Introducing our 75th In Focus interview and our analogue community grant winner, Federico Pestilli. Pestilli was born in Rome and became interested in documentary-style of photography, focusing on irony that unites people, places and symbols with each other.

Section 1 - Background

Share your favourite image / print shot on ILFORD film and tell us what it means to you?

In Focus - Federico Pestilli

Heritage - Arianna - Cocullo, Italy - Pentax 67, 135mm lens - HP5+

This is an image of Arianna, a snake handler from the town of Cocullo, Italy. I have been visiting the town during the yearly celebration of San Domenico for some years now, and each time I gain more insight into the rituals and the local culture. This image makes me feel at peace. The way Arianna gently smiles as the snake blindfolds her is an expression of trust and of symbiosis with nature. It is also a greater metaphor for overcoming one’s fears and having faith in life.

Just in case anyone doesn’t know who you are or what you do, can you give us the overview?

I was born in Rome in 1985. My work is the result of my international training and upbringing. After earning a degree in history at the Sorbonne in Paris, I moved to New York to train in the field of fashion. It is here that I began to develop an independent body of work which led me to explore remote corners of the world. As a result I have developed a documentary-style of photography characterised by the search for a paradox and an irony that unites people, places and symbols at odds with each other.

In Focus - Federico Pestilli

Rome - Trevi Fountain - Rome - Voightlander Bessa II - Delta 400

How and why did you get started shooting film?

Having picked up my father’s Nikkormat as a child, I got used to shooting both negative and positive film early on. After a hiatus in shooting film during the surge of digital photography in the early 2000’s I have returned to the pleasure of analogue work. Not seeing an image at the moment of capture is ironically my favourite aspect of shooting film. This allows me to be more present in the moment and also gives me time to make edits and image selections at a later stage from capture. There is also a lot to be appreciated in the “feel” of film. However, digital photography has its obvious advantages and I do use it for commercial work.

Who has been your biggest photographic inspiration to date?

I can’t get over the work of American pioneers of black and white photography. The prints by Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Paul Strand are still in my opinion the most modern expression of black and white photography and its power to convey the natural world. I would highly recommend people look up the work of Carlton Watkins, who was a precursor of Ansel Adams, and photographed the American West with exceptional tools of his own creation. The relationship between Watkins’ and Adams’ work is proof that everything we do is built on the shoulders of our predecessors.

What is the best piece of photography tip or advice you have ever received?

There is no single way to photograph, so every tip should take into account whom the tip is for. Personally I profited greatly during my early apprenticeships in New York with courses on the use of flash photography. At the time I was lacking this knowledge and many tips made me more confident in the use of artificial lighting. A tip which has consistently pushed me forward is to photograph with your heart instead of your mind.

In Focus - Federico Pestilli

Heritage - Wolf of Celano - Celano, Italy - Pentax 645z 75mm lens - HP5+

What film photography related projects are you currently working on (or are in the pipeline)?

My photography projects are long term and evolve naturally in time. ‘Extinct’ is the project which won a 2023 grant with ILFORD. This is an ongoing project shot entirely on ILFORD films which aims to create compelling images of the natural world. These can be categorised as “natural science” images: they do not fall within the parameters of photojournalism or “wildlife photography” which instead revolve around the concept of storytelling. My images simply say “this is a lion”, which I find is a fascinating way of shaping core notions of the collective subconscious.

‘Heritage’ is a project focusing on the origins of my father’s family in the Italian region of Abruzzo. Here I have photographed landscapes, shepherds, townspeople, wolves, snake handlers, horsemen and more. I would like to create a visual mosaic of this land and invite viewers to participate in its beauty. ‘Rome’ is my city of birth and where I spend lots of time. This project aims to unveil the seductive aspects of Rome’s monuments and capture the light which has shined on them for thousands of years. Creating a record of this urban organism is historically important in itself, and, having graduated in history, I blindly delve into the pleasure of capturing the city.

In Focus - Federico Pestilli

Heritage - Shepherd - Ovindoli, Italy - Technika IV 150mm lens - HP5+

What / where is your next shoot and how do you decide what film / kit you will use?

