Despite frequent travels on assignment for everyone from Frankie to the Financial Review, and having featured in gallery shows both as a solo artist and in group exhibitions, Melbourne-based photographer Josh Robenstone had never produced a book.
So a few years ago, he set out to remedy that. Deciding to self publish so he could set his own parameters for the project, and shooting on film, Robenstone chose his subject and packed his bags.
“I was sitting in Bondi Trattoria before I left, looking at these roughly-framed images on the walls. There were photos, ads for Campari and so on, and the images were just so familiar,” he says over a coffee before the book’s launch.
As Australians, our understanding of Italy is drawn largely from images like those Robenstone saw on the restaurant wall. Postcards, tourism posters and countless films have formed a visual knowledge of the country that all of us have absorbed. The challenge Robenstone set himself was to reference these images, but show a different side of the country, tell another story.
Setting off in 2011 with 50 rolls of film and two cameras – “a point and shoot to capture spontaneous moments, and a medium format camera for more considered shots” – Robenstone travelled the length of the country, documenting everything he saw.
“I processed the photos in New York, and it took me a year, working on and off, to edit them all down,” he says, explaining that he wanted the book to form a narrative without the use of words.
And leafing through the beautiful, cloth-bound finished product, a story, indeed many stories, begin to unfold. If you’re familiar with Robenstone’s deep body of editorial or commercial work, the images in Basta! will come as a surprise. Stolen moments on street corners sit next to contemplative landscapes. Quiet coastal scenes and deserted cobblestoned streets share the pages with crowded tourist attractions and elderly Italian locals with their guard down.
“I find shooting on film is more creative in a way,” he says. “You don’t have the ability to review a shot and adjust the next one, you just shoot and move on.”
While launching the book this month, Robenstone is already working on his next, LA-based project, but looking at Basta!, it seems clear that Italy has a special place in his heart, because the heart of Italy has found its way into his book.