Five years passed since I did this interview. In the meantime Lorenzo and I met in person in Santiago de Chile, and met again in many occasions after that, the last time in Rome a few weeks ago. Lorenzo has decided to quit Chile, where he lived for a long time, and went back to his native Italy with his wife Colette, a talented Cuban painter, and their three children.
At the time of this interview Lorenzo was working hard on a documentary on Rapa Nui (Easter Island). Today the documentary is available and has already won several prizes. Lorenzo kept on with his work as a reporter with images and videos from the most inaccessible places on earth, and where it is difficult to arrive. Amongst the most meaningful of his works in recent years are the reportage on the miners that were trapped for seventy days in the San José Mine in the north of Chile in August 2012, which gave birth to a very beautiful book, and the reportage on the war in Lybia, where Lorenzo went twice, and whose pictures you can see here
Lorenzo Moscia is an Italian photographer who has lived in Chile for some years with his wife and two children. Claudiaexpat has tracked him down by telephone for this interesting and stimulating interview.
I first came across Lorenzo Moscia by pure chance; a friend showed me a new initiative for Africa presented via a webpage which had terrific photographs. I looked up the creator and found myself in the website of Lorenzo, a young photographer from Rome. The photos that appeared on opening the webpage (accompanied by music also composed by Lorenzo) immediately provoked in me a variety of strong emotions, above all, those taken in places I know personally, like Haiti. His photos cry out. They cry with pain, suffering, tragedy; but also strength of mind, joie-de-vivre, energy, depth of soul. They are photos that shake and move you, that entice and capture you, but in no way leave you indifferent.
Many thanks to Lorenzo, his availability and the magnificent photos he has allowed us to publish with this interview.
Let’s start with the classic questions. Where are you from? How did you come to be a photographer?
I graduated in Law in Rome. When I was still at University, I applied for an ERASMUS in 1995. My interest was in the countries of Northern Europe, but I was accepted by Madrid. Then came a great change. I came into contact with loads of students of all nationalities and in particular, from the Latin world. I started to go to Latin America on holiday, in particular, Chile, stopping also numerous times in Buenos Aries. In 1997 I went to Easter Island at a time when plane tickets were cheaper and before the mass tourism which is now damaging the island. I stayed a week and only at the end did I meet a local family who showed me another aspect of the island, where tourism doesn’t reach. It was fantastic. We were in the grottos, watching people fishing using traditional methods. I fell in love with the island almost to the extent of wanting to stay. I went back to finish University, but the experience had changed me. The routine in Rome (in Winter moreover) didn’t appeal anymore. On the island, furthermore, the video camera that I used (I have always been passionate about filming: when I was a child I filmed my family and friends, cut them, mounted them, created them) was destroyed by a wave and I had to continue just taking photographs. On returning to Italy, the photos were published by a magazine in Milan (El Diario de Milan), in an article that I wrote with a journalist friend, and which paid well. That opened my eyes to the fact that it was not impossible to do what I truly liked and in this way earn a living.
So then you decided to change the direction of your life…
I started to study the works of great photographers. I never took a technical photography course. I think it’s a waste of time. What I advise to those who want to start with photography is: buy a good camera and start taking photographs and analysing the great photographers. University taught me perseverance and discipline, and these have been very useful in my theoretical formation as a photographer. In truth, the most important thing is observing the great photographic masters, develop one’s eye, seek inspiration… and also it helps to understand that the true photographer always goes back to old haunts, a concept expressed by many great photographers like Luc Delahaye, Paolo Pellegrin, Alex Majoli, Francesco Zizola and that I have experienced personally. I began my dream on Easter Island, and I have returned there many times, to photograph the same situation in evolution… and each time I return, I feel more invisible, arriving with my camera round my neck in situations in which previously it had not appeared possible to penetrate.
Looking at your photos I am always surprised by the multitude of situations in which it cannot be easy to gain entry as a photographer… The military, the Chilean police, prostitutes in the Favelas of Rio, the women’s prison in Santiago de Chile. How do you gain trust to the point of being able to capture moments of such spontaneous suffering or intimacy?
