All images © Carlo Lombardi
In collaboration with Show&Tell, we decided to conduct a series of interviews that will come out periodically with artists who participated in the project.
Show&Tell is a space for project development born from the collaboration between Ardesia Projects & Twenty14. Through a calendar of monthly meetings and special projects, Show&Tell is an accessible space of mutual support dedicated to artists working with photography.
Carlo Lombardi (1988) is the first protagonist of photographers selected by Pellicola from Show&Tell. Freelancer based in Milan, his research is a fair relationship between photography and archive where he needs elements and time to explore human and natural behaviours. Here, we talked about La carne dell’orso where he returned to his native region Abruzzo, which is also the Marsican bear’s territory. He’s been published in different magazines, among which M le magazine du Monde, The British Journal of Photography, IO-Donna – Corriere della sera, DUMMY magazine, GUP magazine, C41 magazine and Der Greif magazine. And exposed in festival such as Arles – Voies OFF, Hamburg Triennale and Les Boutographies.
Pellicola (P): Hi Carlo, welcome to Pellicola. With this interview we would like to dig into La carne dell’orso, a work that investigates the conservation practices of the Marsican brown bear at the Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo, Lazio e Molise (PNALM), tracing its history. When and how did the idea for the project come up, and how you did you approach the topic? Native from Abruzzo but living in Milan, does it also play a desire to reconnect with your territory?
Carlo Lombardi (CL): My parents come from regions outside Abruzzo – they were struggling to connect to the place, so it was not an easy task for them to pass on the feeling of belonging. In my childhood memories the Park was always a dream land, the ideal place to start looking: this work has helped me to explore my own roots. These places, these mountains, these woods resonate with my soul like no other place, I recognize myself in them.
(P): How do you think the “common” image of the bear as a threat has changed from when PNALM was created in 1922 to today? And how much do you think such an entity has possibly helped shape this idea?
(CL): In my opinion, the Park has played a key role in raising awareness about bear conservation. As with all the Parks of the world, lights and shadows are inevitable, but without their work we wouldn’t even be talking about the Marsican brown bear right now.
(P): The dialogue between the present and the past is fundamental in your work, in which the exploration of the territory is at the same time a backwards journey, through the archival material, and a creation of an imaginary around the bear, today in the category of species “critically endangered”. Based on this comparison, how the conservation practices to protect the Marsican brown bear changed over time?
(CL): The work shows a selection of pictures from the Park’s historical archive and uses scientific language to articulate the narrative through facts. The “evidence” constructed in this way exploits the allegedly objective properties of scientific documents. In this way the ambiguity of the images becomes acceptable and the paradox clashes with our beliefs on what is ethically correct when it comes to nature conservation. It reveals how our values change over time under the influence of the cultural and political context in which the observation takes place.
(P): The human figure plays a dual role in the narrative, being the main threat but also promoting a way to save the species. In which direction is our relationship with nature going? Do you think a balance can be achieved?
(CL): The idea of nature, of what is considered natural or not, is strongly influenced by the mass media and the values shared by people who live in the place at the time that is being observed. For example, I’ve found an archive photo dating back to 1930s that shows the Park director with three Apennine wolves killed with strychnine because they were considered dangerous for the conservation of Abruzzo chamois. I believe our actions are shaped by the needs and desires we have towards nature, so the meaning and definition of nature is constantly changing.
(P): The work focuses, as you said, on what is or was considered ethically correct towards the transformation and conservation of nature. Instead, there is a limit regarding what can be shown and considered ethically correct. Should photography push boundaries further? What role do you think it can play in sharing an awareness about these issues?
(CL): Photography is a continuous process of raising questions, which is why I keep doing it. I think that photography can stimulate awareness by creating space and time for staying with the questions long enough to find our own answers.
(P): Thanks to your collaboration with local entities you had access to the photographic archive whose black and white images date back at 1930s. The photograph-document always weighs a certain authority of the events it narrates. While today there is a tendency to exploit its ambiguity. What is your position about that?
(CL): I believe it is not right to pick a side, even for a photojournalist who follows the ethics of photojournalism. Photography always retains this duality as it shows reality but in the end it is only a part of it – the part you want show, a part of the whole, a single truth. For instance, an artist could record a performance and it would preserve this duality – the recording would serve as a document, yet at the same time become a reproduction. Photography is so versatile – it can be true and false at the same time. Its strength lies in this ambiguity.
(P): You started the project in 2019 and it is still ongoing, how long did you spend inside the park? How did you organise your days?
(CL): I have spent a few weeks at the Park, returning on separate occasions to experience the place during different seasons. I have dedicated a lot of time to going through the archive in order to choose pictures that would resonate with my way of seeing. The next phase was about finding a way to mix archive pictures with my own photography.
(P): Finally Carlo, La carne dell’orso has been part of the Show&Tell panel discussion. How did this experience go? Did the participation and the confrontation with other people working in the photographic field, contribute to the development of the project?
(CL): In my experience, whenever you arrive at a standstill in your creative process, it is necessary to start a dialogue that would allow new thoughts to emerge. At Show&Tell I felt at home, without any pressure – like a sincere chat between friends. The feedback from other artists and curators always provides opportunities to connect the dots and expand your research.
(P): Thank you so much Carlo for your time and availability to answer our questions, we really enjoyed having you on Pellicola.