Photographer In Focus: Giovanni Piliarvu

Giovanni Piliarvu lives in Tokyo, Japan

I met Giovanni on a night photo workshop in Tokyo, Japan. During the 3 or 4 hour workshop we covered a myriad of locations and had a really great chat about not only photography, but travel and Tokyo as well. If you make it to Tokyo, I highly recommend reaching out to Giovanni and spending a few hours on a photo workshop with him. Landscape photography is his focus and he has shown his work around the world. He is currently represented by the Island Gallery in Tokyo, Japan.

From Giovanni’s website: "Giovanni was born in Sardinia, Italy, in 1978. His first contact with a camera was thanks to his uncle who had a photography shop in Giovanni’s hometown of Sassari. Rolls of film were always around the house so he took advantage by loading them in his mother’s Minolta at an early age. He began traveling to experience the world outside of Sardinia. During this time he took a break from photography to express his art via other outlets like music and live performances. Giovanni returned to photography during the digital era. Since then he has shown a passion for capturing majestic landscapes, photographing the emotions of festivals, and making portraits."

Five Foto Facts

First camera: My mother's Minolta...but I don’t remember the model anymore. I'm pretty sure the lens was a 35mm. Probably the reason I still enjoy shooting with that focal length.

Favorite camera: For landscape pictures to be printed, I have no doubt: SIGMA SD Quattro H. The FOVEON sensor does magic when the conditions are right.

Photographer who has most inspired you: My uncle Antonello.

Favorite travel destination: Sardinia.

One place left on your travel bucket list: Canada in autumn.

Stintino, Giovanni Piliarvu

Stintino, Giovanni Piliarvu

The Interview

RDBD: Tell me a little bit about yourself.  What do readers need to know about you to get to know you?  What is your personal, professional, and photography background?

Giovanni Piliarvu: I started taking pictures when I was very young. My uncle had a photography shop in my hometown of Sassari, in Sardinia. My mother’s camera and lots of film at home gave me the opportunity to start having fun with pictures. Nothing serious, of course, but I started there training my eyes. I’ve been living in Japan for more than 10 years and here I began with digital photography. Long story short, I ended up pitching an exhibition in an art gallery in Tokyo and now I'm represented by them, the Island Gallery in Kyobashi, Tokyo.

RDBD: What type of photography do you consider your primary genre and why? What does it mean to you?  How did you become focused on this area of photography?

Giovanni Piliarvu: My primary genre is landscape photography. I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently, and probably the fact that I was born in the island of Sardinia, in a small city, has something to do with it. Now I spend most of my time between the skyscrapers of Tokyo in an environment that is the complete opposite of the one I grew up in. Being out in the nature shooting makes me find the balance I need.

Japanese have use the word "shinrinyoku"  (forest bathing). Going out of the metropolis and taking pictures surrounded by nature is a very...recharging moment for me. I look for the emotions and the feeling in a place. That brought me to expand to shooting traditional festivals, mainly in Tokyo but not only. Lot of emotions are flying in the air during traditional dances and old rituals.  

RDBD: What motivates you as a photographer?  Specifically, why is photography important in your life?  When you are tired of shooting, what gets you out the door anyway?

Giovanni Piliarvu: It’s very important to me.  For starters, when I have a camera in my hands I’m more aware of what’s around me.  It opens my eyes, I look around the world in another way with more attention and different perspective.  Photography also allows me to put down what I’m feeling in certain moments, and get back to that when I see the images I took. I’m lucky enough to live in a city like Tokyo with lots of visual stimuli to offer.  

When I’m tired of shooting in general, I look for something that makes it more interesting and gets out of the routine.  I usually end up with buying some rolls of film and go around with my analog Hasselblad 503 C/M, putting myself in a more relaxed shooting mode.  Other times I can go out with only a prime lens and explore an area of the city I’ve never been into. That said…I hardly get bored of taking pictures. 

RDBD: Please tell me why you chose the image to submit as your one image.  What meaning does the image have to you?

Giovanni Piliarvu: It’s the cover image I used for my my first exhibition in Tokyo, and it’s a place I’m very fond of, back in my home island in Sardinia, very close to where I was born and raised.  The feelings that come back when I look at it are really dear to me.  They are a mix of what I felt the day I was there at the first light of the morning in the shore of the northern coast of Sardinia, and of every time I’ve been there during my childhood or just coming back to it from some part of the world or another.

RDBD: In an era where everyone has a smartphone and selfies and micro-blogging daily activities are quickly becoming the norm, why does traditional photography still matter?

Giovanni Piliarvu: I’m pretty positive about all the interest that nowadays is around anything visual.  It’s pretty good that the society is getting more and more visually aware of things.  I, for one, am very happy to have a camera in my pockets all the time and I really have fun with it. Photography for me is not much about what instrument you’re using but about what you want to express. I’m not a big fan of selfies, which seems to be one of the most popular trends recently,  but I’ve seen very important moments frozen with a cellphone camera. There are times when the quality of the camera comes after the importance of the actual camera to be with you at the decisive moment. 

There is an image that comes strongly to my mind when I think about this.  Annie Leibovitz took the image of the dead body of her partner Susan Sontag with a cellphone, and we’re not talking about a modern smartphone, but a normal cellphone from 2004.  She only had that with her that day, and it doesn’t take anything away from what taking that image mattered to her.

Does photography still matter? I do believe so. My genre is pretty different from documentary photography but I really love when a photographer investigates a theme visually and tries to make the world aware of a certain problem or just put light on something that doesn’t find space in the mainstream news.  Or more simply as a way to express something less tangible.  I just saw an exhibition of the photographer Sugiura Kunie at the Photographic Art Museum here in Tokyo and I really liked her way to use the medium. 

RDBD: What is one thing you think I should ask, but haven’t…and what is your answer?

Giovanni Piliarvu: How do you like your coffee?

Strong, black and possibly really early in the dark hours of the morning, on my way to a location to hope for nature to surprise me with its beauty. No bears around helps me enjoy the experience. 

RDBD: What photographer would you like to see answer these questions and recommend I contact to be featured?

Giovanni Piliarvu: Anna Volpi.  I’m a fan of her work (especially the "flower" project). I was lucky enough to meet her during a workshop here in Japan and I think it’ll be very interesting to read about what she does (if you want to have a look:

Contact Giovanni Piliarvu:


Instagram: @GioPiPhotography


Thank you Giovanni, for a great photography tour of Tokyo, and for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer these questions for the RedDotBlueDot readers.