Paolo Ventura’s remarkable dioramas, which evoke a strange and often imaginary past, are conceived and created on two very ordinary tables at his Brooklyn studio. An Italian expat, Ventura deals with his homesickness by presenting memories, in turn coherent and fragmented, from his own past and his country’s. For Ventura, the past is not just something to be remembered, but also something to be reinterpreted and manipulated, very much like the action figures that dominate his photographs. He notes, "You can really have fun with the past."
Ventura’s "invented worlds," as he refers to his work, start with notes or rough sketches of a particular scenario he has imagined. Once the concept is established, he then builds the set. The detail is extraordinary, from the folds in the clothes of the little figures, to the artfully arranged props, to the precise way the light and shadow play out in his pictures.
Yet surprisingly, he spends only a week to 10 days building the set, at an average cost of around $30. He uses foam board, cardboard, plastic, and wood — basically, anything that he can get hold of. Asked where he got his handy skills, he laughs. "It’s a mystery," he says. "I was a disaster at everything in school. Originally, I set out to find things, but I soon realized that I knew exactly what I wanted, so it would just be easier to make it myself." He sometimes also buys props online from specialist dealers, his local Brooklyn flea market, and costume stores, and relies on a network of miniatures obsessives, who send him props they’ve made or collected.
Once the set is completed, Ventura takes Polaroids to use as a reference for minor adjustments. He then shoots with a Pentax 6x7 camera from a fixed position, using only natural daylight, preferring to capture the scene on slightly overcast days. His happiest memories growing up in Milan were of winter mornings when the fog enveloped the city and distorted the commonplace. In each image, Ventura wants to create his own fog and blend the artifice with the "real."