A diary about the underground worlds of Milan

Since 2018 two Italian photographers have been capturing images in Milan metro and publishing them on UnderMilano. They do continue in times of health emergency and social distancing. With them, we talked about the concept of public space, subjective perception and what happens “below” us every day.

Every day in Milan, before the Covid-19 emergency broke out, the metro carried about 1.3 million passengers. Among these, Tiziano Demuro, born in Sardinia, and Sergio Raffaele, from Sicily, both photographers with international work experience. Their paths converge in the city of Milan, at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts, where they attend a two-year specialist course in photography. Inevitably, as happens to any foreigner “transplanted” to the chaotic capital of Lombardy, the metro soon becomes part of their daily life. After all, it is a distinctive feature of the city of Milan: even the paper map, with its interweaving of lines, names and colours, reveals a complex but productive articulation that makes the city alive, dynamic, European.

UnderMilan was born in 2018. The project is based on the subtle impressions that the underground universe suggests to the photographers, and current considerations on the individual perception of public space. Sergio and Tiziano do not undertake the path of descriptive photography or reportage, neither they give back a didactic and “aesthetizing” representation of Milan metro. On the contrary, the photographers carry out a careful (yet never schematic) decomposition of an atmosphere, to give back an amplified impression in the introspective strength of isolated details. The photographers' vision does not dwell on the exception; starting from the observation of the metro as the public space par excellence, the photography of Tiziano and Sergio narrows the field of analysis to investigate the multiple meanings that the most ordinary detail assumes in the perception of the individual.

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How was UnderMilano born and how does the project relate to your photographic research path? What do your artistic experiences have in common and how do they differ more or less substantially?
Since 2018, we have started using the metro every day. It is a place that has always fascinated us and that, as photographers, we perceived as an extremely fertile ground to tell stories focusing on moments, details and atmospheres. Our photographic research, in fact, focuses on everyday life, looking for extraordinary elements in the ordinary. Each of us is attracted by different moments, places and stories but we have found a common photographic language to transform these discoveries into images. This is one of the strengths of UnderMilano project.

What fascinates you most about this complex underworld?
Milan metro is crossed, every day, by more than one million three hundred thousand passengers. Being part of this flow has given us the opportunity to read this “non-place” as a lateral geography that underlies the outside world and seems to move at its own pace. During our metro journeys, we are constantly focused on what surrounds us, what we feel familiar with and what appears to us as strangers, but which nevertheless attracts our attention. A detail of a clothing, an illuminated corner or an abandoned object, can be charged with suggestions, and through photography, they can open new and unusual imagination.

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Do you believe that photography is the most suitable medium to deepen the considerations underlying UnderMilano project?
UnderMilano does not aim to undertake an anthropological or documentary research within Milan metro. We do not think that photography is a medium able to transmit a fully comprehensive vision, but it is certainly the instrument we feel more comfortable with because it is able to communicate our personal vision.

The most trivial detail, if interpreted, is able to tell a story and contextualize it in a precise atmosphere. In this game of perspectives, what role does the eye of the photographer play?
Daily life is full of trivial details, apparently insignificant, which we do not pay attention to. These are precisely the elements we value the most since they give us the lifeblood for the narrative. Our research aims to highlight gestures, details and real public spaces, such as those of Milan metro, and to capture them with new and unusual perspectives. This is why the photographer’s eye plays a fundamental role for us: it has the task of telling a familiar environment in a new and original way.

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In recent months, the project has (almost involuntarily?) become an explicit testimony of the changes and depopulation of public spaces caused by the coronavirus. The public space changes and the use of it changes. Does the eye and the awareness of the observer also change?
Covid-19 has imposed new ways of living public spaces, including the metro. As photographers and passengers, we have carefully observed this new way of using public transport and we have found ourselves witnessing an important social change. About a month ago, with appropriate precautions, we started using public transport and taking photographs again. However, our view and our way of approaching the visual narration of UnderMilano has not changed.

The project receives a significant support on Instagram, where it has taken the form of a “diary”. The network of images published on @UnderMilano is able to give back, as a whole, the atmosphere that permeates every single shot, whose strength is expressed with even greater immediacy in the approach to the others. In recent times, the world of social media, especially Instagram, is increasingly promoting photographic projects. Are there any that you think are worth particular attention?
Instagram is an important means of communication and it can prove to be a very effective way to make your projects known. The same goes for UnderMilano, which is increasingly gaining popularity on social media. On Instagram there are several accounts dedicated to projects that we think are interesting, such as @conformi_ , @derebussardois or @insta_pier.

What kind of future do you imagine for UnderMilano?
UnderMilano was born as an editorial project, we are working to make it a book soon. Nevertheless, it will continue to live on the social media and in particular on Instagram, as a daily diary of Milan metro’s life.

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