moment.
Taking Pictures, Making Pictures is also a book published by Steidl that presents nearly 200 images—many as yet unpublished—selected from the thousands Venzago has made over the past decades and shows his astute ability to transform the people he photographs into actors who perform for his lens.
Perhaps the best example of Venzago’s rare talent is his images of the Yakuza gang in Tokyo, one of the world’s most powerful crime syndicates. The result of five years’ persistence on his part, no little charisma and (in Wim Wenders’ words) his “optimistic sparkling laugh,” Venzago’s images of this secret world include private New Year’s Eve celebrations, Yakuza boss Masahiro Furushio’s office, and even a gang member’s hand missing a fingertip (a common gesture to request forgiveness or express submission). Regardless of his subjects, from the oppressed and exploited to the rich and beautiful, this comprehensive project proves Venzago’s claim that “My studio is the world.”
About the Author
“An authentic image is more important than a beautiful image,” is how Zurich-based photographer and filmmaker Alberto Venzago sums up his philosophy. Only late, at the age of 26 – after studying therapeutic education and the clarinet – did the self-taught photographer launch his career, but success was soon his. Venzago’s photo reportages were soon published in magazines such as Life, The Sunday Times, Stern, and Geo. He also worked for four years for the Magnum photo agency: Alberto Venzago made his name as a “concerned photographer”. His dedicated work has won several prizes, such as the ICP Infinity Award. (Ex Capa Award)
For the son of an intellectual family, practically no story was too dangerous – neither organized crime in Japan nor the revolution in Iran –, but after many war reportages came the realization: “Ce n’est pas une image juste, c’est juste une image.”
However, he can also make use of his many years of experience as a photojournalist in less dangerous situations. Alberto Venzago thus moves effortlessly between film and photography, art and commerce, and has no reservations. He photographed Switzerland’s anti-racism campaign, for example, and documented projects for the ABB group and Credit Suisse worldwide. Venzago is the official photographer of the London Symphony Orchestra, has worked for the Boston Symphony Orchestra – and has even designed handbags for Navyboot, the Swiss fashion label.
Alberto Venzago has also worked as a filmmaker for about twenty years. “First I had to know what constitutes a good picture,” he says. “Only then did I feel mature enough to make films. And this is where the circle closes: music is a recurring theme in my work in films.”
For his work in film, Alberto Venzago has won several international awards, including Gold at the New York Film Festival for the anti-racism campaign of the Swiss Confederation as well as the EDI (2004, 2007, 2009), Switzerland’s most important prize for advertising, industrial and corporate films.
Besides the expressiveness of his visual language, Venzago’s affable nature is undoubtedly an important success factor: “I may be a lone wolf, but filming is teamwork: you can’t whistle a symphony,” he observes, grinning.
Alberto Venzago: Taking Pictures – Making Pictures
Fri, 9 Jul 2021 / Sun, 2 Jan 2022
Zurich Museum of Design