“An authentic image is more important than a beautiful image,” is how Zurich-based photographer and filmmaker Alberto Venzago sums up his philosophy. Only late, at the age of 26 – after studying therapeutic education and the clarinet – did the self-taught photographer launch his career, but success was soon his. Venzago’s photo-reportages were soon published in magazines such as Life, The Sunday Times, Stern and Geo. He also worked for four years for the Magnum photo agency: Alberto Venzago made his name as a “concerned photographer”. His dedicated work has won several prizes, such as the Robert Capa Award.
For the son of an intellectual family, practically no story was too dangerous – neither organised crime in Japan nor the revolution in Iran –, but after many war reportages came the realisation: “Ce n’est pas une image juste, c’est juste une image.”
However, he can also make use of his many years of experience as a photojournalist in less dangerous situations. Alberto Venzago thus moves effortlessly between film and photography, art and commerce, and has no reservations. He photographed Switzerland’s anti-racism campaign, for example, and documented projects for the ABB group and Credit Suisse worldwide. Venzago is the official photographer of the London Symphony Orchestra, has worked for the Boston Symphony Orchestra – and has even designed handbags for Navyboot, the Swiss fashion label.
Alberto Venzago has also worked as a filmmaker for about twenty years. “First I had to know what constitutes a good picture,” he says. “Only then did I feel mature enough to make films. And this is where the circle closes: music is a recurring theme in my work in films.” As a cameraman, for example, Alberto Venzago has lent his signature style to various productions, such as Trip to Asia (2007), a road movie with Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic (premièred at the 2007 Berlinale). The same year, he also made the film Mein Bruder, der Dirigent about his brother, the conductor Mario Venzago.
In the film Voodoo – Mounted by the Gods (2003) and the eponymous book of photos, Venzago found an aesthetic appropriate to his fascinating subject. The book, photographed in expressive black and white, won the German Photo Book Prize in 2004. The multitalented artist worked again as a cameraman on The Invisibles, a Wim Wenders film about the Congo produced by Javier Bardem (premièred at the 2008 Berlinale).
For his work in film, Alberto Venzago has won several international awards, including Gold at the New York Film Festival for the anti-racism campaign of the Swiss Confederation as well as the EDI (2004, 2007, 2009), Switzerland’s most important prize for advertising, industrial and corporate films. Besides the expressiveness of his visual language, Venzago’s affable nature is undoubtedly an important success factor: “I may be a lone wolf, but filming is teamwork: you can’t whistle a symphony,” he observes, grinning.
Alberto Venzago’s latest film, Gergiev – A Certain Madness, documents the Mariinsky Orchestra’s 2010 tour under the conductor Valery Gergiev on the Trans Siberian Railway. Gergiev will be in cinemas in 2012.