I will be continuing my body of work on African wildlife, possibly expanding the scope of the project to other locations in the world. I have other projects in the making, and I would like to return to Jordan and start a project on the bedouin tribes which to this day still inhabit the caves of the archaeological site of Petra. Most likely I will use my Pentax 67 kit.

In Focus - Federico Pestilli

Travels - Petra - Jordan - Pentax 67 55mm-100mm lens - HP5+

What are your photographic goals going forward?

I would like to give shape to a personal platform for my work. As magazines fade from our daily lives and galleries struggle to find formulas which will attract large crowds, I think the only way forward is to carve a new way of presenting work and engaging with the public. Whether this will happen on virtual or physical platforms I have yet to find out.

In Focus - Federico Pestilli

Rome - Pyramid of Caius Cestius - Rome - Voightlander Bessa II - Delta 400

Section 2 - Shout outs

We all need a bit of inspiration and love so this is your chance to tell the community about yours – from the film photographers whose work inspires you, the labs you trust with your film, your ‘go to’ film photography stockists, your favourite community darkrooms or just anyone in the community who you feel deserves a special mention.

Give a shout out to your 3 favourite film photographers.

@yurenev - for his always touching documentary style which often intertwines with his identity and elegantly touches on self-portraiture.

@marapalena - for her deep understanding of fashion aesthetics and her ability to focus on the in between moments which are usually overlooked.

@paolodilucente - for great portraiture which brings out the essence of the subject and for his sophisticated sensitivity towards color.

Give a shout out to your favourite photography YouTube channels.

I only use youtube when I need to solve a specific problem so I am not familiar with any specific channels.

Give a shout out to your favourite photographic retailers.

Shooting in analogue film and vintage cameras I’m a strong supporter of Ebay’s marketplace.

Give a shout out to your favourite lab service.

I develop my own film. I do not rely entirely on any lab.

In Focus - Federico Pestilli

Extinct - Black rhino - Kenya - Pentax 645z 75mm lens - HP5+

Section 3 - Favourite kit

What film cameras do you own and which is your favourite?

I am fond of the Pentax 67 system. The range of lenses feels endless and there is one for every need. Being a reflex camera it’s a happy medium between a field and studio camera. I also love using my 5x4 Technika IV, however this calls for a more patient approach and doesn’t suit every occasion, such as photographing wildlife in motion.

In Focus - Federico Pestilli

Aside from your camera, lenses and film, what accessories make it into your camera bag?

I try to travel as light as possible when in the field. If I can remove equipment and carry more film, all the better. I often carry props with me. If I have an object which is meaningful to me I like to travel with it. I never know when placing it within a setting will charge both the object and the setting with compelling meanings.

In Focus - Federico Pestilli

Extinct - Portrait of Najin, last of two white rhino - Kenya - Pentax 67 400mm lens - Delta 400

What is the best piece of photography kit you have found or been gifted?

I recently acquired a Pentax 67 75mm SHIFT lens which I really enjoy using. Once you get used to large format cameras it’s hard to give up the shift capability. This lens proves a useful tool within the 67 system when capturing architectural subjects.

As this is an ILFORD interview it would be remiss of us not to ask about your favourite ILFORD products. Tell us your favourite ILFORD film, paper or chems and why?

I mostly use 400 iso speed film, Delta 400 is my favourite for its contrasts but I’m equally happy with HP5+. I occasionally use Delta 3200 for indoor portraits with natural light. I use multigrade paper for test prints which I consequently use for digital scanning. Final prints are done on a variety of papers depending on the subject. As far as chems go I use Perceptol developer which I can store long term in powder form and make into liquid form when necessary. For fix I use Rapid Fixer.

In Focus - Federico Pestilli

Travels - Shaimurat, Eagle hunter - Mongolia - Pentax 67 165mm lens

And finally…

Nominate one other person you think should fill in this form and we will reach out to them.

I’d like to nominate Alexey Yurenev @yurenev 


©Federico Pestilli