Paolo Ventura has a photographic memory. It’s not that he remembers everything; instead, he transforms his memories—and his dreams and imaginings—into photographs. “I used to listen to my grandmother tell stories about Italy during the war,” he says, “how the house I was staying in was nearly bombed, and it was almost as if I had experienced it. I wanted to make a picture of that time as if it were my own memory.” But how to make a photograph—a mute and durable record—of things that once were and no longer are or never were? How to make the interior world external? Conventional photographers can use reality, frame it, sample it, and in some sense hide behind it. Ventura must fabricate it. The Milan-born artist, whose exhibitionWinter Stories is on view at the Hasted Hunt Gallery in New York February 28–April 12, builds and paints sets and peoples them with figurines and costumes that he has collected. It gives him the freedom to imagine his way into the past, as he did in his earlier series War Souvenir, an evocative re-creation in miniature of an Italy wracked by violence; or to invent a new story. For Winter Stories, Ventura has envisioned the last 20 minutes in the life of a dying man, who shuffles through his own memories like a bundle of photographs. Many of the images are theatrical, reminiscent of Fellini’s films: from the opening image of a carnival presentation to the scene on this month’s cover, a high-wire act seen from below, from crowd level. Others are casual and poignant, the way life seldom is when we are living it but the way found photographs often are. For Sarah Hasted, these were found photographs. Ventura initially dropped off his work unintroduced for a portfolio review. “I didn’t know what to do with his handsome, unusual work,” she says, “but I knew I had to talk to the person who made it.” Ventura was a fashion photographer for nine years before he began working on his dioramas, and the change was a segue, not a leap. “It is in the nature of fashion photography to re-create a world that doesn’t really exist,” he says. As Ventura’s work has developed, his merging of the fictitious and real has become more seamless, like those fictions of Italo Calvino where the ordinary veers into the completely unknown. Where once Ventura’s images played on the uncanny obviousness of dolls and drew us in with a Lilliputian fascination for the details of the miniature world, in Winter Stories we are enveloped in an atmosphere. The damp cold feels real, the figures wandering through the tawdry carnival are almost indistinguishable from ones glimpsed in fact; but the scenes are more mysterious and noir, less documentary, and the period details are mixed. A modern apartment building rises in the background of one image, an old-style circus shed appears in another. Everyone, it seems, wears a trench coat. And a consciousness on the verge of dissolving mixes memory and desire in a final silent and private imaginative act, the last story it will never tell, and the photographer, miraculously, is there to record it.