Fulvio Ventura was born in Turin on January 13th, 1941. His father, Ennio Pontrelli, is a Coroner and his mother, Claudia Ventura, whose surname Fulvio will adopt as a photographer, works at a law firm.
Since his adolescence, the young Ventura is passionate about jazz music and during his college education years (classes only ran in the mornings then) he spends entire afternoons at the United States Information Service Library (USIS), reading the jazz and blues magazine Down Beat. It is here that he first comes across Edward Weston’s book My Camera on Point Lobos: this is his first encounter with photography. Professional practice, however, is still far away and Ventura initially takes up painting, regularly visiting Sergio Saroni’s, Piero Ruggeri’s and Aldo Mondino’s studios.

After gaining his Diploma, he enrols in the Faculty of Medicine with the intention of specializing in Psychiatry. However, after attending the course for two years, the condition of the asylums (those were the years prior the reforms introduced by professor Basaglia) drive him to abandon his studies.

He then moves to Milan where he eagerly studies Philosophy for the next four years without, however, getting a degree. During his fourth year he teams up with a magazine, called Protagonisti, as Iconographic Editor. In 1966, at the age of 25, he meets the great photographer Ugo Mulas, to whom he proposes to become his assistant: he really wants to learn Photography.

During his University time in Milan, and his time spent at the Casa della Cultura (House of Culture – an association founded by antifascist intellectuals), Ventura meets Anna De Lorenzi, also a student of Philosophy, and idyllic loving relationship is born. In 1967, during a trip with Anna to London, and the incontestable visit to the market in Camden Town, seeing her spend all her budget for gifts and souvenirs to buy a copy of the 1929 A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare, illustrated by Arthur Rackam, Fulvio decides that their elective affinities exceed his hopes, and asks her to marry him. The couple will marry in 1969 in Ghiffa, a small village overlooking Lake Maggiore, where they eventually settle at the beginning of the 1980s. Anna will remain Fulvio’s lifelong companion, as well his assistant for the majority of his photographic works.

Between 1967 and 1968 he briefly practices Reportage Photography: his are the photos of the German sociologist and Marxist activist, Rudi Dutschke, featured on some of Giangiacomo Feltrinelli’s posters. In 1968 he is in Paris, with Anna and friend Mario Dondero, to follow and to photograph the developments of the French May protest. However, this kind of photography doesn’t appeal to him and he soon abandons it in favour of Research Photography. In recounting that period he writes: I envisaged a totally different way of taking photographs: different from the so-called traditional photography or the committed image-making by the 1968 movements. He works along Alberto Sanavio for the weekly magazine Fiera Letteraria, meeting and photographing writers such as Montale, Moravia and Cortazar.

In 1972, whilst on a trip to Spain and Morocco, he finally embraces Research Photography completely. I wanted to capture some metaphysical secrets he writes. From an early age I have considered the world as cosmos, which means beautiful (as in the Greek etymology), a good thing, as written in the Genesis – and this is the only thing I can relate to. His instrument is a Nikon camera (he later switches to a Leica, favouring the Mamiya 6×7, from 2000 onwards) and the images are in colour.

These are years of great intensity: a trip to Turkey and the encounter with the Sufi school of thought; the discovery of the way of thinking of Greek-Armenian philosopher, musician and mystic Georges Ivanovič Gurdjieff – originally from the Caucasus region – as well as the learning of Tibetan and Zen Buddhism and Chinese philosophy, all profoundly mark Ventura’s further education, both in a philosophical and a musical sense.
In his photographic practice, his images have no immediate translation into verbal thinking and relate to dreams: staircases are one of his recurring themes – spaces are never defined as to where they start and where they end.