From a practical point of view, I always look for someone in a place, and take heaps of time “working” on relations with the local people so they understand that I am not a classic photojournalist who has arrived to take photos for an agency. One needs to have compassion to earn trust and above all, one has to mix with them with humility. For example in Lota (ex-mining town in Chile where Lorenzo made an illustrated report in black and white about the situation of the inhabitants after the mine was closed) I met with an ex-miner who invited me to his house and opened doors for me into the destroyed world of these people who found themselves without work, without prospects, without a future. In the prison in Santiago obviously I came into contact with women who have been there for 10 years who are in for sale of drugs, recipients. I never perceived obstacles. On the contrary, lightly flirting with them meant that they accepted me without any problems. During a report on the Favelas in Rio, an ex-trafficker was my guide. At first he was suspicious, but when we got to know each other better and got on well, he started to introduce me to loads of people, explained where I could take photographs, where on the other hand I needed to hide my camera… In general, I try to be with the people. I never go to posh hotels. If I have to stay in hostels I choose a small simple one to give the impression of being a humble person. And if it is possible, I eat and sleep with the people I want to photograph.
You favour tough countries: Cuba, Haiti, Tanzania, Rio and prostitution, the Favelas. There is a reason?
The point is that if I don’t deal with the human element, I don’t produce anything satisfactory. For that reason in general, I don’t want to be involved in photography for agencies. For me photography is done over a lengthy period of time, and trying to go behind the headline news, to dig deeper here and there. It is the emotion to enter with my camera, try to understand the psychology of the people, love them enjoy those moments. Many photographers are criticised for the fact that they only concentrate on the most extreme and tragic situations. It is true that in general, tragic photos sell better, and there are professionals who dedicate themselves solely to this aspect of the work. But sometimes they underestimate the traumatic effect of photographing certain situations. Many photographers in contact with this type of reality end up profoundly scarred. The famous book, Bang-Bang Club, which documents the violence at the end of the apartheid regime in South Africa cost the life of one of the photographers (who died from a bullet fired by a member of the National Peace Force) whilst another of the photographers who participated in the project committed suicide. Personally when I take these kinds of photographs, what moves me is a personal demand to test myself, to set myself a challenge, but also the fact that when I take photographs, I exorcise an image which in another way gets me under the skin. Apart from that, man has always been my favourite subject. It was natural then, that man in violent situations would enter into my journey. The report I did about Haiti, for example, has not been easy. I have needed to do long preparatory work to go out with the military, and to continue photographing them has been a hard test. Personally I feel stimulated in this type of situation; putting to test my self-discipline, discovering where my limits lie.
It would be what has happened with Easter Island, I think I understand…
For sure, on Easter Island I have lived with the people, have slept with them, immersing myself from head to toe. I am godfather to two children. I have known things that the tourists never see. Easter Island has been my springboard, my lucky break. In those times no one had yet photographed the island, apart from the beautiful landscape and an editor showed interest in early publication of what turned out to be a book (Lorenzo’s book is called “Lights of Rapa Nui, Lom”, edited Santiago de Chile and you can buy it here: www.lom.cl n.d.r).
Is that why you have decided to stay in Chile?
Thanks to my work on the island, a Chilean tourist agency was interested in me and started to give me work. For a year I have worked with them. Later, they asked me to do more interesting things. I have gradually developed a network of contacts, have given exhibitions. Now I have two children, born here. And I love Latin America very much. Moreover, as it’s not very fashionable right now, photographic material is limited and if one knows the area a little and know how to move around, work can always be found.
One thing I ask all photographers is how they manage to live in this work…
It’s true that in photography it is very difficult if you are not well-known and accepted. In general one needs a solid base, and possibly other entrances. The ideal is to be able to work for a press agency, but it is very complicated work when you have a family, or even worse, a jealous wife… It is a work which requires lengthy absences, times in extreme circumstances. Since 2003, I have managed to make a living in photography. I work for various magazines, for “Grazia Neri” and an Argentinian agency. Apart from that I have to do photos for weddings, parties; that is what gives me a fixed income.
For me it’s fantastic that you’ve also composed music for your site… what instrument do you play?
I am a pianist, the piano is my first love, and in Rome I have always played in various musical groups. Now each time I return from a journey, I sit at the piano and start to compose.
Are there any projects at the moment that you are involved in?
I’m preparing a documentary about Easter Island, a full-length of an hour, rather political and complicated (a ten minute version has recently won the Chatwin prize in Italy) and another about Cuba. I am returning to my old passion of the documentary, the call is very strong. I like talking with people, filming them whilst they talk to me, assembling it, organising it. Also I am working on a book about Lota (the small ex-mining town in the South of Chile) that comes with a music cd composed by me to be edited by a Chilean editor.
Any future projects?
A dream, more than a project; I want to make a grand trip around Latin America. A little like Che Guevara on a motorbike, buses, hitch-hiking; to be with the people, and come upon situations spontaneously.
Interview with Claudiaexpat, January 2007.
Translated from the Spanish by Julianexpat.