Michele Sibiloni

Michele Sibiloni


Rebirth Through the Lens:

Michele Sibilonis Artistic Odyssey.

I am fascinated when people who work in a different field can relate to a project.

Michele Sibiloni, an Italian photographer and filmmaker born in Parma, lived in Uganda from 2010 to 2020 and currently resides in Italy. His personal work focuses on social issues explored through personal experiences.

During his time in Uganda, Michele documented the nightlife of the capital, Kampala, which evolved into a book titled ‘Fuck it’, published by Edition Patrick Frey in March 2016. The book received critical acclaim, recognised as one of the best photo books of 2016 by Time Magazine, Internazionale, Sleek Magazine, and Photobookstore UK. In addition to his photography, Michele's work extended into film, with his project ‘Grasshopper Republic’ adapted into a film premiering at international festivals.

Michele Sibiloni
Michele Sibiloni

To kick off our discussion, Im eager to learn more about Michele Sibiloni and what inspired your decision to divide your time between Italy and Uganda. Did you undergo a sort of rebirth when you moved there?

Working for a about 10 years in East Africa and other part of the continent definitely opened my eyes in many ways. I would think it as a rebirth when I worked on my project about the night that later became my first book. This changed my way of working. I learned to work for myself with patience, with no expectation and as a daily performance. I think the rebirth is something that happens during every structured artistic project, we constantly add elements and knowledge that we gain in our everyday life and when a new work starts to take shape, we kind of refresh ourselves. I would like to add that the rebirth happens when we make books. When the book is born for me, it is as if it’s going to have also its own life and will move forward on its own, in an unpredictable direction for a span of time that is longer than the life of the photographer. This is really fascinating to me.

In your view, how does photography contribute to illuminating social and cultural realities, especially within the context of African countries?

I think photography gives the opportunity of opening a dialogue, asking questions to ourselves or provide answers in some case. I am fascinated when people who work in a different field can relate to a project. I worked with an association that mentors young photographers to develop a project for group exhibition in public spaces and I witnessed a growing interest year after year. I think people are generally happy when you highlight a positive phenomenon, event or story. Perception of photography in Uganda was often related to adv (ads?) or newspapers perhaps associated to something not positive, but over the years I have seen many changes. Local photographers and filmmakers growing in numbers. The quality of the works got better year after year, great photojournalists that started to work with international clients and the community in general was much more responsive.

Michele Sibiloni

How did the coverage of political events on the African continent shape your artistic perspective?

Working as visual journalist with magazines, newspapers, TVs has been a privilege, covering stories spanning from nature, climate issues, conflicts, elections. I quickly realised that what’s happening on the ground is the result of decisions made somewhere else. This helped in a way to make me understand that what I wanted to do with my projects was something that, yes, was exploring society through different topics – subcultures, politics, youth, nature, fashion, climate change – but through my own experiences. In 2012, I found vernacular images that belonged to the soldiers of the Congolese army that were later published in M magazine with an interview. The images were portraying soldiers during training but often were with their family members and their dears. They are so intimate and powerful that most of the people who have seen them were struggling to believe that they weren’t taken by a photographer. At that point, it was clear that the personal experience was necessary to have images with a certain depth and feeling.

Could you elaborate on any particular challenges or hurdles that you encountered during your photographic projects in Uganda?

The challenge during a serious project is often the same. How to get things done, how to open doors. Often, on the ground, things are different what we expect and you have to adapt and be quick in turning things around or change the angle of the story you want to tell. You have to step back and look at things from another perspective. Especially when I worked in the Congo, where the situation changes on a daily basis, I had to adapt to whatever challenge we had in front of us, regarding access, security or other issues.

Which of your projects, among those that have been published and recognised in significant international publications, holds the most personal significance for you?

Both of my books are have gone really well. My second monograph ‘Nsenene’ was featured in the most important magazines: NYT, M Le magazine du Monde, Zeit, WePresent and many others. But for me ‘Fuck it’ remains my strongest body of work that was also sold out in 4 months and reprinted. I have stronger personal connections with the places I photographed, the people. Some of them where friends and others incredible encounters I had during the journey. It also describes an urban transformation in a particular area near where I lived. The images were really taken without any filters and driven by a strong personal desire of self-expression in an instinctive way and arranged with no compromises. I was moving through bars, clubs, concerts events during the night for a couple of years. I was the “night photographer”, every night always out with the camera.

Michele Sibiloni

How did your documentation of the nightlife in the Ugandan capital evolve into the project ‘Fuck It’, and what themes or messages does this project aim to explore?

This project started with a series of portraits of nightguards known also as “Ascaris” in Kiswahili. They are guarding, at night, shops, bank and other places. I made a very powerful image portrait with a guy holding an arrow and that led to making a series. At the time, I was simultaneously searching for photographs that would embody personality and strong personal connection. I was working only for myself and at the same time I wanted to capture the vibrant life in front of me, through my own experiences. Everything connected by an intrinsic energy.

Last year, you collaborated with Travis Scott on the Utopia project, where he articulated the album's theme as a world in which we realize we are all the same, mere human beings.” Could you provide more details about this project? It strikes me as resonating deeply with the philosophy evident in your previous documentary projects.

This happened only because of personal work and I was really happy that the call came through. I was asked to create images for the Utopia Zine and I was also the still photographer for the Circus Maximum film. I kind of had carte blanche for this project, which is always a pleasure and an honour.

I think photography gives the opportunity of opening a dialogue, asking questions to ourselves or provide answers in some case.

In the past, youve photographed many renowned artists in the African music scene. Years later, have you ever thought of redeeming them? Its fascinating to ponder how our tastes, aesthetics, and overall choices evolve, particularly when we're exposed to different cultures, especially after spending an extended period away from our home continent.

I am in touch with some of them and for example I crossed paths with Lord Spike Hearth, part of the Duma duo which I photographed for Dazed in 2018. I went to his concert in Milano and I will we met in Torino where we both have a show. For me, the best is to see them growing internationally and seeing their career moving forward but I would love to collaborate on projects together.

When I mention rebirth”, what is the first thing that comes to your mind?

I immediately think of the artistic process. Every project is a journey and I think every piece of the puzzle is equally important to create something that will stay in time. Working with fashion and music in the past few years I think has been some kind of rebirth for me because has opened new ways to create images. I used to do everything on my own but working with a team of people is exciting. My practice often starts from something that happens in the world but now I am also used to create something from scratch, starting perhaps from a memory. I like the process of creating a concept, looking for the right location and casting as well. I would like to mix these two worlds together and introduce new practices in my personal projects.

What future projects or endeavours are you considering, both in terms of subject matter and artistic approach?

I am currently working on a couple of different stories connected to nature but also to urban life. In terms of approach, I would like to mix my documentary practice with an editorial approach where I collaborate with a team of people to create perhaps something that I have dreamed about seeing it achieved. The scope is to create cinematic images that will take the viewer through an intriguing journey. Let the viewer perceive things which normally pass unnoticed in our daily life (from people and places). I am fascinated about how the landscape shapes ourselves and also how the landscape is a reflection of our capitalism-driven society.