Yvonne de Rosa:
An Italian Point of View
After graduating in Political Sciences, her passion for photography took her to London, to study at the Central Saint Martin’s College of Art & Design; she then obtained an MA in photojournalism from the College of Communication in London.
In 2006, she was awarded the “Women International Prize in Photography”, and in 2007 she won, with “Afterdark”, the “First Prize in Fine Art Landscapes International Photography Awards (IPA). One year later, with “Crazy God”, her debut photography book for Damiani Publishing, she won the “World Health Organisation” award. The photos Yvonne took in a Naples’s psychiatric hospital where she did voluntary work for three years were then exposed during the “World Conference on Poverty and Health” in Venice.
Being a freelance photographer has allowed her to work with British NGOs that gave her the chance to travel in Eastern Europe. It was during one of those trips that she conceived “Hidden Identities: Unfinished”, a series of pictures on the social conditions of children in Bosnia and Rumania. That work was the origin of Yvonne’s second book, published in the spring of 2013, with a foreword by film-maker Sam Taylor Wood and a short essay by Laura Noble.
Currently, Yvonne is working on a new project - “Waste Side Story” – that takes her again to deal with a particularly sensible issue: the dramatic situation of what is called “The Death Triangle” or “Terra del Fuoco1”. We are talking about the Campania province, a land where in the last years the number of deaths by cancer has grown dramatically due to the unlawful disposal of toxic waste coming from Northern Italy and other countries.
B: Before we start the actual interview, I would like to begin from something you once said: “Photography represents the instrument that can take me beyond the purely aesthetic of representations and made me passionate about the study of human being”.
What does the pure aesthetic of representations mean to you?
Y: Photography is, or can only be a mere representation of reality, it can never be reality; the image is only a representation of the real world filtered through the eyes of the observer. I am not looking for a beautiful picture and maybe I am not even looking for a picture at all...
The camera is like the key of a door to new realities, photography is an excuse to my curiosity about the world, about human life and ways of living different than mine.
B: Why photography as a means of expression? And what is it that photography enables you to transmit, if compared to other forms of expression?
Y: Every choice we make in life says something about us… there is always a mental process of comparing multiple options… when you take a picture, you are making a decision. Every picture says, at the same time, something about both the photographer and his/her perception of reality.
Photography is the one media that easily allows you to select frames of reality.
You can easily express yourself. Like a collector, you pick what is meaningful to you and you will be understood only by people likeminded.
B: Your works mainly focus on the human being’s condition in a society that forgets that human beings are individuals. You deal with tough issues, where reality is so barefaced up to being almost obnoxious to the person facing one of your pictures. I think about “Crazy God” or “Waste Side Story”. The first, a decaying and bare psychiatric hospital where, however, one can still feel the presence of the thousand people who spent most of their lives there. What drove you back to those places after such a long time and after doing voluntary work there for three years?
Y: I wanted to tell a story. That was undoubtedly an experience that scarred me, and perhaps the wish to recount it has come after years, partly because I’m now more mature, and partly because sometimes strong experiences must be digested first.
B: In 2012-2013, you conceived “Waste Side Story”, and a few years later, “Crazy God”, another hot denunciation report. How did you tackle this new work? Like a Neapolitan woman or like a “political woman”?
Y: All we do in our society and every action we perform when we move our attention outside our own person is politics.
Waste Side Storyﾠstarted by my wandering around that area that in Italy is now famous as the triangle of death or the Land of Fire, in the Italian province of Campania.ﾠAnd obviously it deeply affects me because I am Neapolitan and that’s my homeland... I guess I cannot eliminate both being political and Neapolitan.
B: Observing your pictures, what really impresses me is the strength that they release. Yours are pictures that remain printed in one’s mind, whether they show desolate or inhabited places. It is as if you are returning dignity to lost, forgotten places; by the same token, the men, women and children that you portray regain their dignity as human beings. Is this what you are passionate about in human beings? The strength with which they shout “I am here, I exist”?
Y: Thanks for your beautiful description! As I told you answering your first question, the camera is like a universal key, and I’m fascinated by the strength of character and dignity of many of the people I meet.
B: When you finish a project, how do you select the pictures? Do you follow a certain criterion or you just let your emotions run free?
Y: I try to show my photos to many people; I listen to everybody, but then I try to run the final selection by myself.
B: After a certain time, do you go back to the places you shot or do you keep on experiencing them with the feeling of a moment lived in a precise instance?
Y: It is often enough for me to go there only once; that memory it’s enough, the same as my photos… in other cases, I feel as if I missed catching or understanding a place, a situation… in that case, I go back again and again...
B: Looking at your works, is there or was there a source of inspiration?
Y: Everything in life can be inspiring... I have a thousand sources. Other photographers, friends, books, music, children…
B: Do you have a photo that you consider your best? If so, which is it and why?
Y: Not really… or better, it goes by periods. Sometimes, I prefer a photo for a while, but then I change my mind… as if I had assimilated it and I need to move on. This happens with all photos I like, not only mine.
B: Why does a socially committed Italian photographer feel the urge to leave Italy? It was a necessity or a choice?
Y: It is nice to go away and then come back with eyes that see better. I would like to be able to see those things that sometimes disappear as they become familiar, and at the same time understand and narrate in the way that only a direct experience of reality can give … It would be nice!
B: Let’s go back a little... Arles 2008. Can you tell me your experience and your impressions as Italian photographer?
Y: That was my first time at a Festival… I felt like my daughter felt on her first visit to Disneyland … “Look! That’s Martin Parr… Oh my God! I saw Elliott Erwitt!! A Myth!”.
B: I’d like to finish our chat with a “standard” question. Are you working on or thinking about a new project? If so, can you give us a sneak preview?
Y: I feel I haven’t finished yet with “Waste Side”, and at the same time I have a few ideas, but presently I’m busy with my upcoming exhibition. In December, I will launch my book “Hidden Identities Unfinished”, with an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood, in London, and I can’t wait!
B: Yvonne, thank you for your time. It was a pleasure talking to you.
B.O. © Floz Visions 2014