Visualizing the Environmental Emergency – Empathy and Connection in Environmental Storytelling current global coverage of the environmental emergency and the climate crisis consists mostly of single images, often related to environmental photography. How can contemporary photography use its visual power to create stories that trigger empathy, closeness and connectedness, and inspire people to act? The Anthropocene has radically and dangerously changed the relationship between humans and nature. This is forcing us to review the way we live our lives, and redress the negative impacts. Everyone is asked to do their bit in order to reduce their planetary footprint and live a more sustainable life.  How can contemporary photography have an important role in defining, inspiring and touching people’s emotions towards this goal? Are we asking too much of photographers, or do they have a responsibility in environmental storytelling? Now more than ever we need people to feel connected with nature, the issues, and other people across the planet. We need to understand how contemporary photography can have a very important role.  This event features Maria Teresa Salvati and Mattia Marzorati, and is moderated by Dr Paul Lowe. This event is supported by the Photography and the Archive Research Centre, London College of Communication, University of the Arts London, and Everything is Connected.  TRANSCRIPT


Paul Lowe: Okay, thank you. So thank you very much. As I said, this is part of an ongoing series that we started over a year ago with several symposiums on visualizing climate change. And today I’m very happy to bring back Maria Teresa Salivate, and Mattia Marzorati who is going to be talking about his work. But first of all, Maria tres is going to set the scene as it were, for this series of talks we’re going to be having, by telling us a bit more about her. She’s just she’s been doing a lot of research or thinking about what are the alternatives, what new ways to visualize the climate emergency. And so passing over to Maria Teresa, and we’ll come back at the end for some questions from the floor, you feel free to type those into the the Q&A box at the end. And we’ll run for about an hour everybody, by the way. So thank you very much. And over to you Maria Teresa.


Maria Teresa Salivate: Thank you very much, Paul. Thank you for everyone joining us today. I see a lot of people already here. Yes, as Paul was saying, it’s been a year now that we’ve been working with the UL and Park and VII and the last year also climate visuals, to try and explore different ways of talking about the communication, the visual communication of climate change. And this year, we have slightly changed the title, but we are continuing the exploration. And the reason why we do this is because last year, I launched a platform called Everything is Connected, which was kind of a natural, an extension of a photographic competition launched by (Spelling) in end of 2019, which was around climate change, it was called, Everything is Connected. Now the platform has evolved into a transdisciplinary project where we are trying to put together different disciplines that toolkit together can really explore new ways of communicating climate change, especially going to the public space and involving a large public and essentially trying to change the paradigms for communicating climate change. So if you’re curious, there is only the Phase One posted on the website, the website is everything is Today, we will talk about this is the first of this second chapter, if you want of the visualizing the environmental emergency. And today, we will talk about the importance of empathy and connection in environmental photography. And I’ve had, I had the pleasure to invite Mattia Mazorati, which is an Italian photographer, and I’ll tell you later why I decided to invite him and they will present his work, which is the Land of Holes. And together we will try to expand further on the idea of why connection and empathy are important in today’s communication, visual communication on the climate emergency. So I’ll share with you my presentation, one second. Okay, so I’ll take you through a little bit of the representation of nature and environmental over time. And I’ve done a little research into how the climate change in the environmental crisis is represented today in the mainstream media especially. And we’ll we’ll kind of think together why we need a new representation today, and what is the role of contemporary photographers and how they can create some stories, trying to engage with people and I’ll put together I have put together some rules for contemporary monumental storytellers. And there will be some conclusion then I’ll introduce you to Mattia. So the landscape painting as initially influenced landscape photography, in fact, they, the objective of landscape painting at the beginning was that of producing aesthetically pleasing images. So in fact, if you don’t know that the idea of the sublime was that of that was the death of representing the greatness the which the greatness of nature. So the aesthetic of the sublime revolved around the the relationship between human beings and the grandiosity and the terrifying aspect of nature. In fact, the term, sublime, comes also from the idea of this greatness beyond all possibility of calculation and measurement or imitation. And of course, until the middle of the 19th century, the mostly the landscape photography was, was shown for this reason, and there is what the intention was to show the benign influence of humans is the from the 60s onwards, that as we know, for the fastest growing industrialization, the relationship with the between nature and human has changed drastically. And so the there has been really a shift in sensibility of the landscape photographers. So the, in wanting to challenge the reviewers, it really wanted to challenge and show the danger the peril of the the lens, rather than comforting them aesthetically and with the idea of pleasing them. So as we as we all know, now we are in this era that is called Anthropocene.


