Massimo Bassano was born in the deep South of Italy, in Calabria, from a simple family. And simplicity will accompany him throughout life. From school choices to friends, from sport to profession.
Driven by the stories of his father, a good looking dreamer with no hopes, Massimo learns to follow his own dreams. He begins from the love for the sea and the choice of attending the school as a ship captain, he learns as a first experience the art of sailing and immediately falls in love with it. It was written in his genes, descendant of Greeks who crossed the sea to Calabria in the year 1000 before Christ.
Sailing becomes its primary passion, which will accompany him forever. Massimo has sailed all the seas and oceans of the world but, above all, his soul of navigator will open the doors of National Geographic. This meeting is the decisive one in his professional life. Documentary photography, storytelling par excellence, enters his blood. The hitherto marginal hobby of photography, used to collect memories, becomes the dream to be realized at all costs.
It adds to the innate curiosity and the immoderate interest in learning, anything. A perfect mix for a documentary photographer. The right recipe to aspire to work for the most prestigious Society in the world. Since then, 28 years have passed, 82 nations visited, with thousands of meetings and experiences all over the world, and many photographs and stories to tell in images and words.
How did you get your start in photography?
My father loved to photograph the family. Even if we could not afford big resources, a black&white roll in his Voigtländer camera never failed. I often walked with him, especially on Sundays and holidays. It was in those moments that I became passionate about photography. I quarreled with him for whom had to take pictures until he finally resigned and gave me a small Agfa Instamatic. Many years later, with my first earnings, I bought an old SLR with some lenses. But I honestly did not think of being a photographer in life.
Only when I understood what was documentary photography of National Geographic, I thought, “This could be my job. Yes I like it”.
From a young age I wanted to work for passion, not for salary. I have always looked for a job suited to my emotional aspirations. The love for sailing, and the experience as a sailor, led me to work for National Geographic in the Christopher Columbus story. I was the fixer. The one who organizes “everything” for the photographer. In those months of work I learned the essence of storytelling applied to photography. At that moment I decided: “I want to be a photographer for National Geographic”.
What type of photography are you shooting and what motivated you to focus on that genre?
I love people and their culture. I define myself as an anthropologist photographer. But there is no doubt that I am an all-purposes photographer. Anything intrigues me. From the animal world to science, from medicine to technology, from social problems to natural beauties. Of course, peoples and their traditions attract me enormously. I am fascinated by local customs, how people communicate and their interpersonal relationships. During my work, the relationship with the subject and his environment is fundamental. But not only on a professional level, it is fundamental to my spirit, my desire for human contacts.
What has been your biggest achievement or obstacle along the way?
A big obstacle at the beginning was the economic availability. Documentary photography can be very expensive. But the greatest success was to be what I am. A hard head. A real stubborn person. I have never been discouraged. Failing was not in my program.
Who and/or what inspires you most?
I always look for a personal contact. Looks, words, smells. Then the colors and the light. I do not look for light as the first ingredient, maniacally, but I understand its essence and how much positivity it can bring to the image.
What is your approach?
Is there anything in particular you try to achieve during a shoot (for example triggering certain feelings, etc.) or are there any specific techniques you use?
My technique is: simplicity. I’m lucky because I’m able to compose in my mind. I see a photograph at a distance. Of course I have been doing it for many years, but it is certainly my most important talent as a photographer. I had it in my head without knowing it. I hold the camera in my hand with ease, as if it is part of my body. We are one piece. This allows me to be welcomed with greater ease. I do not intimidate with my presence, in fact I am always welcomed with availability and I always manage to photograph the “behind the scenes” of the lives of others.
Why is accurate color important within your workflow?
I am a maniac of correct exposure. View and taken. I prefer the raw file to show all my choices in the field. My room setting. My creativity inspired by what I see with my eyes. All this would be lost without proper camera & screen calibration. I realize that the correct calibration allows me to understand the language with which the camera gives me back the “world” that framed because of my gaze. Without a proper calibration I’ll miss the color dictionary with which the camera speaks to me. The colors that have attracted my attention. Those with whom I want to show who I’m as photographer. Screen calibration is the most important part. I do it continuously. Also on the laptop. With it I show my vision to the printer and we analyze the image together on my screen. To print it as faithful as possible to my vision. Respecting the highlight, contrast, dark shadow, anything created on field.
Any tips or advice for photographers just beginning their career?
This is a job you must love above all things. A love that you must also share, otherwise it is negative for yourself. Never give up. Think about mistakes and insist, insist, insist. Look at the work of others with criticality, not jealousy. Learn from them. Be curious. Without curiosity, you cannot go anywhere. Documentary photography is born within you, not from the camera.