An Intriguing Roman Holiday: Jeff Bark's "Paradise Garage" and More

On the occasion of the summer edition of Altaroma, the Roman event dedicated to ready-to-wear and Couture was keen to show itself in a new light. If the event is in the process of reinventing itself and now aims to be a social platform dedicated to brands of independent creators, its side program was especially successful in promoting culture and creation in the wider sense of the term. 

Jeff Bark, Closed Set, 2018. Photo: JEFF BARK - PARADISE GARAGE.

Thus, this latest edition not only built on the reputation of an internationally renowned artist by welcoming the American photographer Jeff Bark, but also focused on supporting young designers-in-the-making by promoting the academic curriculum of the Accademia Costume e Moda directed by Lupo Lanzara – a historical fashion school that has trained some of the industry's leading creative thinkers, including Alessandro Michele, Gucci's current artistic director. But it is also an edition marked by its desire to give a platform of creative expression to people who do not have this privilege: Artisanal Intelligence, a constantly evolving project dedicated to craftsmanship, has highlighted designs co-produced with African refugees, thus showing the need to not only promote a savoir-faire from elsewhere but to empower the designers of tomorrow and their respective culture by giving them a space to showcase their ideas and designs. 

In this multidisciplinary and multicultural context, Jeff Bark's "Paradise Garage" exhibition at Palazzo delle Esposizioni made a strong statement and impression. Through a solo exhibition that will run until the end of the month, Bark has demonstrated his love for photography and Italian culture. Somewhere between realism and fantasy, his photographs – which are all staged inside his garage in Upstate New York – borrow the visual codes (such as colorimetry, chiaroscuro, and the notion of perspective) from the great painters of the Renaissance and Baroque, mainly with Italian but also Flemish accents, while nurturing a radically contemporary and ethereal narrative. More than forty works by Jeff Bark are currently on display at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni and are worth a visit for all lovers of Italian photography and culture. We took advantage of a panel discussion with the American photographer organized by Alessio de'Navasques, the curator of the exhibition, to understand this project's captivating and compelling universe. Here's what he had to say. 

Left: Jeff Bark, Just After Hour, 2018. Right: Jeff Bark, Little Romeo, 2019. Photos: JEFF BARK - PARADISE GARAGE.

On his exhibition at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, "Paradise Garage."

"All the photos were taken inside my garage – that's why the exhibition is called that. I have a house that is near the forest. In the morning, I go to the garage and, there, my imagination begins to work: all the locations are in my mind. I wanted to glorify the banal, to see if I could recreate a place that seemed real, but which would, at the same time, confuse the viewer in a certain way. In fact, everyone can do something personal and create their own "Paradise Garage": what makes me go on every day is to create something alternative to reality."

On how Italy influenced his body of work. 

"I lived in Milan. It was my first time in Europe because my family traveled little. I loved its grey light so much; it is completely different from the Californian sun. I can basically say that my photography was born with Italian light. I also love Rome, but I visited it only for a few days, so I basically decided to recreate Rome – or at least the feeling that this city gives me – inside my garage in upstate New York."

On how our approach to photography has changed. 

"Fashion photography is aimed at giving you sort of a fleeting feeling – it's made for the here and now – while art photography’s intention is to create levels of meaning that make the image deep and fascinating. Especially today, we're overwhelmed by fashion editorial or fashion-related pictures, and digital photography in general. Before, photography was used only on special occasions, such as holidays, birthdays, etc…Nowadays everyone takes pictures – everyone is a photographer now – and I had to find a way to give importance to my photography and to differentiate myself." 

Left: Jeff Bark, Overtime, 2018. Right: Jeff Bark, Hash, 2019. Photos: JEFF BARK - PARADISE GARAGE.

On redefining and challenging traditional photographic practices. 

"I like the physical act of building my own photo sets; it almost makes me feel like a sculptor or a painter. I also enjoy finding objects at the flea markets and trying to understand what feeling they give me, even in relation to the people who owned them previously. Once the set is finished, I look at it and try to imagine how it will evolve. I want to convey emotions with my photography. I don't have any other talent, really (laughs) – I can only take pictures. There is an accidental element and a sort of magic that resides in the fact that I work alone. I don't copy, and I don't ask other people for help. I'm passionate: when I work on my sets and take my pictures, I don't sleep, I don't eat, I'm excited, I think about it all the time. And then, when I'm done, I miss it already."