It’s been seven years since this interview was collected, and in the meantime Loredana Mantello and I met in person in Milan and in a couple of other occasions. Loredana is still living in Bahrain, while her daughter attends the university in Milan. Inrecent years Loredana has developed and enriched his work as a photographer. Her Art Work has been exhibited in various galleries, the Museum of Trastevere in Rome, to Mondadori Gallery in Alessandria, XVA Gallery in Dubai, and in Qatar. She now specializes in weddings in the Middle East, even of royal families, and also designs themed photo albums, that she produces in Italy. Her sensitive and careful eye, her prolonged contact with the Middle Eastern culture, and the numerous journeys she takes for her photo reportage, turn Loredana into an expert of Middle East in the field of photography.
We are pleased to introduce Loredana Mantello an Italian who made of her hobby for photography a profession thanks to her move abroad.
Loredana, tell us about yourself.
To support myself I worked in a travel agency in Bologna. My job, organizing congresses for doctors and trips abroad for company executives entailed a lot of travelling. I love travelling and although the job was stressful, it was very stimulating and satisfying. My passion for photography started at that time when I felt the strong desire to express myself and not being able to do so through writing or painting, I started taking photographs. I enrolled in a photography school and a passion was born.
I lived alone with my daughter Maria Vittoria for about ten years, dividing myself between being a mother, assuming the role of mother-father, and my job. Then I met Giovanni and one beautiful day he received a job offer from an American company to work in Saudi Arabia. It was I who encouraged him, I told him “you must go and see what it is about”, overcoming his doubts and fears. After all, he had to give up the classic “good secure job”, the dream of all Italians. So in November 2001 I left my job, got married and started a new life as an expatriate in Saudi Arabia, where only regularly married couples are admitted.
What about your daughter?
I literally pulled her away from Italy, her home, where she was born and raised, her friends, her way of life. At school she had just finished first intermediate and, for her, English was an almost unknown language. There are no Italian schools in Al-Khobar in Saudi Arabia. Therefore I registered her at the American School and after only one year she no longer needed the extra help provided by the school for her English class. At the beginning it was very hard, but I must say that she had a lot of courage and willpower. Maria Vittoria (now Viki) is gifted with language learning ability and now she also takes French and Spanish classes at her school and together we attend an Arabic course to learn how to read and write. Besides learning we also have fun… back to school… together with my daughter !
What were you doing in Saudi Arabia where it is difficult for women to work?
I certainly didn’t get bored. I was seriously considering a career in photography and started studying and learning digital photography. I found myself being exceptionally interested and fascinated by the theme of the veil. These large black eyes, deep like the ocean, became the main theme of a photography exhibition I had in Italy last year. A photographic research which I am still continuing. Forgive me, you wanted to know more about Saudi Arabia ? Yes, women cannot work and drive. Strange isn’t it? They can be teachers, doctors, but cannot take up other professional jobs. I started selling my photographs to the expatriate community and my postcards in a shop selling ethnic crafts. That is how I started working.
How comes now you live in Bahrain?
After the terrorist bombings of May 2004, the company where Giovanni works decided to transfer the families of their Western expatriate staff to Bahrain. My husband started commuting up and down every day through the bridge linking the two countries. My daughter is now fifteen and attends the American school in Bahrain. It is the equivalent of the first Liceo in Italy. She loves her school, she has lots of friends and she is happy.
Tell us about yourself as a photographer.
Now I work as a freelance photographer for a French and English magazine. As I have already mentioned, I am fascinated by the Arab women and their veil and I am collaborating with a university professor to have a publication on the subject. I also compile work on children’s local costumes and culture. The mothers are enthusiastic and curious while the children have lots of fun. I have been commissioned for various jobs on local architecture, weddings etc. but my real passion is journalistic photography and travel reportage.
I heard you have visited Yemen recently.
Yes, I went with a group of friends, exceptional traveling companions. It was a very positive experience. Obviously, they had to adjust to my priorities as a photographer and I to theirs. We toured for eight days, but to capture the essence of a place you need to stay there, and look at the city swirling around you. The ideal would have been, for example, to remain for the entire duration of the trip sitting in the main square of the Souk of Sana’a, the capital, and look at the people, observing everything going on around you.
Have you had problems as a woman photographer ?
On the contrary. In Bahrain like in Yemen being a woman photographer generates curiosity, moreover a foreign, hence the hospitality, which is very much felt in this part of the world, never lacking respect, even from my colleagues who are photographers. Being a woman, not only does not create obstacles, on the contrary it is of help. I can get closer to women, and I have no problem in photographing men.
What about your future projects?
In Yemen I took about 1500 photographs, which I am now reviewing, sorting them out in preparation for a photographic exhibition on this wonderful country so interesting from the photographic point of view. I found some sponsors and the project should materialize in the Autumn. It will not be a traditional ethnic exhibition, I am planning the show on particular formats and features. I want to transmit my love for Yemen to help re-launch it as a touristic destination, because it is a country of stunning beauty. Tourism can be a source of wealth and development for the country. I hope the exhibition will be able to travel to other countries including Yemen itself. My short term projects are this exhibition in the Autumn Inshallah (that’s what they say here) and at the same time to launch my website. In the summer, I will go to Italy where I usually attend seminars and courses organized by the National Geographic in Tuscany. Photographers of international fame will certainly be a good source of inspiration for me.
An your long term projects?
To carry out projects of a wide breadth, such as adding value to Yemen from a touristic angle, to help its very poor population. I will also travel to Iran, for the project on veiled women. My big dream is to work as part of the editorial team of a magazines or an agency, as a Middle Eastern correspondent, an area where I manage to move reasonably well.