Leaving a contemporary classical music concert, which didn’t particularly appeal to him, one day he meets Franco Battiato (Italian singer-songwriter, composer, filmmaker). At the time, Battiato, though still practising progressive rock, had recently been attending the Darmstadt Summer Composition Courses for New Music. Ventura introduces him to groups following Gurdjeff’s school of thought. They meet in Fulvio and Anna’s apartment, in via Raffaello Sanzio in Milan and, with a small Moog synthesizer (Battiato) and a Kodak Carousel (Ventura), they improvise arrangements accompanied by images. His friendship with Battiato is maintained throughout their lives and is evidenced by many pictures depicting recordings and set photos. For Carla Bissi, (known as the singer Alice) Ventura creates three covers for the albums Alice, Park Hotel and Melodie Passagère (the latter features the photo of the magnolia on the cover, later also selected for the renowned Viaggio in Italia). The fact that her recording studios are located in historical parks such as Villa Condulmer is a further motivation for Ventura to follow her and to merge two sources of photography: the singer’s portraits and scenes from the gardens.

In 1973 Franco Fontana, well known photographer and writer, introduces him to Luigi Ghirri: a kinship of souls is born, which cannot be contained in a biography and will be the source of a great partnership.
Ghirri and Ventura’s relationship is bound by a profound friendship and mutual esteem.
It is through Ghirri, and the photografer Giovanni Chiaramonte, that Ventura becomes acquainted with Ragazzi – a printer from Modena who used an Agfa warm-tone photographic paper – which sadly soon became almost impossible to find. Ghirri, instead, chose a less contrasted, brighter paper.The list of publications and exhibition to which they both participated are the result of their close collaboration as artists.

Ventura explores the wild nature, where there is no trace of human presence: a virgin nature, even if, at times, caught between a railway and a road. His research is inspired by the impossible climb of the inaccessible. Ventura pursues the vertigo of the mystery of a world denied to men. Bushes entertain a conversation at dusk, a group of trees play a jazz concert, spirits appear painted by light and shadows: they could be elves, fairies or gnomes drawn by a contrast that the black and white prints emphasize, without ever exaggerating.

Once, to a friend asking him if he thought that fairies could still exist in the high Alpine valleys, Fulvio Ventura replies: ’’Probably today’s fairies work as waitresses in tourist restaurants’’.

Chasing the mysterious Taoist Ch’i, the Dragoons and the Genius loci – that still lurk in nature, if not disturbed, Ventura photographs skies, clouds, mists, hills, valleys, gorges: a theme that he will call Han Shan. He also photographs woods, undergrowth, trees, bushes, grass, flowers, cacti, bark: a theme that he will call Phusis. Ventura will continue to develop these themes for life.
Years later, during a conference at the Faculty of Architecture of Polytechnic University in Milan: My autonomous photographic work on the landscape concerned the existence of a nature which – although it might be too daring to call it virgin nature, but still, when it is not too mortified by anthropic intervention, it could be seen, and represented photographically, as a place of apparitions.

In the 1975 he starts the collection Sagacity, on which he will work throughout his life. The full title is Sagacity, Sunstar and Salamandra; an inscription (which identifies three horses: son, father and mother) engraved on a brass plate discovered by chance in the windows of a typographer. Ventura writes: It was a perfect title for me, a bit in the poetics of the found object.
But there is a another random fact at the origin of this work: the TV viewing of a spy film in which the protagonist, betrayed by his superiors and abandoned by his companion, begins a personal search for the truth. The suspense that accompanies the film is an important and positive element: the tension encourages a greater concentration, allowing to see (and remember) better.

Fundamental to Sagacity is also the discovery of a book from 1617: Atalanta Fugiens by Michael Maier, philosopher, musician, alchemist and doctor of Rudolf II of Habsburg. The book consists of 50 compositions and engravings that illustrate the stages of the alchemical process. Some images are a transposition of Maier’s engravings into photographs. On one hand there is the mystery of alchemy, on the other hand Atalanta is for Ventura a woman on the run, who might guard a secret. We meet her on the train, behind the counter of a bar, in a subway station… the author chases the woman, the image, and the meaning of things.

There are other important references that contribute to the realization of Sagacity. These include the surrealist novel Nadja by André Breton – here, the man falls in love with Nadja and her way of looking at the world. Nadja is illustrated with images including, Ventura pointed out, Atget’s photographs. Or again, E.T.A. Hoffman’s The Golden Vase: in a dimension suspended between the real and the unreal, the story tells of the archivist Lindhorst, king of salamanders, and his three daughters.