Maria Teresa: Which is an era in which scientists say that we have significantly altered the earth through our human activities. And so these changes include the global warming, habitat loss, changes in the chemical composition of the atmosphere, oceans and soils and animal extinction. And so what we show today, what photographers try to show today, or artists in general, is really the damage inflicted by humans on nature. So where we are now, this is our question. And the as we know, Anthropocene has really changed the relationship between human and nature. So the question is, are we, as a consequence, should we try to also change the way we represent this changed the relationship? And I think we are on the stage where everyone needs to do their bit in order to reduce the planetary footprint and live a more sustainable life. And of course, it’s also about finding the right balance between telling the truth which often is scary and dangerous and also inspire people with beauty with the beauty of nature, this is a really open question, because I think we should try different ways because of course, the different messages, different messages will appeal to different people. And we should ask ourselves, whether we want to inspire people or scare people in a way as a kind of input to inspire some change. So as I said, I’ve done a little research into the current mainstream visual storytelling and this is what I found, when you search for climate crisis or climate change or environmental crisis in the main global magazine newspapers, you find pretty much similar images, so bushfires, droughts, animals, like going around and you know, eating human garbage, big polluters, you find protesters, big, violent weather events. These are very similar as you can see, you know, from America, US, France, England, the messages like the visual message is pretty much the same. Now we start to see Greta Thunberg I like the fact that the some magazines start to also show some illustrations, because probably we need, you know, without taking away all the immense powerful, power to photography, there are also other artistic languages that can be explored because they, they still can communicate or they can be strong in terms of portraying some conveying some strong messages. So the problem that we have with the past and the current communication, the environmental crisis is this one. So melting icecaps, warmer oceans, intense storms, heat waves, drought, floods, and wildfires, all these well documented effects of climate change. We cannot say that we don’t have this problem. People don’t know about what’s happening, may seem too remote to many people to prompt them to adopt behaviors that can slow the warming of the planet, unless your neighborhood as was destroyed by a severe hurricane to raging wildfire. You might think such disasters happen only to other people. And this is one of the main problem in the current communication the climate crisis. It feels far from us. So but what if we start to communicate the fact that no matter where you live, no matter what is your socioeconomic status, the climate change can endanger your health, physical and mental. We know now there is in many places, even rich places, even where the climate tangible events are not happening yet are not searching in a great way. Like they are happening in more vulnerable countries. A lot of people are suffering for anxiety related to the future, they because we can’t really plan the future. We don’t know what’s going to happen in few years. And so not only your health, but also the health of your children and grandchildren. What if we start to communicate this is this, is called this kind of approach and communication and concept idea could help to really move people to do something and to mitigate their impact.


Maria Teresa: Let’s be, okay, let me do a little premise before this slide. All the documentary photographers that have worked on important matters all around the world over the years, unless they were working on personal projects, or unless they were making iconic that were trying to create iconic images for big magazines, often they were working for NGOs. And in most of the cases, the objective what they were asking people to do was to make donations for good causes. In the case of the climate change, what are we really asking people to do? Reality is we’re asking people to make a cultural shift. Okay, we want people to change to reconsider their habits and the way they live our lives. And we are asking to see the connection between all the events that happen remotely, we are asking you to empathize with others suffering for the consequences of the climate crisis, and so act upon. And we’re asking you to become more conscious, and create critical mass to deny consensus to big polluters and corporations, or to support the decision makers to embarked on a higher political level to make changes. So, of course, it’s a lot there. It’s, it’s we are in, in an epoch in which we, no one can feel useless. No one can feel taken away from the big conversation about the environmental crisis. And so, obviously, you are as a photographer, so whoever is in the, in the crowd here, all of us, we all have some responsibility. And so obviously, we’re not asking photography to do, you know, to do the revolution, but it’s an important tool and needs to be used well, in order to be a protagonist, a big part of this needed revolution. As we know, there are two key elements that represents human beings. One is that we seek patterns and with science, for example, we seek patterns to understand what’s going on in the world. This is the rational part. So if you talk with any scientists around the world that works on these topics, they will all tell you, it’s evident. It’s evident what’s happening. However, this is not enough for a human person to do something about it. Well, it depends what kind of sensibility you have, but also in order to feel emotionally connected with with that story with that evidence, we need to add the story part. So we like to tell ourselves stories and art, with art. We tell ourselves stories of what those patterns mean. And through these stories, we can affect how we engage with people and the world around us. And so we can really make a difference in the future. So stories and what art Contemporary Photography do. It’s very, very important. So the question are, can photography Contemporary Photography use its visual power to create stories that trigger empathy, closeness and connect, connection, connectedness, and so inspiring people to act? As I said, before, we probably are we It feels like we’re asking too much to photographers to do, but they I think they have a responsibility in that sense. So whoever decides to work in this area, you need to consider a lot of things in order to understand what are you trying to do with your project? Where are you bringing the project how is distributed to people who are the talking who are with the target you are trying to convey this message and what you really want them to do? So we talked a lot. Of course, it’s not a new concept, the one of photography creating empathy, but what we really mean and why It’s more important than ever, in this specific area of environmental storytelling. Empathy means try and experience other people’s reality. So it’s an active attempt to understand other people’s perspective, in what way we do it, we try to create a two way, two ways stream, based on mutual understanding, we use active listening, and we open up. So we learn about other people’s experience, why we do this, because this helps to fight prejudices, to find the commonalities and so expand our moral universe. So when we talk about empathy is not just about showing an emotion of someone else, you also need to make that kind of really connection and you do it only if you as the storytelling as a photographer, trying to, like, put in place an action, a relationship that really..


