Work / Photography

Photographer Luca Tombolini captures the surreal perfection of the desert

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Computer-generated renders, interstellar landscapes or piles of ice cream? It’s tricky to work out exactly what you’re looking at with Italian photographer Luca Tombolini’s large format abstractions. Shot on location from deserts around the world – most recently in the American West but also in Morocco, Spain and Iceland, Luca’s landscapes feel eerily synthetic, and constantly challenge the eye and brain to work out whether they’re real or have been dreamed up in Cinema 4D.

Based in Milan, Luca studied communication sciences and Italian cinema, picking up a camera while at university. Since 2011 he’s focused on large-format film photography, lugging his kit (plus essentials like food and camping equipment) to some of the most untouched and desolate places on earth, often for weeks at a time. Luca first scouts locations using Google Earth and, once he’s found a place that appeals to him, spends considerable time on travel logistics. “I like the whole story of being there to photograph,” says Luca. “The journey, the arrival, the fact I’m camping and living in the area for some days and the time spent alone and far away from everyday life. While doing so, I also like to try to get a different perspective on the landscape, relying more on the feelings rather than pure aesthetics.”

Talking about his work as a form of meditation, Luca aims to capture the longevity of landscapes compared to human’s fleeting existence but also connect with those that have looked on the same vistas before him. “In my photography I’m following a fascination for desert primordial places,” says Luca. “No other places are so helpful in making that mind shift needed to try to enquire beyond our limited lifetime.”

Finding pleasing compositions (and the then trying desperately not to mess them up with a stray foot or camera bag), Luca captures flat, graphic forms where the desert’s hue and lighting combine to create an otherworldly scene. “Once I’ve arrived I like to roam around the place and see it changing in the cycle of night and day,” he says. “While doing so it usually emerges quite clearly which are the most interesting views and when to photograph.” This scouting process is especially important as Luca doesn’t tweak colours or touch up shots. “What I get out of the scanner is what you’ll see printed,” he says.

Given the desert is constantly in motion, with sands shifting to provide an infinite palette of abstract shapes, time and chance play an important part in Luca’s work – something especially significant given the somewhat slow process of shooting large format. Luca says, “I’ve found photography particularly efficient to make considerations about time, either when it’s clearly stopping it or on the contrary when it gives the impression of compressing time as if the moment pictured could have existed forever.”

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Luca Tombolini: LS X, United States

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Luca Tombolini: LS X, United States

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Luca Tombolini: LS X, United States

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Luca Tombolini: LS X, United States

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Luca Tombolini: LS IX, Morocco

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Luca Tombolini: LS IX, Morocco

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Luca Tombolini: LS IX, Morocco