Sagacity is a body of work that lives together with Ventura. The photos changes constantly: new ones are added, others are excluded, others still, once part of the series, remain unchanged. There is, especially in the initial intentions, a criterion of formal unity: almost all the Sagacity’s photos are in black and white 24x36mm, with few concessions to colour.

A selection from Sagacity is exhibited at the Biennale di Venezia in 1993 (curator: Arturo Carlo Quintavalle) and published in Muri di Carta (see book list). Many photographs belong to the collection of the ‘Bibliothèque National de Paris’ (where they were exhibited in 1979).

During 1977-78 he begins to practice landscape photography through the car window (mainly) or train, both black and white and colour (Kodachrome) along the routes Milan-Turin / Milan-Rome / San Sebastiano-Montebianco-Paris / Ghiffa-Lucerne-Zurich, with Anna driving their green Ford Transit van.
This series of images, called Transit / Visioni Fuggevoli, has been exhibited at the Venice Biennale and published in Muri di Carta. Part of it is preserved at the Centro Studi e archivio della communicazione (Communication Archives and Study centre) in Parma.

In 1978 he plans to publish his first monograph through ‘Punto e Virgola’ publishing company, founded by Luigi Ghirri; the title should have been Souvenir (sometimes written Souvenirs) and the volume should have been accompanied by a text by Jean-Claude Lemagny, founder of the photography gallery at the ‘Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris’. But one day, at the sight of yet another failed printing of the typography drafts, which did not exactly translate the shades of colour that he wanted, Ventura, not to disprove the affinities of character that he knew to share with the painter Emile Bonnard, literally throws the drafts in the air and leaves, furious, cancelling everything. The publication is therefore postponed, but then anyway the publishing house goes bankrupt and, in the end, the book is never published.

In 1979 he exhibited at the Rencontres in Arles and in the same year also at the Gallery of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, where many prints are preserved to this day.

During the 80s Ventura begins to photograph gardens, for him a symbol of another condition, primitive, expression of the Anima Mundi in which he found a nature, in fact, animated, populated by mysterious presences. A paradisiacal world, as the etymology of the word itself suggests: in Greek, ‘paradeisos’ means ‘enclosed garden’. Ventura writes: ’’Things have a soul, expression of the anima mundi. Photographers too have a soul, and when the two meet, wonders happen’’.
Some of these images will be included in 1984 in the exhibition and in the book Viaggio in Italia (the series bears the title Genius Loci), marking the history of Italian photography – and in part, influencing the fame of the author, who will sometimes feel unjustly constrained into the role of garden photographer.

Also from the 80s, are the series Paesaggio con auto (Landscapes with cars, inspired by a drawing by Waechter), exhibited at Bocconi University of Milan, curated by Roberta Valtorta, and the series Bal des Pompiers which Ventura comments: ’’I was struck by a certain kind of architecture, especially in Paris, but also in Italy, of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which could be defined as pre-Art Nouveau – though part of Art Nouveau can remain in this framework, which I referred to ‘neobabylonian’ but that we could more simply qualify as Pompier’’.

These are the years of the increasingly frequent trips to France with Anna, almost always to the same destinations: Paris – where they have many friends and a network of favourite restaurants, bookshops and record shops, and where their haven is a small hotel near the Place de la Contrescarpe – and Provence, with Arles photography festival, Avignon festival and concerts of Turkish, Indian and Pakistani friends in the abbeys of the region, Sénanque, Grasse…

A trip to Srinagar in Kashmir in 1985 – one of the very rare trips without Anna – allows him to discover new lights and brightness and to add more images to his photographic series.

At the beginning of the 90s, Ventura begins a close collaboration with printer Mario Govino, from Milan. From this moment on he confides all his colour prints to Govino. A new friendship is born, based on a great mutual respect. Ventura attends the printing works, and there may be up to three colour proofs developed and dried, before moving to the full print. Govino experiments with cyan and yellow until he gets the tone desired by Fulvio. Every press session is a special time, interrupted only by a trip to the Lebanese restaurant next door during their lunch break.