Maria Teresa: ..creates empathy, first of all, and then you probably are able to communicate to your viewers as well. And when we talk about connection, what is that? The connection with the story is very important, the connection between the story and people’s lives, you need to make it relevant. Some topics are not relevant to some people that will be more relevant to other people. And of course, you can’t please everyone, but you need to, you need to really understand the person’s story and person’s lives in order to so when you ask yourself, what I’m trying to talk with, and the why this story is relevant to these people. So you need to make that connection. The connection is also needed between the photographer, the subject and the audience, which is kind of what I said before. And the connection. This is for me, very important between the story and some issues or way of living of the viewers, which is important to feel emotionally engaged. So you need to make that effort in order to understand, okay, this topic is relevant to these people. So I understand if we’re trying to influence or change people’s perspective on a specific way of living, which can be what you eat, what you buy, use of plastic, use of car or anything. You need to make that connection. So why this story is relevant to you why is important to you. And this is one of the one of the main reasons why I decided to invite Mattia to this talk, and I’ll tell you more in a bit. So these connections enable the creation of intimacy that facilitates the making of resonating images. I’ve put down, some kind of rules, for contemporary environmental storytellers. This is kind of an open I will consider that as an open list if you want. But for now, and specifically to the creation of empathy and connection, these are, for me the most important. I like this definition from Cornell Capa, which says the concern photography produces images in which genuine human feeling predominates over commercial cynicism or cynicism, sorry, or disinterested formalism. So if you decide to work in this field, probably and you agree with the vision and intention, what you’re trying to do with this kind of photography, you probably are, you should consider yourself a concerned photographer. So one of the most important thing is the power of portrait. I don’t know if you know, this work by Gideon Mendel. Drowning World it’s very important to this is also part of a research with climate visuals as conducted in the past, probably three years, which is it’s very important to show real people and real emotions. So you need to look in the eyes of people, which can be also either humans or animals, where you can really sense the feeling, you can relate to that feeling. So it’s personal because, you know, the credibility, the authenticity, the power of an image comes from recognizing any identifiable emotion. And of course, this creates intimacy.


Maria Teresa: One, for me, a very important part, which, you know, there are some examples around and you should consider. So don’t only think about the outcome in terms of like, the beauty of the images, the aesthetics of the images, is try also to bring some dirty stuff in your work, but involve people, involve subjects in the creation of the narrative. So people in communities are not at the service of the photographer’s eye, but working with the photographer and using the tools to tell the stories from their own perspective. Of course, guided by the storyteller, so it’s not that you lose your perspective as a as a as a photographer, you don’t lose your spot of beauty. Allow me the usage of this word, it’s still your point of view, and your point of view needs to be very clear. But in your the creation, the narration, the narratives that which is a multi-layer, if you want, you know, it’s not just like you taking photos, it’s also about creating a lot of layers in order to tell a more comprehensive and compelling story. And in this one is very important to take the perspective of other people rather than just going along with just your perspective. So the subject, part active part of the narration, I find a couple of examples. One is Save the Children and time ago gave an Instagram account to Syrian refugee children in Jordan Zaatari camp. And they were posting every day something about the every day to day lives. And so you could relate to these kids. The camp is also being photographed by important photographers, I want to this was Mike Powell, but these snapshots, can you see like the the unfiltered vision and like the dirtiness if you want of like the everyday life, that’s how you really get into into the stories of these people without filters. Another example I found I don’t know if you know the project, long term project by Misha Vallejo, called The Secret Sarayaku. He has spent over five years and actually is still continuing doing it. With the Kichwa people in the Ecuadorian Amazon. He has created really, probably at the expert today probably is the most comprehensive and multi-layered project I’ve ever seen by photographers really has a lot of formats and a lot of languages. He uses photography, video, installations and drawings, there is a lot of things interviews is really a multimedia in the very sense of the term. He also worked with kids, he has created the proper blog for kids and he created the some images where the asking them how they see their environment instead in Sarayaku, and to represent their answers as drawings on their own portraits. So the portraits were also a joint construction photographer and subject deciding together where to take them to their poses. And of course, this could be a little bit gimmicky, a little bit like playing with things. But yes, it’s important to also to see the perspective of kids. In fact, the documentation of his work is also cross generational. And this is a part of involving subjects in the conversation rather than just taking images of portraits of kids.


