Q&A: Salvo Toscano, photographer

Originally from Sicily, Salvo Toscano moved to the UK in 1994 “just for a couple of years.” After some time in Bristol and a couple of other places, he ended up in Reading in 2001 and stayed until July 2021 when he moved back to Italy. Having spent time working in IT and telecoms and a spell as a stay at home dad, he is now a photographer who has worked alongside Jelly and regularly exhibited at the Whiteknights Studio Trail.

What have you missed most in lockdown? 
Aside from the impact on photography of course? Not being able to hop on a train to London to enjoy a nice exhibition and not being able to sit in a café for some people watching.

What’s your favourite thing about Reading? 
People who, on a variety of fronts, endeavour to provide alternative and interesting ways to live and experience life in Reading, making it a more engaging place than just another dull clone town.There are many challenges and, to a certain extent, what feels like resistance, but I feel one of the learnings from the lockdown will have to be that we look at different ways of experiencing urban life. The focus on what constitutes and contributes to a better quality of life will have to be adjusted.

What’s your earliest memory of food?
My grandmother in the country house frying arancini on a summer evening… and me eating them.

When did you discover a passion for photography, and what triggered it?
As a little kid I wanted to use my dad’s shiny camera but I was not allowed, so I made do with a little plastic toy one. Later on I got a proper one as a present. This was in the pre-internet days, so help and information was pretty limited. You had to rely on hints and tips from friends and the occasional magazine; lots of experimenting, trial and error, keeping an eye on not wasting film frames and saving money for supplies and lab costs. Not to mention people wondering what the heck I was taking photos of (this carries on to these days, albeit to a lesser extent!). In my adult years, bored with just the technical aspects, I started spending more time researching bodies of work and learning more about photography as a creative and expressive tool.

What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
A recent best must be at Les Apothicaires, an excellent small restaurant in Lyon. It was a superb combination of service, food, wine, atmosphere and people. For me a great meal more than just food and many different elements have to click: the whole atmosphere plays an important role. I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy many great meals, be it a Georgian feast in somebody’s home in Tbilisi or in some randomly found izakaya in Tokyo. But all of them have that same thing in common: the combination of a great convivial atmosphere and good food.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party? 
The cast of Lost In Translation.

Do you think the proliferation of cameraphones, and social media, has made people better or worse photographers? 
Probably neither. We see more great photos and more bad photos: we are exposed to a flood of images everyday and arguably we have become desensitised. Also, social media’s pressure and need for instant gratification has resulted in an abundance of the same kind of images and “looks” (see for example Insta Repeat). Cameraphones are ubiquitous, convenient. They do the job. They are tools and we will use them badly or well. Ultimately, “better” and “worse” are relative concepts. Photographically speaking, there was lot of tosh well before the advent of smartphones: it was just less visible.

Where will you go for your first meal out after all this?
I’ll be lacking in originality here but it has to be Clay’s! (Nandana, if you’re reading this, can I book a table now please?)

What, to your mind, distinguishes a snapshot from a photograph?
Nothing, in my opinion: a snapshot is a photograph. I understand that many of us tend to see the snapshot as a rushed, low quality, often vernacular image. Probably many are, but there’s nothing wrong with that. However, I can also look at a “snapshot” as an immediate, visceral response to an emotion, a visual language or aesthetic that can be as or more expressive than a “proper” photograph”.

A photograph, if you mean a technically good, well composed and constructed image can be immensely boring if, in my eyes, it doesn’t draw me in. Or it can be beautifully made and so expressive that I feel completely captivated. We can play with semantics, but they’re both good and valid, people enjoy making either, they serve a purpose and it is a matter of context how you want to see or use them.

What one film can you watch over and over again? 
Spirited Away.

What is your favourite smell? 
Fig trees, possibly with the smell of the sea thrown in.

Who would play you in the film of your life? 
Andy Garcia.

If you could only shoot in colour or black and white for the rest of your life, which would you choose and why? 
Colour, even though I have used – and still use – black and white for a lot of my personal work. I’ve been shooting in colour more during the past years and I enjoy the challenge of seeing things differently. If necessary I can always convert into monochrome: is that cheating?

What’s the finest crisp (make and flavour)?
Tyrrell’s sea salt and black pepper.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
To have good people around you.

Tell us something people might not know about you.
I can make a very tasty caponata (a Sicilian dish made with aubergines).

Where is your happy place?
With my people and out shooting, although not necessarily together.

Which photographers, living or dead, do you most admire? 
It can be a very long list! It’s also a changeable one, as it reflects my thinking and mood through certain phases and moments. To put a few known names here: Todd Hido; Luigi Ghirri; Daidō Moriyama; Alec Soth; Rania Matar; Rinko Kawauchi; William Eggleston; Suda Issei; Koudelka; Stephen Shore; Letizia Battaglia; Nobuyoshi Araki; Paolo Roversi; Irving Penn; Robert Adams; Diane Arbus; Sally Mann and Nan Goldin. There are many more whose work I love, who inspire me and grace my Instagram feed.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure when it comes to food?
Granita gelsi con panna e brioche – mulberry granita with whipped cream and brioche – as breakfast when in Sicily.

Describe yourself in three words.
Obsessive, introvert, liberal elite.


2 thoughts on “Q&A: Salvo Toscano, photographer

  1. Caroline Gratrix

    I love Salvo. This interview is great.

    I hope you continue this series 😊

    Sent from my iPhone so please excuse any typing errors or predictive text mistakes, thank you.


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