We speak to the former Dazed RISE photographer about his new book and project with the Wu Tang Clan
Inspired by an affinity with niche youth cultures and the music of the New York group, Alessandro Simonetti’s latest work, 'IL CLAN DEL WU' started as a fan-zine and grew into a 96-page book dedicated to the Wu Tang Clan. In line with Simonetti’s photojournalist style, this recent project, shot in black and white, encompasses candid imagery with a personalised touch, in-keeping with both Simonetti’s personal style of imagery and the Wu Tang Clan’s music. With the recent book launch, Dazed catches up with the Italian photographer who we first featured as a RISE to chat about his recent project.
Dazed Digital: Your work often features an interest in youth culture and photojournalism, why do these appeal to you in particular?
Alessandro Simonetti: Niche youth cultures is the field where I formed myself. In the early 90s I was part of the first generation in Italy, sensitive to certain kinds of expressions related to the street: the hardcore punk and hip hop music in the squats, graffiti on trains and skateboarding. I developed an interest in what those expressions generated in terms of a lifestyle. Always got captured by the clothes of Skinheads, Mods and the DIY style of the early hip hop era. Everything that expresses a deep underground habit, social behaviours and group of people united by an ideological or political thought always attracted my attention.
DD: How did this Wu Tang project come about? Did you know the members before?
Alessandro Simonetti: I was on one of my summer trips back to my hometown and few days after Wu Tang were going to perform in Rome, the city where I grew up. I think the day after I landed from the US I made my way from Venice to the capital filled with tons of 1600 ISO BW films. I didn't shoot for any particular assignment other than for an attachment of what the band represents on a cultural and musical level for me. I got in touch with Vel, who was taking care of the band while touring in Europe. I knew him through friends in NYC, so that was the key. I collected almost 50 images trying to keep the idea of a zine, actually a FAN-zine (this is totally the case!) but with the size and the numbers of a book, 96 pages and 48 images. I basically followed all the steps: editing, designing the layout, choosing the paper, and follow the printing process. A total do it yourself project as when I was a 17 year old in the early 90s.
DD: How did they react to having a photographer on board to document them as such? (was just one night documentary)
Alessandro Simonetti: Backstage was full of Italian "fly girls" with pink baggie jumpsuits, backward Yankees hats and crazy breeds coming out from it. In the crowd I was seeing only white hands, and even though I know Italy is pretty young on a multicultural society, it was a shock to step from NY to Italy in one day.
Wu Tang were super cool and chill, champagne, Cheetos and weed, like a birthday party! Under the stage, I had the chance to shoot for the entire live performance and not, as usually, just the first two songs, so I was able to relax and dive on that WU-tunnel vision.
DD: What was your favourite memory from photographing the Wu-Tang Clan?
Alessandro Simonetti: Probably being backstage, being in the same room with people that influenced me in a strong way since I was adolescent was exciting, no matter how old I will be I will keep feel this personal cultural achievement when I will shoot people that I'm into.
DD: What was it about them that drew you to them as subjects?
Alessandro Simonetti: I consider Wu Tang a powerful and clever thing happen to the hip hop scene and the fact they represent the NY scene is a plus.
DD: What are you working on next?
Alessandro Simonetti: I will be presenting the Book around Europe this summer so I will be there for almost two months. I'm going to release another publication in 100 copies hand crafted called "LO IM WITH YOU ALWAY" (an early 1800s way to spell "Lord I'm with you always" from a mix of English and local language), a weekly photo journey in Kingston Jamaica. It's a BW large format publication with a silkscreened cover. Also I will try to do a short documentary about my dad, an ex-boxer, modern hippy, fisherman from Rome.