Maria Teresa: Another thing that you should consider when as a kind of tool to create empathy and connection is that of called slow photography if you want, which means a slower approach and the continued documentation beyond the events. So beyond the events but beyond like the time as well, you know, there are a lot of projects that are ongoing projects, so you keep going there or you even better, you’re part of that community. So you really know how the community has evolved, that the story has evolved, that you are able to document more and more what’s happening. And so it’s this kind of work allows you to show real and daily lives of the subject or the community, you can really create the relationship with the subject. And first of all, you empathize with them. And then, of course, you need to know the story very well. Either you are part of the culture, as I said before, or you research through thoroughly over time. This is the only way to create a trust, intimacy, authenticity, and people trust your story. And so when you’ve created that, then you photograph almost like taking photographs is the last part of the project. I found a couple of examples, but there are a few. But this one I really like I don’t know, is Selma Daryani. She’s done this long term personal environmental story that started in 2014. She tried to demonstrate the impacts of the drying of Uremia Lake, on on your own family ecosystem and people living around it to reflect the interconnectedness of humans and the environment. You can take a note of who she is and go to her website and have a look at the whole project. It’s very, it’s very rich also with the archival images and the interviews and text. It’s a kind of a rich project where you can really enter the story and understand what’s happening in that area. This is not a new project, but it’s probably one of my, my favorite of Rena Effendi. This is a very interesting because, again, even in the previous one, these are two projects made by photographers that are part of that culture. So their way of telling the story is not a touristic view is not someone that just is there. And is curious. So just documents the what’s happening on the lines, for example, as happens often to landscape photography, it’s about really getting in the community, and grasping really the the essence of what’s happening. This is a very kind of a personal universal project that starts from a personal project about her relationship with the father, which was a collector of butterflies. And she creates a relationship between her father’s collection of this parish that endangered butterflies and the fragility of life in one of the world’s most polluted areas in Azerbaijan, where she was born and when she grows up, and if you again, in this case, as well go to her website, ever look at the whole, the whole project, you can really sense the feelings, you can connect with these people, because she is in touch is initially connected. And you can really feel also their emotions. And that’s where how you create empathy. So I said this at the beginning, but I start I tell you here as well. So the struggle as an artist is whether you try to impact on people by a hope or fear, I want to open, I want to leave this open, I have my idea but from my personal point of view, hope is stronger, because sometimes fear can lead people into closeness because the topics in the subjects and the stories sometimes are too big. For an individual to think they can have an impact on a global level. And so sometimes inspiring and giving hopes can be a probably more effective way to convey an important message. This is, for example, one of the taken from a climate visual, which is related to what I was saying, because climate impacts are emotionally powerful. So showing impactful climate change consequences could be really overwhelming, because some people ask, okay, but what can I do about it, so you feel kind of useless in changing things that there is big conversations about you know, as an individual, I can’t really change the world or as an individual.


