Cristiano Volk Presents a Dystopian Vision of Our Future

Travelling the world looking for uncanny details of our contemporary reality, the Italian photographer translates in pictures "the continuous changes of our present".

“Imagine the collective alienation of billions of conjoined subjects whose sole purpose is to act as vehicles for the exchange of commodities. This is the world described in Cristiano Volk’s Laissez-Faire. It may sound like a dystopian future, but it is our present.” Here is how writer Eugenie Shinkle introduces Volk’s book, published by Fw:Books.

And indeed, his depictions of neon lights, circumvoluted road networks, sheep-like crowds and eerie decorations rather look like fiction. At least would one prefer if they actually were? “I wanted to translate the continuous changes of our present, the actual reality that changes this world”, Volk explains.

For that, he focused on eight main themes – transgression, teenagers, dreams and desire, fiction, transparency of power, control, dependence on technology and consumerism. All of them blend together in an aesthetically cold approach, served by the use of a tripod securing very clean, almost surgical, images. The result is staggering, taking inspiration from 1980’s movies such as Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, for the twist of uncanny, and in Mark Fisher’s book “The Weird and The Eerie”.

Worklife in Volk’s images turns hassle – office workers shot inside their glass bubbles submerged with files of flashy colours. All the lights are artificials, and at times confusing – a pole holding together a dozen streetlights appears with all lights lit, making it a useless Christmas in the middle of what we can only imagine being overwhelmingly dense traffic. Contributing to the discomfort, some anachronistic images praise money or weapons – an ornamental dollar sign looking a few decades old, or a full-neon Christ holding a revolver in each hand.

The title of Volk’s series thus appears quite ironical. “Laissez-faire” is a theory by economist, Adam Smith, that advocates government non-intervention. In other words, it claims that each individual pursuing his own interest acts unwittingly for the benefit of all as if an "invisible hand" guided his behaviour in such a way as to increase the general interest. Yet looking at his images, of a planet more or less turned disco ball, one wonders whether an intervention is not urgently needed.

His images are so colourful it’s dizzying. Just like his vision of the future - “it’s a really scary prospect”, he says.


All photos © Cristiano Volk from Laissez-Faire


Cristiano Volk is an Italian photographer who lives and works in Venice. His work Laissez-Faire (2021) won the Prix Levallois and was selected among the winners of the call New Visions of Cortona on The Move, of the Helsinki Photo Festival, of the Images Gibellina, as well as a finalist of the Discovery Awards.

Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Paris focusing on cultural and environmental issues. She is also the editorial director of Dysturb and the international photo editor at Le Monde.


This article is part of our feature series Photo Kernel, which aims to give space to the best contemporary practitioners in our community. The word Kernel means the core, centre, or essence of an object, but it also refers to image processing.

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