Against the reality photography: the reinvention of reportage
Visual interview with Simona Pampallona
by Silvia Bottani
One of the first rules I was taught at the beginning of my career as arts writer was: “Do not write in the first person”. A piece of advice a brilliant and unscrupulous art critic gave me, an adage that I still can’t ignore, every time I start writing a new review.
Reflecting on Simona Pampallona’s work I wasn’t able to avoid the problem of the first person: after days of uncertainty and after having surrendered to the need to write about her works with the dross, flaws and bias of my ego, I am going to talk about her work.
As it happens very often, I simply came across Simona Pampallona’s photographs. But from the very beginning the feeling of proximity to these works was neither accidental nor customary. Although the usual field of action of this artist is the reportage, there is no captatio benevolentiae – winning of goodwill – here, which I regard as a quite common aspect in a reportage, as it enthrals the spectator and makes him/her feel “in” the story, it triggers gut feelings and makes the viewer see the miseries of the body and moral abjectness, the barbarity of war or some awesome wonder, whether it be the mating between two almost extinct felines or the social rituals of a secret people in New Guinea.
Looking at some photographic essays such as Tutte le domeniche di Roma /All the Sundays of Rome, Diario di un desiderio/Diary of a desire, Due persone chiamate mio fratello/Two people called my brother, the closeness to the photographed characters doesn’t stem from the intention of narrating, of giving us a faithful reproduction of the reality but from the ability of taking the outer world inside and transfiguring it. It’s a kind of magic that she’s able to recreate even when she works as a unit stills photographer: in Corpo Celeste (Celestial Body), the debut feature filmÂ by writer-director Alice Rohrwacher, and Le meraviglie (The Wonders), awarded with theÂ HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Prix_(Cannes_Film_Festival)” \o “Grand Prix (Cannes Film Festival)” Grand PrixÂ at theÂ HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Cannes_Film_Festival” \o “2014 Cannes Film Festival” 2014 Cannes Film Festival, what is created through still photographicÂ images is a new world within the world that the film director has already formed and outlined according to her vision. It’s neither an ancillary image, nor a picture at the service of the mere film still documentation. It’s a work itself, born from the film, endowed with transparency and uniqueness, linked to the “mother” work but capable of a life of its own.
The events – sometimes minimal — in the center of these photos convey the curious impression of being in front of a time-based work: an internal dynamic of events, transience, combined with some off-camera shots evokes an ever-changing process that offers a different participatory possibility to those who are looking at her photos. Far from being apodictic, her works do not want and do not claim to tell the truth: they delicately avoid any assertion so to enable a flow of life from which enlightened moments are unleashed. Nearby places, whether they be the city of Rome or Indochina, are places where the encounter between experience and photography gives life to prolific images that, like a garden, contain within themselves an underground and restless life perceptible to the eyes of whoever sits still and listens to them.
I just want to recommend approaching Simona Pampallona’s artistic work by allowing yourselves enough time so that images can sprout, expand and open up. Approaching the humans that live in her photos by letting them touch you thus making you feel — for once – that you are not dealing with ghosts.
Margin is a word I have never liked. For this reason I don’t visually associate the word ‘margin’ with my photos but I can understand that it comes to mind when looking at them, especially depending on the chosen subjects. And it also happened that a friend of mine, who’s a photo editor, used exactly the word ‘margin’ while looking at my last work still in progress. After all, I think that one finds a lot of what they have experienced and of what they recognize in someone else’s photos. For this reason I like showing my photos, listening to and observing the viewer flipping through them, I like recognizing the instinctive gestures and the conceived words, and then figuring out the viewer’s feelings. Each one feels a different emotion that sometimes leads to an idea of â€‹â€‹beauty and universal pain, or at times there might be a total lack of empathy.Â
NOURISHMENT Â Â
If the meaning of the word ‘nourishment’ is, in the broad sense, “inspiration”, then my nourishment is whatever I meet and the stimuli from books, music, movies. The beauty of it is getting lost, starting something without knowing where it will end. Which is actually the exciting part of the documentary works. Only a certain part of it can be planned by the camera operator, as for the rest one has to follow the course of events.
I like White very much. Above all, if it is off-white.
My family has always been problematic and I can’t really say the relationship with my brother is simple. The photographic project on him is over, and I need a change in my life. Relationships are complex, undoubtedly, and in the relationship with my brother roles and patterns overlap, and over the years they have been destroyed and represented in other forms. I have always tried to escape the mother’s role, but I have a strong protective instinct toward him. Years go by and people change, I hope he can find his way and peace of mind.Â Â Â
Many buildings in Rome, many structures are built with raw concrete. Even whole areas such as “Caltagirone”, near Ostia. I think of Lorenzo, the character by an Italian stand-up comedian in the TV show “Avanzi” (Scraps), who sings “concrete concrete”: luckily enough, you just need to take a walk through Rome to discover some poetical places such as this one near Laurentino 38. Â Â
We are now beyond gentrification, we might even talk about “exodus”. Districts are getting more and more similar in class, area and ethnic group. As far as I am concerned I have always loved lively cities, the typical coffee shops in Rome attended by chess players, resident alcoholics as well as the commentary and chats about the football match played by AS Roma. I am lucky to live in Tormarancia, a Roman district that is still a bit “in the shade”, quite unknown. I have been thinking about a new project on “local characters”, among them Quinto Gambi, noble body double for Thomas Milian, and on past characters, such as, for example, Agostino di Bartolomei.
(project The myths of Tormarancia)
The constant presence of my family, my friends, and all those whom I love.
It attracts me very much, who knows, maybe one day. Photography is enough for me, I would do it only to experiment, and if I there is time and opportunity, I will gladly do that.