Maria Teresa: If we create if we work on creating a conscious population, like a massive a critical mass of people, people conscious about something, I think millions of people conscious about something can make a difference, because corporations and politicians leave or out of social consensus. So if you remove that consensus that you can really make a change. So it’s important for example, sometimes with these are emotionally powerful images, also to coupling images with them. Some solutions, some solution against Okay, there is a problem. But actually I can do this about it sometimes can be, you know, sharing some donations, some some practical actions, that will help people to say, okay, I can do my bit. Otherwise, it feels too overwhelming, sometimes too abstract or too far away, as we were saying, and so really nothing changes. And then I want to really close with some key points, which is kind of a summary of what I’ve said until now is that we are inundated with images that feel distant, too big, sometimes abstract, as I just said, sensational images, not necessarily lead to real deep and active engagement. Just a little premise here. When we saw at the beginning of the presentation, images of key global mainstream visuals, that similar all around the world, they have been useful until now. Or even now they’re useful in terms of if you think about the big magazine has to capture the attention of people on with one image. And often those images really make you clear that you’re talking about climate change. So and then if you’re interested, you go deeper. So these are important, but they don’t lead to engagement in any way. So the people that are already interested, they will probably read the article, the people that are not interested. They see the images, okay, it’s about climate change. I don’t care. I don’t, I don’t you know, it’s not my topic. I don’t understand it. I don’t care. So there is no engagement, either they’re interested or not. And also one single image isn’t not sufficient probably to engage emotionally. So we need to talk about more like a comprehensive, a larger, like a story rather than one image. There is a problem also gender representation. Now, we didn’t talk in this session, we talked in a few session back last year. There is a problem with gender representation, which mostly is, most of the images related to environmental issues are mostly by men. But we need the representation to be stronger and more diverse. Because we need to pull from different sensibilities and give back powerful stories that engage with different publics. This is another story we’ll probably talk in another session, when you talk about the story, you cannot avoid talking about the people that are affected by the problem in order to stimulate empathy and engagement. Also, we need to make an effort to always connect to the story to the implication of that story in people’s lives in order to make it relevant. And also we need to make people care and bring attention to the issue. And we can make a difference if we come together as individuals disciplines and intention. And this is kind of the reason why everything is connected the started because we realize that you might think is overwhelming if you’re a photographer, what we just talked about and you feel, you know, addressed with a lot of responsibility. But it’s not just the photographer’s responsibility. I think now we need to go beyond the disciplines and the photographers need to go to their stories and their skills at the service of other disciplines as well in order to expand the potentiality and the vision of what we’re trying to do. Thank you. So if you’re curious, go and have a look at the website, which is everything is connected that you thank you very much. I will pass the word unless Paul wants to say something. I will probably pass the word to Mattia. Mattia Mazorati thank you for joining us today, he is an Italian photographer. Mattia was one of the 10 photographers who selected by everything is connected by Sedlak editorial for the everything is connected call. And the reason why I wanted him to join me today is because he’s done something that not a lot of photographers do. And which is when we talk about an issue rarely we say okay, what is the implication of this? Okay, so there is a pollution that is something so what is the connection, the implication in my everyday life, I think, you know, everything is connected start started exactly for this, there is a gap in the, in the global communication, climate change, because it’s not enough to tell there is a problem, you need to tell also, what is the implication of this problem in my life, because only if I see the connection with my life, I can actually move something. And this was clear, when we actually started this period of a pandemic, you know, people are worried about their health, it’s probably worrying about the health is the probably only thing that you’re going to be touching in a very powerful way in order for people to do something. And see, this is why I think Mattia has done an amazing work. And so I’ll leave the word to you, and when we will discuss a little bit after your presentation. Thank you.


Mattia Mazorati: Thank you very much. And thank you for the invitation. So I will share the screen. Okay, so it’s good. Nice. So, this project is called the Land of Holes, and I started this project in 2019, three years ago but actually my interest in environmental issues starts in 2015. While it was I was living in Peru in Cajamarca, it is more city in the Andes. And I was working at the time as a social worker so I was not a photographer. But I lived for one year in a city where there is a very strong environmental conflict due to the mining activities, there is a one of the biggest goldmine of South America. So, I start there to be attracted by this the implication of the human activities on nature but also on the local population. So in 2018, I decided to to focus on my own country, and especially in the north. I live one hour from from this shot that is actually the area where I have worked for this reportage. And I found it pretty interesting the thing that North Italy is one of the most polluted areas in Europe, so of the entire continent, but the media, the is not really mediatized a lot of attention is focused on the south of Italy. I think because it’s the social situation, the lack of jobs, in general, there is a situation that is in general, worse than in the north. So it’s easier to talk bad about to focus on bad aspects in these areas, where there are also other difficulties in the north, like Brescia, in this case, that is the city in the north of Italy is one of the richest city of Italy. So, there is no lack of jobs. In general, everything looks worse. So I found it interesting to read about a lot of articles and reports that accurate say that Brescia is absolutely polluted or contaminated, under different and there are plenty of sources of pollution, sources in this area. I started focusing on the mining activities, because it is strictly related with the waste business, that is one of the main business of the province of Brescia. At the moment, there are the 20% of the waste in Italy, are stocked in the province of Brescia, so it’s a really a huge quantity of waste. And it is related to the mining sector because the the queries of sand and gravel that we see in this photo, or in this one. Or in this one, were considered perfect to be filled by the waste. So, this characteristic of the territory the presence of governance and was the origin also to of the ways business. This business was conducted in two different, was managed in many different ways. One is the illegal way. In this photo, we have known gang member that is a former member. The Camorra (spelling) is one of the strongest mafia organization in Italy and in the world also. He was the first in 1992, to speak to the government after his arrest, to be about the infiltration of Mafia in the waste business. And so the comparison that we also that I also used in the title of the project between the length of force that is the Province of Brescia and the land of fires, that is area in Naples, where a lot of waste was hidden in the fields illegally. It’s clear and but of course, as I said before the media, the attention of the media was just in the south in the land of fire, but not in the land the force.


