When London photographer Charlie Kwai started working on Magnetite last year, he knew it’d probably amount to a substantial body of work.
“I always have it in my mind that I’m not gonna get into something unless the journey is going to lead to something good,” he says over the phone from Kent, where he’s just travelled to spend the weekend with his daughter.
“What I enjoy the most about making photography projects is the process and journey which you have to go on, and being really challenged throughout that.”
Over the last few years Charlie has carved a reputation for being an observer, with a sometimes slightly abrasive, always distinctive style of photographing people and places. His images are sharp and bursting with energy – a far cry from the polish of fashion editorials.
Rather, Charlie is a documentarian who focuses on how a specific area’s population defines it. He’s captured Maccies punters around the country, Mexico City residents days after Trump’s 2016 election, and British seaside locations such as Southend, Blackpool and Great Yarmouth.
This time around, though, Charlie decided to cast his net a little wider: to the Italian riviera, between Venice and Rimini, to a lesser-known spot called Lido Estensi. It’s one of a string of 28 riviera resorts that keep locals coming back year on year with magnet-like attraction – hence the project’s title.
“My friend [creative director] Marco Minzoni has his own history with Lido Estensi,” Charlie continues. “At the time, I was photographing a lot of British beaches, because it’s fun and I like sea breezes. Then he was like, ‘Why don’t you come and do that where I’m from?’ It’s a place he hates now [because] he can’t relate to it anymore – which was a good incentive for him to go back with an outsider, to see it through my eyes.”
The result: bronzed nonnas sporting shiny magenta bikinis, diamanté hairclips and aviator sunnies, plenty of bleached blonde hair, karaoke sessions, early dinners and teens dragged along for the ride – and all captured under beating Mediterranean sunshine.
“To draw a similarity with England, it felt a bit like Skegness,” Charlie says, a comparison that isn’t as bonkers as it sounds. “Everyone’s working class, they’re just on holiday in their own country and really enjoying it. It was a little tacky, the food wasn’t great, but everyone’s so friendly and having the best time. I like places like that because they’re so laidback.”
Still, Charlie’s not quite over the finish line with Magnetite. To raise funds in order to publish the book, he and Marco have set up a Kickstarter campaign, with prints, workshops and postcards available for those who donate. Not to mention the book’s cover will be made from recycled sunlounger fabric, direct from Lido Estensi. Sold yet?
“I just hope people can enjoy a slice of Italy through the book,” says Charlie. Yes, he knows the Italian riviera in general is well-documented, but this particular corner, with its particular faces, feels and looks, is still a hidden gem. “I’ve never seen a project fully dedicated to a place like this, which isn’t necessarily a go-to location. And it’ll be a lovely object once it’s printed.”
We say: get donating to a project with proper magnetic appeal. It might be the closest we get to the beach for a good few months.
Get involved with Magnetite’s Kickstarter here