Surfing, skateboarding, human portraits. Journey into the world of the talented photographer from Viareggio

“It is essential to know surfing in order to photograph it. It is a paradigm that applies to all niche sports. You need to be able to perceive the technical gesture, to know how to understand it. I often compare surfing to dance. If I had to do a dance shoot I would study a long time to understand the precise moment in which the body becomes elegant, in which it reaches a perfect position. There are standards to be respected, beauty standards…”

Filippo Maffei’s visual surf is a hymn to aesthetic gentleness, to the ecstatic instant. In the photographic compositions of this artist from Viareggio, Tuscany, the waves become sets with a rare, refined, studied meaning.

Habit, natural appeal, youthful passion sublimated in creativity, in optical magic. A passion that blossomed on the empty pontoons of winter Tuscany, where skateboards alternated with wavy acrobatics.

“I grew up with the sea in front of my eyes. I lived it in autumn and winter, when tourists left the city. From September the promenade became deserted. The streets, the squares, everything was empty and was illuminated by spectacular sunsets. In these contexts I first started skating, later I met surfing: my passion for photography was born there too”

Inspired by the urban scene of Viareggio, by the long afternoons spent riding asphalt and architecture, Filippo takes his father’s Kinon and begins his artistic journey.

“It all happened progressively. I started shooting on film. When I was 18 I injured my ankle and at that moment I realized that I was better as a photographer. At the same time a series of events pushed me towards photography: like the release of ‘The Strongest of the Strange’ produced by Pontus Alv, an innovative video, which explored a different emotional sphere of the skate world. Pontus Alv launched a deep, gloomy visual trend with a lot of black and white”

A trend that in Filippo’s shots soon intertwines with portraiture: a search for the human and emotional condition, far from the simple sporting detail.

“When I started buying Bresson and Avedon’s books my vision changed. I studied their portraits and realized that that kind of research was already part of my photography. During the days spent shooting friends on skateboards, I  used to love to portraying them in intimate moments. I thought it was more meaningful than crystallizing a simple grind. The athletic gesture is there, it is obvious. Intimacy is difficult to explore”

The process of discovery, of exploration, for Filippo was and still is embellished by a series of overseas trips: targeted trips to the Californian eldorado, where skate and surf breathe in their cradle.

“Every time in California I relive the environment of my home, but on the ocean. Each time it is a convergence of passions, emotions: I still have the printed photos of the first trip made with my surfer-friend Alessandro Ponzanelli, they are a milestone in my career. At that time I was studying Foreign Languages in the university of Pisa and I was working in my father’s company. Fortunately he always pushed my passion and, when I understood that it could be a real job, I invested a year to completely devote myself to photography”

The real working turning point comes with Sundek’s global campaign: a huge springboard for Filippo and his photographic style. In the commercial universe, unlike many colleagues, the native of Viareggio does not seem to be distorted. He always remains faithful to his own artistic expression. On the contrary, he is encouraged to do so by the customers.

“I think I have developed a fairly personal style over the years. I’m lucky, those who look for me are interested in what I do. During the shootings I often have freedom to express my vision… And this creates a balance between the creative part and the commercial one. In the last period, many jobs failed due to the pandemic crisis. I took advantage of the historical moment and I opened a photographic studio in Camaiore”

Filippo will soon return to travel, he will soon return to search for the perfect wave: the wave theorized on the Viareggio piers, admired between Hawaii and Iceland, Mexico and California. A wave that has very clear profiles and characteristics in the mind of this talented photographer.

“I love when there is wind from the mainland: the wave is smooth and a strip of glass is created on its surface. These are perfect waves to portray when there is little light: at sunrise or sunset. A scenic part of the wave is created, the crest is blown away by the wind, and in the frame there is cleanliness, richness of image. To this vision I associate a classic surf, which refers to the 70s, far from modern races, competitions and drifts: a perfect, evocative surf”

Photo Credits: Filippo Maffei

video di:
Agency // AQuest
Production Director // Tommaso Artegiani
Executive Producer // Moira Spotorno
Film Direction // Francesco Bonato & Nicola Rossi
Camera & Editing // Nicola Rossi
Original Soundtrack & Sound Design // Alessandro Franceschini

Text by: Gianmarco Pacione