Text by Sarah Warwick
Sophia Loren kicking off her heels on the sands of Sicily… Yachting in the Bay of Naples, à la The Talented Mr Ripley… Stretching out on a Sorrento sunlounger, Aperol Spritz in hand. When most of us think of Italian beaches, we think of places of sophistication and high glamour. From Capri to Cinque Terra, we imagine the sands of il bel paese to be an abundance of designer swimwear, all-over tans and chic cocktails.
Turns out we’re wrong.
“Most people’s vision of Italy doesn’t coincide with the reality,” says Lorenzo Grifantini, whose photographic series reveals Italian beach life in all its grubby, busy, cellulite-y glory. “They think it’s all about fashion, luxury cars, hedonism. But it’s also about enjoying life. It’s about caring about the beach, sun and not much more. Beach time is the moment that Italian people get to express their joie de vivre.”
A far cry from the usual glossy shots of the Amalfi coast or Venice Lido, his pictures, with their quirky details and comic characters, have more in common with saucy English postcards. But then Grifantini, who’s originally from Rome, has spent the past » 13 years living and working in London, and the similarity is to some extent intentional.
“I appreciate the British mentality and way of thinking,” says the Rome-born snapper. “It’s a type of humour that can be sharp but is never nasty.”
Specifically he says he gets his inspiration from British street photographers, in particular his “heroes”: Martin Parr and Tony Ray-Jones, who aim to find for moments of humour in everyday life. “All these shots have the surreal irony that I think Parr is famous for,” he says.
He believes their success comes from his dual identity, as both expat and native. He is more able to spot the absurdities of life from the outside – “If I lived in Italy I wouldn’t have done this.” At the same time, he knows how to find beaches, typically in places where foreigners don’t go, that will give rich pickings for satire. The shots were taken all over the country – “Puglia… Salento… Sicily and Tuscany”.
Given the not-strictly flattering angles of some of the sunbathers featured in the series, did anyone object to having a camera pointed at them? “No, not at all,” he says. “Italians are very narcissistic – we all like to be photographed. The only comment I received was they hoped I was good enough to take them.”
Although Grifantini is clearly talented, photography is only a part-time passion (he’s a full-time architect), which blossomed after his daughter was born five years ago. “She was in Italy and I was in London, so I was commuting by airplane a lot and used the time to study it.”
He has no plans to quit his day job, but is always searching for new stories and projects. Last year he put on an exhibition of his photos from his London blog (w10london.tumblr.com), and he will return to Italy this summer for one final research trip before making a book of these shots. No doubt it will be popular, given the huge following they have gained on photographic websites such as Feature Shoot.
“I think people like them because they show Italy as a real place, not a fake one,” he says. “My business partner is half English and half Spanish. When he saw them he said, ‘Oh, wow. I really didn’t think Italy was like that.’”
Norwegian flies to eight destinations in Italy, including Sardinia, Sicily, Rome and Venice. Book flights, a hotel and a rental car at norwegian.com