Mattia: And in the latest in one of the latest reports written by the the anti-mafia organization, the land the Province of Brescia but in general the North of Italy is compared and called as the new land of fire. So it’s pretty interesting that there is no attention by the for the by the media, while the anti-mafia district says that it’s the new land of fire, so it’s absolutely in a critical situation. A part of that there are a lot of other other environmental problems, the industrialization of the area, it’s like 100 years old and there are a lot of there have been a lot of environmental scandal during during the years. For example, another critical aspect is about radioactive waste. So, all these industrialization brought also radioactive waste from abroad from other countries because this waste was then treated in different ways. And now in the province of Brescia there is the highest number of radioactive waste, of radioactive sites with radioactive waste. Another very heavy issue is the one about air pollution. In general in the valley, but especially in Brescia, areas absolutely contaminated by PM10 and PM2.5. And the (name) Health Journal says that in 2021, so last year, the deaths of Brescia was the most deadly in Europe. So also this data in this statistic is pretty strong. And it is connected with, with COVID. I mean, we know that the the main places in the world where COVID was stronger, and that there were exactly where the air pollution was, was heavier, and Brescia and Bergamo in Italy, were the two main cities where the pandemic was really, really, really strong. Another interesting aspect is about intensive farm. So I’ve been, I get inside an intensive farm, because in the province of British there is this record, again, of the number of intensive farm of pigs. So there are more pigs than people there are about 1.4 million pigs and 1.3 million people live here in Brescia. And also this activity has a lot of really strong impact on the quality of the soil, the water the aquifer, and, and the air because also it produced PM 2.5. So it’s really it’s really heavy for the for the environment. Apart of that, I decided not just to focus on the on the landscape, that of course, it was super important in my project, because that to show how the landscape is changing in the, during these years, were was really important for me. And I had also the chance to fly with with a pilot over this, this territory. So I had the possibility to take photos from above, literally. And so it is an important part. But another aspect that I found really, really important was about the people that I met there. So I wanted to show how humans are destroying the environment in this area, but also the consequences of of this pollution on this activity on the people living there. And it is interesting, because it’s a really rich area. So a lot of people really was were ignoring about the situation, and they were just focusing on the good salary that they have, the good car, but not about the health aspect. So I tried to focus on these aspects about the health of the people living there through portraits, mainly, I have also some photos of demonstration, like these one, for example but the portrait was the main tool that I wanted to use. And I decided to work in a way that I felt that I wanted to make the caption, and so the written part, very important. So I didn’t want it to take photos that were totally understandable just watching the photo, but they wanted to connect the photo with the text with the caption..


Mattia: Or with an article. So I decided to take a portrait of different people. And then you can read the story in the caption of the, of the of the image. And for example, in this case, I decided to photograph to (name of activist). He is an activist and there is a lot of activists in Brescia is starting to be really sensitive about the situation of the environment after he lost his wife in 2014. And his story is pretty, pretty peculiar because he started to act in two ways. So on one hand, he decided to found this committee that is a public committee that try to that is the organizer of for example of this demonstration. And on the other hand is it was an athlete and he used to run the marathons. So it decided to wear this kinds of T-shirts with a lot of messages about environment. And he runs through the polluted villages in the province of Brescia in order to get the attention of the people living there. And the prominence of the attention of the people and it’s really strong because there are a lot of activists that are environmentalist that tried to change things, but to involve people it’s really difficult so he creates this way to get the attention of the people. So he just run and yell, yes, during the marathon. And he tried to start the attention of the people with the messages that he writes on the on the T-shirts. There are other picture of people. There are some common people living there. So for example, I don’t know the story of this girl. But she was just working in a bar in a coffee that is right in front of the Alpha Chai, that is one of the radioactive waste radioactive sites in Brescia. But I have also other personal stories. The one of the saddest, I think, is this one, it’s about Stefania. I wanted to touch the issue of health and of course of illnesses like cancer, that in the province of Brescia, the cancer rates is really higher than in the rest of Italy. And I thought, I was thinking about how to touch this issue. And I didn’t want to go to the hospital, or I didn’t want to go to photograph people while having chemotherapy. So I decided that I make a lot of research about this issue. And I found that in the province of Brescia, there are some beauty salon that provide free beauty sessions to women that are struggling with cancer. So I contact one of these beauty salon and inside, I found Stefania that at the time she was struggling with cancer, but after one year, she died because of the illness. And and so I thought that, of course, I needed to do represent this issue in a sad way, because of course, it’s a very sad topic but I always tried not to dramatize too much, I didn’t want to do this. So, I was not looking for the sensationalization of the of the images in general. And I think that the best example about this is this photo, because in this case, I was making, I was looking for the contrast between the picture there so the the aesthetic of the picture and the caption. So this is again, a sad story because Peril and Franca, they lost all the cows that they had, because of the contamination of PCB that is a kind of Cassio Zeneca substance that was..


