Valerio Spada • Photographer, Italy

Gomorrah Girl

Landscape Stories: What were the artists or works that have most influenced your early days? Where can we find the roots of your work?
Valerio Spada: I do not think there is one artist in particular, it is people who make me feel an urgency to portray them.Woman with Yellow Hair by Picasso and Monet’s Palazzo Ducale are some of the works, when i was a boy, that have probably changed me. If I think about the roots of my work, I remember a journey, when i was young, with a friend in Germany, Monaco: I saw a girl holding the hand of his grandfather, I hadn’t a great experience of photography and I had a 180mm fixed lens mounted on my camera, if I remeber correctly. I ran from the car and asked permission to take the photograph; it was ridiculous, ’cause we were a meter away and I had a lens good for a rock concert or a formula uno race. The photograph was exactly what I wanted to get. A beauty mixed with sadness, but I think it is a bit limited to say sadness, is a kind of awareness and intelligence, great capacity for quick thinking, that i recognize into the eyes that are watching me and I watche when I travel. When it happens to not have a camera is the end, and most of the time i never have a camera with me, when I decide to use it instead, I do my photography.


Landscape Stories: What does photography mean to you? Why do you take photographs?
Valerio Spada: To document what seems to me something that everyone should see and meet with me at that moment.


Landscape Stories: In Gomorrah Girl, from a tragic true fact, you tell the story of Annalisa Durante and of his teenage interrupted, it is a kind of event common to many girls grown a Forcella (but also in Secondigliano, Scampia, ..), neapolitan district under the control of the clan called Giuliano. How have you managed to mitigate some mutual prejudices and gain the trust of the protagonists of the story?
Valerio Spada: In Naples, especially in these areas, the approach is always very hard if you are seen with a camera in hand. Especially in Scampia, in the area called Le Vele, the classical approach is “just put it on the camera” and then they walk you gently out of the area, they do it with threatening words and do not let you take pictures. If you can pass the first rough step, doing it with words, later they turn out to be people who really are, extraordinary people, totally forgotten by the government, with zero assistance, apart from the threat of moving them from their apartments. And this type of anger is understandable when Rome is only 180 km away. They are almost always people who were incredibly hospitable to me on many occasions and go there for me was like coming home, even in areas considered more dangerous.


Landscape Stories: When I was a child I often visited that district with my father and I remember how, in my mind, the childhood and the teenage of many children appeared just as a fleeting and transitory phase. I became cuorius about thei ability to “measure” with eyes anyone who had faced and how quickly the eye distinguished good from evil. What are the common places around the city of Naples that is to debunk? How much lightness and positivity did you meet spending time there?
Valerio Spada: It is exactly as in your memories. Nothing has changed. They are very intelligent people than the national average, compared to the ability to decide and judge what is good or bad, then there are the choices. There aren’t common places i would like to dispel, it is right that everyone has their own idea of Naples. I think with my work, I expressed my idea of unconditional love.


Landscape Stories: The stories of marginalization of American adolescents described by Larry Clark, Nan Goldin, Ed Templeton have helped you in telling the story of Annalisa? What makes his story unique? Can you find analogies with these models?
Valerio Spada: They are really different, it is difficult to compare. But I loved Kids by Larry Clark. There are similarities although in individual cases. I talked to girls of 16 years with her boyfriend of 20 years in prison, they are waiting outside, making their life and love. This is perhaps one of the stories most “American” found in Naples, but in the end there are always some differences. I do not think my story is more unique than others.


Landscape Stories: Have you started the project with the idea of making a publication? Can you tell us the working progress of the book (editing, graphic design, printing..)?
Valerio Spada: It was a long term photographic project. It became a book idea only after risking too much in the photo taken at the “School”, or at the “Puffi”, as it was called the place where hundreds of of addicts were going to eat their doses. In that case I anticipated my return to Paris, where I lived, and I immediately thought, the night before leaving, that I never wanted to return to work even on Naples. Somehow I had to quit that job, from there the idea of the book. The next day, on the plane back to Paris, I wanted to immediately return to Naples to shoot. Think of it as a book just made me think more about the missing parts to complete the project. I had the idea of the book in a book when the Prosecutor’s Office told me literally: “Until I am alive there will never be the photographer who will photograph the evidence of a murder, but if you want, you can capture the photos that we did.” And so I did, I photographed all the Moleskine with support from the lab in Naples, great people, great sympathy and unique preparation.
When you enter the forensic laboratory in Naples, there is a window with the Rolleiflex, now of course they use digital, but for example, the photograph of the ballistic laboratory was taken with a professional Manfrotto tripod that I have lent them for the occasion. We talked a lot, both of the difficulties they encounter every day, that the passion that leads them to sacrifice their lives for their work, including holidays; they are a part in the Italian Police body and they have a great preparation. The idea of having as basis the evidence of murder came from the Moleskine, but putting, page after page, the girls in very strong colors that they use to dress up, as an image of someone who, in that background, lives, and lives of extraordinary beauty in my opinion.


Landscape Stories: What ideas do you have of Italian photography? What are the Italian photographers that interest you most?
Valerio Spada: Again, as in the case of painters, I do not have a favorite photographer, is the single image or series of images to hit me and move me. If I think of Italian photographers, for example, I believe that the series of photos of clubs by Massimo Vitali is one of the most interesting things seen in Italy in recent years, but I highly recommend looking at the prints rather than on the internet. I think that it is the work of Italian documentary photography that I love most.


Landscape Stories: What were your favorite photo books of recent years?
Valerio Spada:Carnal Knowledge by Malerie Marder.

Interview curated by Gianpaolo Arena
Translation by Sergio Tranquilli