I’ve taken a million pictures – 50 were good.

‘Do not call me master, for heaven’s sake,” says Ferdinando Scianna, welcoming me inside his studio, a cosy ground-floor space in the centre of Milan. “I do not teach anything to anyone. Come in, take a seat.”

Scianna has just turned 79. Photography, for him, was an obsession that lasted 60 years. “And it is over today,” he declares. He has not taken pictures for years and says that when young photographers approach him for advice, he wants to ask them for theirs instead. “I tell them the most obvious thing: photograph what you love and what you hate. But they should tell me how to sneak around in this weird era that I do not really know.”

Scianna has taken more than a million photographs and, in his words, the good shots number about 50…

He loves to work on books though. He has published over 70; more, he says, than prudence would have advised him. The first was published in 1965 and is about religious rituals in Sicily (Feste Religiose in Sicilia). “I was just a 21-year-old Sicilian kid, and that book built my career. Today, when I leaf through the pages, I feel confused. I look at my photos and I ask myself, who took those images? I was too young and ignorant. You know, I learned to take pictures over the years – basically, just by taking them.” …

I do not think I can change the world with my photographs, but I do believe that a bad picture can make it worse,” he says. “And the point is that we have too many images. If you eat caviar every day, eventually you will want pasta e fagioli.” He thinks that photography went into an irreparable crisis a couple of decades ago, when we stopped building family photo albums. “Today we all take photos with our phones, but they are background images. Even a selfie is not a self-portrait but a kind of neurosis about a moment of existence that must immediately supplant another, and so on. And we all know what happens when something loses the identity that has determined its success and cultural function. It dies.” …

He also disdains the pace of change driven by the internet. “On the web, everything is consumed quickly. Culture, on the other hand, is slowness and choice. I made my theory; it is the theory of the three risottos. Do you want to hear it?” He clears his throat. “If someone has never eaten a risotto in his life – and if they have never been to Sicily, they certainly never have eaten a good one – the first time they taste it, they can only say if they liked it or not. The second time, however, they can argue that it was better or worse than the first one. Only from the third time on can they have their own theory of risotto and, if they want, give advice on how it should be cooked. Culture, to me, is knowing things and having a choice.” …

His last solo exhibition was at the prestigious Palazzo Reale in Milan. More than 200 photos were on show and, on some days, there were long queues waiting to get in. “Graham Greene once wrote, while travelling from Marseille to Paris, at some point he deeply believed in the existence of God. With photographs it is a bit the same. And the world, you know, practises forgetfulness. Millions of men lived before us, men who had dreams, who have done things. We do not know anything about them.”

But then, I ask, what remains in history? “Things that have found their shape,” he replies instinctively, adding: “I have walked my entire my life only to take photos. I am like those little dogs who, while walking, have left their poop around the streets. But if you really want to know the truth, then yes, taking pictures has given me a lot of happiness.” He takes another puff on his pipe and watches the smoke slowly rise towards the ceiling until it becomes a giant white cloud that evaporates in a second.

— Maurizio Fiorino, excerpts from “”I’ve taken a million pictures – 50 were good’: photographer Ferdinando Scianna” (The Guardian, July 26, 2022)



  1. Love his wisdom and take on it all. Especially love his ‘3 risottos theory.’

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, this is a marvellous post! So inspiring. Thank you, thank you, thank you! 😊🙏

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes. The web is that paradox, if it could be such, of something all good or all bad. So much drivel, so … Much. I’ve either got to jump in or jump out, like playing jump rope with two others holding the rope, turning it. Otherwise I risk becoming utterly entangled in the rope. I don’t know how true artists have time to both push their work out at warp speed and consider the quality of what they are producing. I get his point, I do. I get it to the point that most of the time, I hold back instead of publishing. I take a zillion photos, most of which I delete. I write nearly every day, but publish so little of it. I consider not the process, but the quality. And there you have it.

    What an amazing photo. 🙏🏽

    Liked by 3 people

    • Love your mind and description of the web. So with you!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I have long sensed the angst in the artist self. Your own eye does recognize the subleties, the emanating beauty, yet how do we actually capture it? How can we ever? Are we meant to reduce it, thus? Yet somehow this guy does it. And when we are lucky, we, too are able to capture it. Perhaps that magic ingredient is ‘numinosity.’

        Liked by 2 people

        • That’s it Bela. Sort of like…

          It’s a lofty goal, to imagine translating one’s own personal experiences in a way that instructs and illuminates, moves and inspires, another human being. Even attempting to do such a thing is heroic; that’s why I think workshops ought to begin with praise for what the author has attempted to do, if not succeeded in doing-and then, since good writing is about thinking, a segue into an exchange of ideas inspired by the essay at hand. The most important question to be asked is “What is this piece about below the surface?” The writer doesn’t necessarily need to have an answer to that question the route to creating art is meandering and brambly, and most artists can’t tell you exactly how it’s done-but in any case, the reader has to be able to answer the question. Because a good essay-for that matter, a good short story, memoir, novel-is about ideas, that’s how it elevates itself beyond and above its nominal subject to illuminate something universal. 

          — Jo Ann Beard, Festival Days (Little, Brown & Company, March 16, 2021)

          Liked by 2 people

          • “meandering and brambly,” indeed. For me, the writing is second nature. I’ve written since i was a small kid. It just comes through. Taking photos, on the other hand, when my eyes – all three of them – 😂 see far more than the lens is capable of … leaving me most always disappointed. Back to the artist in your post, a million photos for 50. I get that one to the bone.

            Liked by 1 person

          • 🙂


  4. I love this. I miss my photo albums. After every holiday or special event, I painstakingly assembled the photographs into a carefully chosen album. Dated and labelled. We love looking through them, remembering the good times. I even printed off the better ones when we started to use digital cameras and put them in an album. And then about 8 years ago I stopped the habit and everything is now in files on my computer. Sometimes we look at them but not as often. I worry about what will happen to them. Will my grandchildren be able to look at them when I’m gone?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a fabulous post, David. I absolutely love the risotto analogy. It is perfect, isn’t it?

    I have boxes and boxes of photos and albums and albums of photos. And then I went digital and I lament the fact that we no longer really share our photos or take them out. Sigh.

    My friend has begun making picture books. They are like mini albums and a way of bringing her photos out of the computer. I’ve been considering doing the same. There are so many sites for various budgets.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow – there are so many quotable thoughts that he shares. Terrific post.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. A great analogy for a theory! Sadly, every time son the amateur photog comes across this or that carefully orchestrated composition shot, he points out the error just as I’m saying, “Wow, this is…” That’s all he sees, now — not the beauty. Bro-in-law presented me with fine frameable photos of a whale’s tiny top fin because the whale had diving to do. They all did that day — I had put my camera away so I wouldn’t miss a bit of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow. Wow, wow, wow. I want to print out almost every passage and hang it over my desk…

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Excellent post on someone I don’t know but now honor from afar. His philosophy is what life is all about. Magical.

    Liked by 1 person

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