Imagine having the platform to share a story with the audience but there is one restriction – you only have 16 pages. This seems to be the concept of the Turin-based photographer Daniel Escoffier (b. 1997) as recently, he founded a zine – Sun 16 Zine – that always features one story within such amount of pages. Besides his publication interest, he also works on his personal reportage and documentary projects.
In this interview, we talk about Escoffier’s latest bodies of works and his future plans with Sun 16 Zine.
MUSHA – The Man of Martial Arts is your latest project concentrated around Piercarlo Cappelli, the first apprentice and spiritual heir of one of the most influential Japanese martial arts masters in the world: Sugiyama Shoji. What initially drew you to this topic and how long were you following the master?
I always had a strong connection with Japan and its culture. Apart from reading manga, I also watched a lot of anime and appreciated Japanese art, especially Ukiyo-e prints. Later I practiced martial arts for several years and from that experience my nickname was born – Daniel Sun. Originally, it was “Daniel San”, coming as a reference to the protagonist of Karate Kid.
I met master Cappelli already as a child as he was my father’s Judo teacher. He once took me to a trial class and I eagerly joined him. It was a special father-son bonding moment and we both remained practicing judo for many years.
My interest in capturing Cappelli arose not only from the fact that he is a Judo master but also from his other links to Japan. Through my reportage, I discovered that he speaks fluent Japanese and for a long time he worked as an interpreter for a Japanese company that traded cars with Italy. He also is a restorer of ancient Japanese swords that belonged to real samurai warriors. In his collection can, for instance, be found armors, helmets, fans, and many other objects all dating back to the times of feudal Japan, spanning from the 16th to the 18th centuries. Even the Museum of Oriental Art in Turin sometimes contacts him in order to borrow some objects for display in their exhibitions.
In my project, I tried to delve deep into Master Cappelli’s life and through photographs showcase his relationship with Judo and Japan. After a couple of weeks that I spent at his home, listening to his stories and anecdotes tied to all the curiosities present at his home, I then also documented his Judo classes and his daily life. This lasted for about three months and even though for now, the project is finished, I feel I would still like to dive into Cappelli’s archive in the future to see if I can expand the project.
What would you say is your approach to photography?
This is a difficult question for me to answer as I’ve always had a strong documentary approach to the subjects I was going to photograph. I enjoy analyzing the story and the elements of it before I start shooting. It is crucial for me to try to immerse myself in the context and at some point even become part of the story.
However, it was not always this way… when I first started photographing I had a more direct and instinctive approach. This was during the time when I started working with analog photography which eventually made me more calm and analytical about what I was photographing. Film forces you to stay focused on what’s in front of you and to examine the scene from multiple perspectives before you press the shutter. So I think a photographer’s approach is something personal and that develops over time; as we photograph, develop projects, and travel, our vision changes, and our approach to the tool changes accordingly.
I would categorize your style as reportage, why is it important for you to document stories of various communities or individuals?
For me, photography is important because it allows one to preserve a memory and to tell something with a picture that could hardly be described in words. In this way, photography becomes this tool of magic. Stories are told through a medium that is in fact silent, but exactly because of that quality, it resonates with people regardless of their background.
Beyond that, I find the value of documenting as something extremely important for humanity. It allows us to preserve a trace for posterity and to offer a glimpse to those who perhaps are far from that context and could hardly experience it.
Take for example Gregory Halpern’s work “Let the sun beheaded be” on the Guadeloupe archipelago. It is a work on the theme of colonialism in a land marked by astonishing beauty of the territory set against a tortuous and violent past. Here I do not know if I will ever have the opportunity to visit Guadeloupe, but this book gives me an impression of it. A small insight into that place, of the people who live there, and of the atmosphere. That is why it is important for me to take photographs, tell stories, and preserve the memory of places and people who tread this land.
Besides being a photographer, you are also the founder of Sun 16 Zine, a zine platform featuring a single story in only 16 pages. How did this idea come about?
The idea for the Sun 16 Zines came from my passion for photo books and publishing in general. Before I studied photography, I studied advertising graphics for three years at high school, and at the time I took a course in editorial graphics in which they told me about the sixteenth, a typographic measure used to test books and magazines before they are sent to print.
This information was always at the back of my mind which then sparked the idea of using the sixteenth to create a fanzine that would enclose within a small space a photographic project originally consisting of hundreds of images.
It can be said that this publishing project was born with the purpose of getting to the core of the stories, starting from broad editing which is later reduced down in order to try to tell the project with a few incisive images.
As for the name, however, sixteen not only refers to the number of pages but also to a rule used in analog photography to expose a scene without the aid of a light meter. It is called Sunny 16 and is based on setting aperture 16 and using the time closest to the ASA value of the film you are using.
What was your approach to the existing issues and when can we expect the next one?
I can say that my approach has been reflexive. Although I have worked on projects that I know well, when it comes to editing them to create a coherent and effective sequence, it is not always easy.
I usually proceed by printing out proofs of the images so that I have a clear view of the body of work. Once the right setting is found, the rest of the work is devoted to the layout and proofing of the typography.
I expect to be able to bring out a new issue later this year, probably between November and December. I am currently in contact with two photographers who work in two diametrically opposite styles, one with a more conceptual and evocative approach while the other’s is more documentary and concrete. I hope to be able to bring their work to paper soon.
So far, every issue featured your own work, are you also planning to curate the work of others for the coming issues?
Future issues will feature exclusive work by other authors. I am looking for interesting projects and people who want to engage with sixteenth and who are not afraid of seeing their work cut to the bone.
I would like Sun 16 Zine to become a means of providing a voice to emerging photographers like myself. At the same time, I also hope to be able to involve some artists who are already established and have perhaps published their projects in a book form before.
It would be interesting to try to recreate a kind of summary of the project to be published as a fanzine. I find it intriguing to disengage from one’s images in order to build a solid and effective narrative.
You are currently working on a new body of work, could you please tell our readers about it?
For the past two years, I have been working on my first long-term project on the territory of the Aosta Valley. I investigated the phenomenon of mountain depopulation that affects small villages under 300 inhabitants and how people living in these contexts experience their isolation.
The project is about a mountain untethered from tourism and what we might call a geographic microcosm often seen in a superficial and idealized way. There is a strong spiritual component in the work related to how people live and transform the mountain territory, giving much importance to the human-nature relationship as something almost ancestral.
This work represents something extremely significant for me personally as well as my photographic journey. In the last phase of this project, I tried to live in the Aosta Valley for a short period, in an attempt to get in touch with a reality distant from my own experience and empathize more with the locals.
I am currently in the editing phase of the project and would like to make a book of it alongside a traveling exhibition within the hamlets themselves, so as to bring people to discover the charm that distinguishes these isolated villages and perhaps prevent them from becoming, as is often the case, ghost towns.
I hope to succeed in this ambitious project of finding a publishing house that might be interested in releasing it in a book form. It has been a long and challenging journey, making me visit the entire region far and wide, through snowy winters and torrid summers, going back and forth between valleys in search of new places to explore unique stories.
Photography, as I mentioned earlier, has been an ideal medium to visually communicate these stories and to allow one to keep a record of what remains of these places and perhaps offer a renewed glimpse to those who, like me, come from a completely different background.