Mattia: ..dispersed by the chemical industry. And it is one of the worst environmental scandal happening in Italy ever. And so the government found that all the cows of Peril and Franca were contaminated by PCB. So they were seized and killed from one day to another in 2001. And they also received the ban ongoing on their field. So nowadays, they still cannot go in nothing on their fields. So basically, they they’ve lost everything from a day to another. And I decided to create a contrast between this story and and the visual aspect. So I found two people really, really smiling, happy. So I said, Okay, I maybe it’s not is not correct, if I tried to put them in not in the darkest corner of the room and say not, don’t smile and be sad, I don’t know. So I decided to photograph them as I found them, smiling in their home and happy of the life even if they are passed through this difficult period. And then I found that actually, this photo is one of the most appreciated, I had the chance to present this work during different festival photographic festivals, or in the schools or to my grandmother, and everybody says that this is the best picture, the picture that they liked the most, and then everybody reminds their story. So I think that this contrast between happy photo and very sad caption could be a way to represent or so these this kind of issue. I mean, it’s not I think is not always necessarily to be that dramatic. Also if we want to do to talk about a big issue or a very big problem like illnesses or like the devastation of territory or these kind of topics. So I think it’s, this one is one of the photo that I detect before, you know. And so yes, in general, then I also decided to focus on some details that they found during my work. This is, for example, an x ray of a cat that he has cancer because I met a doctor that helps animals I don’t know, veterinary? Sorry for my English sometimes, I lost it. But he told me that there is a high incidence of cancer also in, in domestic animals. So I thought that also this, this aspect could be interesting to focus on the issues. And I wanted to take pictures, sometimes about details that are not really clear at first sight, but you need to watch them carefully. And sometimes even you need to read the caption. So this was a little bit far away from the journalistic path, but I think it is it works well, in order to create the atmosphere. So I have the journalistic aspect, of course, it’s fundamental because I’m talking about statistics, datas, scandals, and so, there is a base of the information that must be proven must be the evidences are based are fundamental for these works but they need to also I wanted also to create an atmosphere with some not really clear images, that then you need to focus more to our to to understand.


Maria Teresa: Thank you, Mattia. Thank you, I guess we need to leave some space for questions. If I can, I want to ask you a question first. You can take the you can stop the sharing. What’s your intention with this project? So what, apart raising awareness of the issue, and of course, I can also imagine that while you can read some research and make a connection between environmental pollution and cancer, for example, it’s not.. It’s a very blurred kind of area, because you can’t really draw this direct line but obviously, you’re trying to do that. So have you thought about what you want people to do about it? Have you thought it was ever even a question for you, as a photographer to ask yourself? Okay, I do this project, I want people to react to learn to do something about it.


Mattia: Yeah, I think that I had two main goals with this project. One was to inform people because I noticed that a lot of people didn’t knew at all about this situation. So one of the purposes of my project was the journalistic and informative aspect. On the other hand, yes, I wanted to try to move people to do something that also just really small action, like join a demonstration on Sunday afternoon, I mean, nothing really special. But I think that also these little moves can be useful for everybody so if you’re also for like, for example, Brescia citizen, if they organize a march and you join the march and at the end there are 10,000 people it’s a very strong message also for for the activists but also for the politicians, then they they start getting a word about the people wants a change. If you don’t want to spend your Sunday afternoon in the march and you go to the coffee or to the bar and or you stay at home watching football. You don’t, the politician really doesn’t perceive the attention of the people. So I hope that with this work, with this job, just I can push a little bit. Someone to do something more than nothing, nothing too big but everything is useful.


Maria Teresa: Yeah, I guess it’s there are, these are new questions for photographers, I think. But I don’t know if they’re too new, but it’s something that a photographer should ask himself anyway, even if you know, your ambition can be just about raising awareness. But still, I have a lot of questions, but I think it’s fair, Paul, if we open to the public in case there are questions.


Paul Lowe: Yeah, wee have one question from Aki, thank you for the wonderful presentation. I think it’s quite an interesting question. It’s about the scale that we’re working out, and I’m going to try to rephrase his question. So he’s saying that, obviously, is a huge issues that we’re trying to deal with broad and all encompassing but, you know, should we be telling those very big stories? Or he says, perhaps it’s far simpler to tell one or two stories instead, and, work on a smaller scale perhaps. So I guess it’s the kind of local versus global perspective and what you think about about that? What’s the most effective? Because I think you started off by saying that sometimes we feel these issues are so huge, that we can’t do anything about them.


Maria Teresa: So is the question for me or Mattia?


Paul: For both of you, I guess, because I think, you know, Mattia’s project is quite personal and quite local but equally, I think it’s dealing with a big problem.


