America has its legendary Route66.
Italy has its SS9: the Via Aemilia. The oldest artery of the “Bel Paese”, the set for songs, movies, paintings, pictures of Federico Fellini, Vasco Rossi, Francesco Guccini, Luigi Ghirri - just to name a few.
When people could (still) show off trips to the other side of the planet, Pietro Baroni and Davide Bernardi chose to make a beautiful trip from West to East of Italy.
A journey that is - above all - the discovery of stories, faces, places, encounters.
Via Aemilia. Nothing less exotic, one might think.
And yet, when Pietro - photographer, artist and friend, or vice versa, whose work I really admire - told me about his summer, a wonderful experience made of an extravagant and universal humanity emerged from his stories.
The protagonists of Pietro and Davide photos are artisans and farmers, artists and lorry drivers, third generation of immigrants and Italian sovereigns, young and old.
This is a slow journey in the Italian Route66. In the Italian Western. And its people.
Means of transport: Ford Fiesta
Km travelled: 350 in three weeks
Departure: San Donato Milanese
Overnight: houses of friends and unknown people
"And here is the most challenging part of the trip; something that almost no photographers do. Use only one camera for two photographers.
Let another photographer shoot with my camera instead of me? No thank you!"
When you spoke to me about this trip for the first time, I thought it was a beautiful idea, especially for the way you decided to deal with it. How did you come up with it?
The idea was born in front of a café: two friends looking for something to do, together, during the summertime. A photographic project, if possible.
We liked the idea of unknown stories to discover. And we liked the idea of a slow journey.
We first thought to go from Monviso along the Po. But we then realised that the via Aemilia has been told by historical photographers, famous Italian intellectuals; plus, it’s the oldest Roman road! We believed we could have find interesting and fascinating stories along this commercial director. And we were right!
The Roman Via Aemilia starts from Piacenza and arrives in Rimini. The SS9 starts from San Donato. It touches two regions (Lombardia and Emilia-Romagna) and three areas: Lombardia, Emilia and Romagna. Believe me, they do are different!
And here is the most challenging part of the trip; something that almost no photographers do. Use only one camera for two photographers.
Let another photographer shoot with my camera instead of me? No thank you!
You can find a “pair” of directors; you very rarely find a “pair” of photographers.
But we accepted this challenge. We decided it didn’t matter who made the “click”. We should have been good enough to decide together what to shoot and how to do it.
It’s an exercise of lowering the ego and working together; I had to learn deeply to delegate and to trust the other - who does not always do things as you would like.
It was a sort of “couple” exercise (even if we are not).
You learn to trust your partner and you realize that his way can actually be good!
We have never quarrelled in three weeks. That’s weird because we weren’t a “long-date” friends.
There were many moments when Davide took pictures that were not good for me but I learned to trust him. And so he did (I believe!).
For this trip you chose not to sleep in hotels but by people who would welcome you. How did it go? How have you been received?
True. We choose to sleep in people's homes. The decision was part of this very slow journey. Sometimes we slept by friends who were waiting for us, sometimes we found people hosting us thanks to the word of mouth and through advertisements in local newspapers.
Yes, local newspapers have made us great pages!
I can say I travelled a lot. But for sure this has been one of the most emotionally beautiful journeys.
For the first time I have travelled differently. Usually I travel either for work – where I have to follow precise itineraries, I am told what I have to do, how to do it… Or I travel for tourism. And in this case it happens that you want to see as much as possible, the most famous, the most beautiful places. We did the opposite.
We haven’t done anything "touristy"; we haven’t seen anything beautiful in the conventional sense of the word.
We wanted to meet the everyday life. Everyday people.
We had no concern about the time. The motto was - as a friend of mine says - "go with the flow".
And it actually was a flow: when you know a person, you chat with him/her, then you sleep at his/her place. And then it happens she/he knows someone else that would be happy to host you. It becomes a chain. We can say we kind of experimented the famous "degrees of separation".
And people, well, they were all extremely welcoming.
They were curious about us, about our project but also had a strong desire to tell their stories, and feel important.
The Route 66 crosses America and the "right" way to travel it is said to be from east to west (right, you did west to east). It is a piece of history that entered the collective imagination thanks to the work of great American writers, musicians and directors. The Via Aemilia is also present in the works of famous Italian intellectuals and artists. Can you tell us why? What makes it so unique?
The via Aemilia is very heterogeneous. There are big differences between all areas. And perhaps, its beauty is precisely that there are no interesting landscapes and the most beautiful things are people. I try to say it better: the landscapes are a perfect background for a universal humanity.
The via Aemilia is essentially made by farmers and truck drivers.
That's what makes it special. It is the low countryside. It is made of life, of people.
It is also the way of engines - there is Maranello, Modena.
People from Emilia-Romagna are storytellers; they enlarge their stories a lot.
Think about Don Camillo and Peppone or Fellini. They all managed to make the everyday, the banal, extraordinary. And they did it in this land.
People here spend hours in front of a Lambrusco and tell you about epic adventures. You no longer know if it is reality or fantasy. You let yourself be lulled by their imagination.
