In celebration of International Women's Month, we chose to reach out to incredible photographers with a unique talent. Annalisa is an Italian freelance documentary photographer focusing on personal research works and documentary projects, mainly inspired by social issues and their psychological consequences, with a particular interest in the effects of history and collective memory in determining an individual and community identity, as well as their influence in the origination of many contemporary questions.
Hello Annalisa, it’s nice to have you here today! Thanks for being part of this feature. Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself and introduce yourself to our readers?
Hello everyone! I’m glad to be sharing with you something about my photography and myself. I’m an Italian photographer, member of the international collective CAPTA images, and I think I can say I’m a documentary photographer, although I usually dislike that kind of labels and definitions. I’d prefer to say I’m telling stories by using a visual language, which is a definition much broader and inclusive and spans through the different approaches and contaminated vocabulary I’ve been using in my most recent works. I've always been interested in photography, but for a long time, I used to think that photography was only related to something that ended up freezing memories, something with which to fill albums or something to be framed on a wall. I’ve always had a sort of attraction towards visual art and images in general (I think I developed this sensitivity since I was a little girl when my mum loved to teach me the art of Impressionist painting), then, after discovering photography, it took me a few years to understand that ‘photography’ was not only related to your own memories but rather it was a faceted and fascinating narrative tool, something that allowed you to tell stories and communicate through images. That was during my university years while studying architectural and urban photography in Valencia. Awareness about documentary photography came shortly after (I got the first, rough idea of it by watching till exhaustion my first photography book, a collection of best pictures from Magnum photographers), and went together with my enthusiasm. I devoted myself to photography always with more conviction and interest.
When and why did you start to shoot documentary photographs
I started to feel the need to focus on documentary projects, trying to find stories that moved me, and that wished to be told. I think my images mostly came out of my desire to investigate and tell not only facts but also human beings and their facets, their darkest corners and their brightest ones. Indeed, I've always chosen to focus on projects that had a strong psychological and emotional aspect. My education and background as a scientific researcher also helped me in developing an attitude towards things. I think it's important to always have a curiosity about the world, starting from the smallest things, learn to observe and investigate everything from multiple points of view, and not take anything for granted.
Since the early days of photography history, women have had an active role in pioneering the medium. However, despite this, it is no secret that it is still a male-dominated world in the arts and photography. Have you ever experienced gender inequality in your respective field? (Please share to us your experience, if you are comfortable)
I grew up (in photographic terms) perusing pictures and works from the biggest documentary photographers of our recent times, and they were all men: Pellegrin, Koudelka, Majoli, Peress, etc…. They have been my references, those who inspired me for so long, consciously and unconsciously…so I think in my photography, especially in my first documentary works in black and white, a strong influence of this great documentary school was rather recognizable.
One day, while talking with a colleague- a dear friend and very good photographer- he told me “you shoot like a man!”.
At first, I felt very proud of that compliment as if real documentary photography was a man's thing, and I was starting to be part of it in a certain way. But shortly after I understand how wrong was that assertion. I really don’t blame my colleague, but that was a clear symptom of how male-oriented is the world of documentary photography, and of how we’ve been used to see the world mainly through men’s gaze. This is absolutely not to criticize their work (I still admire those superb photographers so much!), but I hope that also women’s gaze could be recognized as an equally important tool to understand our world, our society, our history, ourselves.
In previous years, there has already been a rise of prominent women and feminist movements not only in photography but in the art world, in general. In what ways do you think we could continue moving forward and away from gender inequality within the art world? Those movements have been- and still are- important to highlight the inequality in the industry, especially in documentary photography, where there is still the preconception that women might not have the necessary requirements to be able to complete an assignment. Many contests and awards have been dedicated in the recent past years only to female or non-binary identifying photographers, giving them a wider chance to get their work noticed and spread their voices. But that’s not enough and in a sense, it can also be counterproductive. We must not need reserved competitions, selections, prizes, this too is almost a kind of injustice. We need to be judged the same way.
In your own opinion, how does photography liberate women photographers?
Photography is a wonderful and powerful communication tool, a very fine and subtle language, which has its own history, its rules, its formal impositions, its codes, its rhetoric. It evolves continuously and it’s continuously enriched by the most disparate contaminations, growing and hybridizing itself in a thousand different forms. The best part is that it has now become an extremely democratic tool, within everyone's reach, and this is especially true for women photographers. Above all, the younger generations can now feel more free to express themselves in a fresh way, without being too tied to the impositions of a too elitist and severe technique and technology, that was once perhaps the prerogative of men only, with a few exceptions. This, however, has its counterpart, as it risks to generate dangerous phenomena of the vain search for aestheticism, simplifying- up to completely cancel- the need for sharing a content, which must always remain the fundamental basis of the “artistic” message and the visual communication of photography.
That was perhaps the first time I realized my strong interest in memory-related issues, in things that are not directly and visually descriptive, but that belongs more to the sphere of subjective perceptions. Since then, my work started to be mainly inspired by social issues and their psychological consequences
Among your documentary endeavors, which one is the most meaningful to you?
It’s very hard to say, as almost every work I did has determined a turning point, small or consistent, in my work, in my way of searching and telling stories, and of returning them through the photographic language. Perhaps, if I had to choose one, I would probably choose ”Then The Sky Crashed Down Upon Us”, the work I’ve done in Bangladesh in 2014, on the occasion of the anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse. My intention was to document the psychological trauma of the survivors, to tell the invisible wounds they carried on them. I knew I didn’t want to just take a series of portraits, I did want to go further, try to show what could not be seen (and therefore could not be photographed directly). That was perhaps the first time I realized my strong interest in memory-related issues, in things that are not directly and visually descriptive, but that belongs more to the sphere of subjective perceptions. Since then, my work started to be mainly inspired by social issues and their psychological consequences, with an ever-growing interest in the effects of history and collective memory in determining an individual and community identity, as well as their influence in the origination of many contemporary questions. And with this awareness, of course, also my photographic language started to evolve, moving from a more traditional “documentary” approach to a more personal one. And it’s still changing…and I love it.
What message do you want your photography to leave the younger generation of female photographers?
I've always believed that talent cannot be built. You can cultivate it, for sure, but I think it's something strictly related to your nature. Then you can learn whatever about technique, but of course that's not the matter. There are not many things that I would recommend to a young photographer, as I believe each one has his own path to follow. I would surely recommend to not be enticed by trends, but always to look for something to say. Always believe in your work, and never be afraid of being yourself, do not compromise. Believe in yourself, but not ever think you've already arrived or you have nothing more to learn: you only grow when you are open to learning something new. Always be curious about photography– even the one you don’t like- and, above all, to life. Be a good person, then you can be a good photographer.