Maria Teresa: So I think that that it’s always a case of small talking big, so that it’s starts with what you know, you have to start on what you know, and sometimes, if the issue is too big, you might not know exactly what’s going on. And also, you might feel connected and learn because you belong to a story or you have researched or you’ve lived in that community. So you are able to tell a story, then the ability starting from a person or a small to translate that into universal message where everyone can connect with, that’s another ability. Another skill that photographers should have, in fact, the two projects I presented as examples of slow photography, Rena Effandi and Selmas Daryani, and are both documentation of their own family and land but still they have the the ability to talk about something universal, and that’s so that’s that should be the scale for me.


Mattia: Yeah, I agree totally with you. I was saying the same.


Maria Teresa: And this is one of the reasons why I invited Mattia, he knows the land, he knows the story but how big is that? You know, even if you’re talking about a small part of Italy, are you still talking about the massive thing that can be applied in every side of the world, really.


Mattia: Yeah, I think that, in general, maybe the right answer the right question is for how long you want to work on this project. Because, for example, this was my first long term project that last three years. And maybe it’s not even concluded. But I think that the time that you spent on the issue, it’s absolutely crucial. So you can also be a local, but if you stay just one month, on the issue, your work, it’s like this, if you stay three years, it’s different kind of work if you stay 10 years, another one. So I think that, of course, you have to know perfectly the topic that you want to tell. Because if you cannot tell a story that you don’t even know perfectly. And and you have to I think it’s important to choose a topic that really important, it’s really important for you. And so it’s easier to get to follow the work for four years maybe, or for the necessary time until you have a body of work that is, it’s solid, you know. So apart, I think that you can also travel and try to tell stories in other continents. Of course, it’s not forbidden but of course, is more difficult. And because you have to know the culture, you have to know the language, you have to know the situation, you have to know the politics. And so it’s of course, it’s much harder. And then I think that the time is crucial. So how it depends how much time you want to spend on the work.


Paul: Alright, we’ll take this one last question, I think which is a little bit the question of our lives, really from Anesthesia. You know, what can we do to work together and join forces to make a more impactful work and reach more people? I feel like everyone is alone, the ocean swimming in circles, I think you’ve kind of summed up the problem there really effectively. And that’s, I guess what everything is connected is is trying to do, but I think I think it’s a very important question is how can we maximize the impact of what we’re doing and sort of break out of the ghettos that we’re in of photography or of environmentalism? Or because if you’d like you, when these little echo chambers have these sort of little bubbles that we’re in and how can we break out of that so I mean, that’s a huge question to address but perhaps just want to two thoughts on that and then we’ll bring the session to a close.


Maria Teresa: Yeah, well, as Paul was saying, this is what really exactly we’re trying to do because we live in our bubble we you know, if you talk with photographers, there is a certain areas we know but now that I’m trying to put together also other disciplines such as science, or sociology, architecture, mass media. This is one of the biggest challenge every area every disciplines is thing They know everything, including photographers, I mean, every discipline is for everyone is difficult to get out of the area. And so bringing people together that really put their skills at the service of a group to produce something that is more responsive, that the single things that you can produce by yourself is one of the biggest challenge that we are facing today. So even if there is the intention to go there, it’s difficult to do it so. But the only way is really to sit around the table and, you know, share a vision, and work together on creating things that can really go beyond the disciplines. I know, I’m not telling you anything concrete. But specifically, if you keep following us, soon, we will be actually sharing some pilot projects we are doing in Italy, for example, that really is the first time to work as a group to like as a think tank, that of people that really work together in order to become something new, that uses the skills of everyone in order to produce something completely new but regardless of everything is connected, the only thing that I feel like recommend is working with people, you know, you respect that. They come from completely different areas and see in what ways you can enrich each other and give each other’s ideas on how to produce something different because you know, the world is challenging at the moment. And we can’t think of solving any issues by repeating what has been already done until now.


Mattia: Nothing to add.


Paul: Okay, well, listen. Thank you very, very much. Thanks very much to our presenters today to everything is connected and to Mattia. Thank you to VII Insider.


Maria Teresa: There are more questions. Paul, do you think we can answer maybe, somewhere else, or?


Paul: Not really. That’s it. There’s one other question, which is about security surveillance, but it’s a little bit, you know, so I think we’re okay, and it’s the hour, but we will get to this part, this is the start of a conversation will be happening a whole series of these about once a month through till the summer. So please do come back next time. Thank you, everybody, for joining us today, and starting off this very important and very thought provoking series of discussions. And yeah, I look forward to seeing you again in a couple of weeks time. Thank you very much.


Maria Teresa: Thank you. Thank you, Paul. Thank you Park and Bridgette, and I’ll see you, I think the ninth of March. Thank you.


Paul: That’s excellent. Yes. Thank you very much, everybody. Bye bye.

Sign up for news from VII Insider

First name *
Last name *
Email *