Smartphone Daydreaming in Southern Italy

The Rainbow is Underestimated started out as a simple Instagram account before evolving into an involuntary anthology of Piero Percoco's surroundings and daily life in his southern Italian hometown.

© Piero Percoco, from the series The Rainbow is Underestimated

Piero Percoco is possibly one of the most original contemporary Italian authors to emerge in the last few years. We were curious to speak with him and understand more about his unconscious process and instinctive methodology that led him to create the project The Rainbow is Underestimated, which started as an Instagram account and is now a book, published by Skinnerboox. The publication is a compendium of his everyday pictures shot over a seven-year period using only a mobile camera.

Ciao Piero, please offer us an insight into your project for our readers?

The Rainbow is Underestimated is a stream of consciousness, it is not a project. I never worked on what can be defined as a classical project, but I prefer to build on something after taking pictures, like making a wrong sum 2 + 2 = 5. This flow lasted six intense years, realised in my small village in southern Italy, where a series of economic problems forced me to stay for quite some time. Here with my smartphone, I took photographs in a completely impulsive way, combining the produced images with so much frustration and dangerous boredom.

How has the use of a mobile phone helped the construction of your work? And in which way has it influenced your approach style-wise?

The truth is that I have never chosen to use a smartphone. Let me explain better: the medium with which I take photographs has not been a real choice, because as long as it serves me, I am happy. For example, now I have completely changed my approach but only because I became afraid of losing files from my phone. It all happened very naturally, having taken pictures with a phone for many years - it helped me to move freely, and being a very shy person, the phone helped me a lot in dealing with diverse situations. Let's say it was a kind of emotional school to take pictures with a smartphone, getting closer to people and things. We all have a phone in our hands so this allowed me to easily mix with everything and everyone.

© Piero Percoco, from the series The Rainbow is Underestimated

What do you think about the democratisation of the photographic medium and the introduction of new technologies? How, in your opinion, have they changed our visual experience?

I think we are in a very fluid moment; photographic art has changed so much that it can sometimes become unrecognisable. This is a very complicated subject, it is a fact, surely something has changed and is still continuously strongly evolving. But beyond this, people have always asked me "what do you use to take pictures?" I use the same tool that over one third of the world population possesses, therefore I completely believe that photography is within all of us. We are going through a historical moment in which we are living and experiencing extraordinary image production, but in my opinion, we simultaneously confront the unconsciousness and illiteracy of the communicative scope of the medium.

How has mobile photography allowed you to reach an online audience and how did its whole process become a powerful storytelling medium?

Mine was a real form of narration shared with the whole world for years: sharing portraits of my grandparents, the Sunday pasta meal at their house, stray dogs, shopping bags, my family and neighbours, allowed me to show my life on IG over the years. However, I understood this process only after years, also thanks to the release of my books, I became more aware I was actually portraying everything that surrounds me in my village. I believe each of us has something different and personal to say, trivial as argumentation, but the point is how to tell it, in what form and logic, it was an involuntary risk for me, which turned out to be naturally appreciated by many people both in the artistic field as well as in any other. Mine was a listless, impulsive, uncaring and even arrogant approach at times, but I always remained essentially myself through all the process.

© Piero Percoco, from the series The Rainbow is Underestimated

We are interested in how something fully digitally native became a printed object, what has represented for you the process of making a photo book?

My goal has always been to focus on creating a physical object that contains my photographs. My very first work (self-produced) for example was a real pack of salt, I have emptied it and filled with “postcards” on the marine flora and fauna of my territory, customs and habits about living on the seaside. So back to the subject, my work, my life, I have always imagined it packaged in a book or object, even the selling of photographs has always been an obsession of mine, I have never set limits of any kind, precisely for me, the medium has always been relative, every medium has its own type of acquisition and matter, from film to digital, for everyone, I think it's all a question of one's character. It was great as long as it lasted, I don't regret anything, and I learned a lot, now I'm in a moment of strong transition and seeing the roll of my phone full of screenshots and notes without almost even a photograph scared me. But I will take everything naturally as I have always done.

© Piero Percoco, from the series The Rainbow is Underestimated

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In this series of articles, PHmuseum gets to know the experiences of photographers who have produced a successful body of work with their smartphones. To challenge yourself and become part of our research project on the mobile phenomenon, apply to our first Mobile Photography Prize. The Final Deadline is 13 June.

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