If you stumbled across a man hastily trying to fix a table in the middle of London last month, then you may have already met Renato Pinna; Londnr’s first photographer in residence. When Renato turns up to greet me, he is halfway through moving house and I almost expect to see him cradling a desk lamp under his arm as he enters the Londnr lounge. He has the look of a man who is still overwhelmed by the restless nature of the city, despite having now lived in the capital for almost three years. But there is far more to it than simple awe. Renato seems to have a genuine affinity with the city’s bustling population, something that resonates in nearly all his images.
“I’ve been in love with London since I came here for the first time as a kid with my parents. I thought it was a really cool city, so I was already planning to move here.”
Having grown up on the tiny island of Sardinia, just off the coast from mainland Italy, Renato could not have had a more contrasting childhood. Cut off from the rest of the world, he turned to the arts to pass the time, taking a seemingly tangential path to photography through the world of Heavy Metal. To Renato though, the transition was much more linear.
“When I think about it there isn’t much of a difference between photography and music. There is dark photography and there is dark music. Then there is happy photography, like taking photos of flowers. I won’t take a picture of a flower, or a sunset.”
Listening to this mild-mannered Italian speak, I find it hard to imagine him gracing the stage as the long-haired bassist of Souls of Diotima, growling along to the band’s gothic anthems. But, then again, there is a sombre elegance to his photography that, as he rightfully says, doesn’t come from gazing at tulips or walking merrily through Richmond Park. Renato likes to capture the side of London that most people never stop to admire. Perhaps it’s because he’s still influenced by island living that he chooses to focus on the smaller details in a bigger picture; only nowadays he’s able to practise his art on a much larger scale.
“If you want to do something in London, I mean really do it properly, you can. If you really work at it. So that’s why I came here.”
Renato and I came to London for similar reasons – we were both tired of pushing for the big time in a small town. In Sardinia, Renato made a name for himself, but, in a way, it was only for himself. He didn’t become an overnight sensation in Italy, despite his growing portfolio. Nor did he gloss the covers of magazines, despite his shrewd eye for cover worthy shots. Yet, since moving to London, he has become the crown jewel of the Italian Consulate.
“The first time I came here I just had an exhibition at Brick Lane Gallery,” Renato tells me, alluding to his modest debut. But, within three short years, his work was lining the halls of the Consulate, after an unexpected rise to fame in his home country. Despite his follow up exhibition taking place in a side street coffee shop, the word in Sardinia was that Renato had hit the bigtime.
“They just sent me an email asking me to show my photos because they liked the project. They said you can do something important, so after that I just tried to find more people to show my projects to.”
Renato believes he would never have received such an opportunity had it not been for his move abroad.
“It is really hard to sell art, because it is very period. If you aren’t important, then people don’t buy your art. People don’t buy art to put it on their wall, they buy the photo and wait a few years to sell the masterpiece.”
London is where Renato hopes to sell his name to the world. For him, it is the only place in which his talents have gained him wider recognition. Whilst Sardinia may have inspired him to pick up his camera, it’s London that has given him the freedom to use it. Despite having worked several other jobs during his time here, Renato has always kept a keen eye (and lens) on his ultimate goal.
“When I moved from the traditional mentality of Sardinia to London I was quite shocked at first. Everything back home is much slower. When I first worked here as a kitchen porter, they told me I had to come in on a Sunday and I was very surprised, because in Sardinia everything is closed on a Sunday. Everything is different here and I like it.”