Ventura takes part in the commissioning of the project 1987-97 Archivio della Spazio, ten years of Italian photography in the province of Milan, curated by Roberta Valtorta, and in 1993 he was at the Italian Pavilion in the Muri di Carta section curated by Arturo Carlo Quintavalle.
In 2004 his work is exhibited at Museo di Fotografia Contemporanea of Villa Ghirlanda in Racconti dal paesaggio, 1984-2004, twenty years after Viaggio in Italia and in 2006 he is again at MuFoCo in the exhibition Naturale. Works from the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Photography.

In 2005, often walking along the paths of Verbano with his faithful huskie Gluck, whilst following him, waiting for him or looking for him along the waterways which the dog loved, Ventura begins to photograph the water and its reflections: a case of Serendipity. A wonderful series will be created which Ventura will call Vodachrome.

A more recent body of work relates to the city of Venice, where Ventura used to go when visiting his friends Guido Guidi, professor at IUAV, and Giovanni De Zorzi, musician and professor of ethnomusicology at Cafoscari. When Francesca Fabiani asked him to participate to Rischio Paesaggio exhibition at MAXXI in 2007, with a commissioned project, Ventura decided to photograph the city in a precarious balance, between tourists and abandoned environments. During one of these shooting sessions, one day Ventura photographs in the company of his friend Mario Govino, who will contribute to the series with some personal images. The images, colour 50x60cm, are kept at the MAXXI Museum in Rome.

During 2000 and 2010, in parallel with the work in the darkroom, Ventura begins his first experiences with digital photography, of which he discovers its vast possibilities, using it more and more to develop his favourite themes. His instrument is a Fuji machine, the best of the moment.
The precision of the minimal variations that can be obtained in the shades of colour, in the contrasts and in the white balance, fascinates him. The chromatic differences of the screens from one computer to another leave him puzzled. The absence on the prints of spots and imperfections to correct are a great relief. Anna, for her part, appreciates the decrease in prints to be dried, one of the prerogatives of her role as assistant.
Even happier with these experiences of the digital are Gluck and Doug, his beloved huskies, and his cat Pinchiorri, called “The Secretary” because of the assiduity with which he follows Ventura while working: they can finally keep him company during the photographic work at the computer, being previously categorically excluded from entering the darkroom.
For photos of domestic life Ventura uses the Polaroid until 2007, when the classic Polaroid disappears, and later he will use another smaller digital Fuji.

From these digital experiences will be born new color photographic series, Herbes Folles, Flora, flowers, Filla, leaves, Dendra, trees, and other series, all belonging to the great central theme Phusis, nature. Inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s famous advice to look closely at stains on walls to stimulate the imagination, the Mauer series, the walls, and Rindschau, the barks, are also born.

Starting from 2017, Ventura begins to struggle with various health problems that oblige him to be increasingly sedentary, but this does not prevent him from continuing to work on his vast archive and, on the computer, on digital images.

Fulvio Ventura dies of cardiac arrest in the house in Ghiffa, a bright morning, with Anna beside and surrounded by his cats.

On 7 March 2020, in difficult times when not even his friends could say goodbye to him.

Finally, it is necessary to add to these biographical notes a reference to some of Fulvio Ventura’s other passions which, in parallel with photography, he has cultivated throughout his life: good cooking, that he mastered with dedication, enthusiasm and rigour, paying great attention to the quality of the ingredients and following recipes from all over the world, experimenting and creating new ones; good reading, a passion which will fill his house with books of all kinds – his shelves never allowing enough space, though constantly multiplying; good music, a passion which will push him to put together an extraordinary collection of records and CDs, and that earned him the friendship of many musicians, in addition to the aforementioned Battiato and Alice, from Franco Ceccarelli of Equipe 84 to Terry Riley, from jazz players Gil Evans, Steve Lacy and Lee Konitz to the masters of ney Akagündüz Kutbay and Kudsi Erguner.

The musician Giovanni De Zorzi remembers him as follows: “Among his many gifts, Fulvio had one for music: he was sensitive, receptive and had an innate taste, that he cultivated with great care. He had collected an enormous amount of recordings from diffent countries and genres. When we visited Fulvio and Anna in Ghiffa, he made us listen to rare records: he loved to share the act of listening with his guests: he was saying that, listening together, you discover things that you do not grasp by yourself”.