It is no coincidence that there are sophisticated Italian musicians who come from these areas; see Francesco Guccini or Vasco Rossi as an example.
And, I would say the via Aemilia is the Italian West; here you find the horses, the ranch, the breeders, the farmers.
We actually pictured our journey with an eye (slyly) a little western.
People from Emilia-Romagna are storytellers; they enlarge their stories a lot. Think about Don Camillo and Peppone or Fellini. They all managed to make the everyday, the banal, extraordinary. And they did it in this land.
If you had to choose 7 representative photos of this trip, which would you choose? Can you tell us more?
Zac and Fofo work at the “Rustom Garage” where they pimp and customize cars and motorcycles. We are in Lodi, our first step into this journey. We have been told to go there by some friends but we didn't know these guys. We talked a lot. Finally I asked one of them if we could sleep at his place. He has a wife; he said yes and hosted us on the sofa. We had dinner and breakfast together.
I like this picture. We could be anywhere on the Route66. I like them. They are kind of icons: they represent the world of engines so naturally.
This is one of the photos I'm most fond of. These three people did an exhausting job at 40 degrees under a literally fucking hot sun. And to me, they looked like superheroes. How they are dressed, their pose… We chatted few minutes only. But they were the essence of the hardworking.
And this is Marco, former military Sergeant who travelled to Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries in the Middle-East and took part in the latest conflicts. He is now retired. And guess: he sells flowers and manure along the Via Aemilia. His office is made up only of tents and military vehicles. When we arrived, he offered us popsicles.
Here we are in Fiorenzuola d’Adda. Pietro is a veterinarian who works as a breeder. He has 400 dairy cows. He sells milk for Grana Padano and Provolone. Among the others. But what fascinated me the most is his…how to say, hobby? Quality? He likes to be the impersonator of Giuseppe Verdi. He is the President of the “Friends of Tabarro” (nineteenth-century cloak). He often wears nineteenth-century clothes. And look at his t-shirt!
And there he is: the tractor driver Luciano. His quality is to hypnotize hens. He is trying with the pharaohs but he says it’s way more difficult! I love him because he could easily be the protagonist of a Sergio Leone movie.
This is the essence of the Italian West. It is a photo that I am fond of. We are in Traversetolo. The family has a ranch and they teach people how to ride horses while respecting the animal. They teach you to treat the horse as an individual, with a personality. Then, you can ride him. They got married on horses, these animals are part of their daily life.
You would never guess what he does. Luigi is a “dagherò” (no idea of the English word): basically, he manages the dams that bring water to the fields. He has to manage the relationships between farmers and make sure that everyone has water in the fields. But the most curious thing is that he loves trying out audio systems. This is the "bunker" he built, where he brings speakers and audio systems to try them out. He’s not a Dj. He doesn’t play for anyone.
Let’s now come back to D.A.R.E. "Dare" means to have courage, to risk.
Knocking on the doors of perfect strangers I guess is not easy. Or at least not anymore. Getting welcomed, finding a connection, intriguing them, inviting them to open up their places must have been a great challenge. What did you dare on your journey?
Well, I've always been comfortable during this journey. I like listening to people; Davide and I have, let’s say, fluent chat so it’s always quite easy to get the trust of people.
But we “dare” asking perfect strangers to sleep in their houses. This was something people used to do in the past. People still trusted the others. Now, and especially after the pandemic months we are (laboriously) living, it will be increasingly difficult to experience something like that and to take this kind of (beautiful) risks. Of course, these people dared in turn, welcoming us.
What allowed me to become what I am now is the ability to untie myself from my works. The ability to remove my ego from the things I do and make them live their own lives.
Have you met courageous people along your way? Can you tell us an anecdote?
There is no a particular anecdote. It is a general consideration. What I realised is that compared to us – citizens, digital people – what I admire the most of these people is the courage to live a real, concrete, analogical life, without letting their-selves be overwhelmed by digital technology. Today, this way of life takes lot of courage: the courage to live a real life and not pretend to be someone else.
Being a photographer, an artist, I believe has a lot to do with courage. What is the biggest challenge you are facing or have you faced in your career as an artist? How did you "dare" to get where you are now?
That one is easy (laugh). What allowed me to become what I am now is the ability to untie myself from my works. The ability to remove my ego from the things I do and make them live their own lives. That’s though I swear; especially for an artist. It takes courage but it is very "liberating". My works are now like children who live their own lives. This allows me to better absorb the criticisms (and the compliments) that my works receive: it’s not Pietro Baroni receiving them but the artworks.
So yes, removing the ego, it takes courage…but I'm very happy to have come to that.
We artists are often insecure. And having this detached attitude allows me to have a more relaxed attitude.
One last question, I promise…if you hadn't been a photographer, what would you have become?
If I didn't have the life I had, I would have liked to be an explorer from extreme lands.
In another life I would like to be a third James Franco, a third Simone Moro - one of the greatest Italian mountaineers who climbed the 8,000 mt - and a third Maurizio Cattelan.
Interview and Article by
Francesca Giulia Agnelli
Photos Provided by