Interview by Costanza Francesconi
All images © Paola Ressa
Paola Ressa is a freelance photographer born in Taranto in 1989. She studied at DAMS in Florence and then moved to Prato where she now lives and works. As a member of the cultural association Sedici, a group of independent photographers and researchers of visual arts, she produces and promotes contemporary photography events. In her project “E se la natura fosse il nostro piano B?” she is able to reveal how people have restored a forgotten, pure and essential link with nature to survive the Covid-19 crisis. Reflecting on the post-pandemic human relations, this photographic album is also part of the Covisioni collective.
Dear Paola, first of all, welcome to Pellicola!
Where does your interest in photography come from? How and when did you realize it was was to become your job?
My passion for photography comes from the instinctive desire to fix moments in time, put them in a drawer and enjoy looking at them later again and again. I still remember when my father received a lovely and simple gift from my mother for his 40th birthday. It was a video camera that he started using immediately, making home movies, filming a relaxed lunch with friends at home for example. My passion for photography was born then. For me it evokes sharing, being together in the living room and bringing back happy memories. It also has something nostalgic for me. My love for photography deepened when I attended “The history of Photography” course at DAMS in Florence. I was so much in love with the works of Stieglitz, Ansel Adams and Steichen, that I decided to study photography seriously and began to work in the darkroom at the Fondazione Studio Marangoni. It was here that a whole new world opened up to me.
What are your artistic references and who are your sources of inspiration?
I have studied cinema and I love cinema. This is definitely my primary source of inspiration. Woody Allen, Scorsese, Tarantino, Truffaut are just some who inspire me, together with Stephen Shore and William Eggleston. That taste for beauty and colour in life, for old things, for the stories of our grandparents – all these fascinate and capture my attention.
In choosing the subject to photograph or in responding to commissions do you have a specific artistic approach?
I always do research, taking in history of art, photography, dance and magazine articles. Starting with an idea I take it to pieces, go on to the Internet and rifle through books for anything that may be of use, a bit like when you take pieces from every book in the library to write a thesis. When I photograph people, I follow my instinct, drawn by those who strike me or have positive energies. When I get that feeling I ask if I can take a few shots.
What can you say about the philosophy behind your photographs?
I cannot and do not describe philosophy. It is so spontaneous and lacking construction, that I do not quite know how to define it. When I attended the Fondazione Studio Marangoni in Florence, I had to ask myself why I had taken a photograph. So I took pictures without preconceptions and then I looked at them asking myself why I had done things just as I had? But I have stopped asking such questions and setting boundaries. Often letting go is the most important philosophy for makers of art.
Besides aesthetic pleasure, what is your message for thepublic?
Aesthetics are, for sure, fundamental. I can’t deny that and I have always loved beauty. But beauty is subjective. Now that we live in a world where you are constantly on display – not being aesthetic is even more difficult. However, this is not my priority. Photography is a bit like writing a diary in which you put much of yourself – where you reveal and get to know yourself. This is probably the message. This is me. In the constant irony of life, I am also somewhat melancholic and nostalgic – I love memories and nature and I seek to show this in everything I do.
E se la Natura fosse il nostro piano B? – What is the story behind this project?
The smell of lock-down was in the air when I went upstairs to the third floor to see my landlord, have a cup of coffee and pay the rent. He watched the news channel from morning to night. When I went in, he lowered the volume and said: “Thank God we had the land after the war. Work was hard to find but at least we could grow things”. I did not give much importance to our conversation there and then. But when the pandemic got worse, I saw people on social media dreaming of an apartment with a balcony. Some had turned their terrace into a living room, others who lived in the country, were really happy to have the woods so close to home. Many friends of mine have fled the city to live in nature. They are the same people who told me: “The pandemic does not exist here”. As soon as the Covisioni collective asked me to say something about post-pandemic relationships between human beings, I could do no better than present the relationships of these people. Their relationship with nature and their awareness of choosing life in the woods, their investing in the land – this was their Plan B to survive the crisis.
Has this difficult past year influenced your artistic approach to the world?
The year 2020 was a terrible year in many ways, but on a personal and artistic level I feel reborn. I could attribute a value to moments that had seemed lost, or rather, that were constantly in my thoughts but had remained unexpressed. Like many of my colleagues, I felt a great need to speak about something, whatever it might and the year we had gone through, had helped me at least to bring out what I really wanted. I think it is because it was a year in which we spoke about nothing else, everyone including myself was crying out for different stories. The need to tell stories that were not only about the omnipresent pandemic, led artists to rediscover themselves.
Innocence, delicacy and authenticity. The album is full small details: activities related to the rural world, agriculture, beekeeping. They speak of unspoilt nature and the work performed in solitude and contentment – it is about what surrounds us. These feelings are as simple as they are precious because they are in part rediscovered. What do your photos have to tell about this pandemic?
My pictures speak about the purity of nature and the respect and love that these people have towards it. They also tell us of being aware of their good fortune to live far from the noise and bustle of the town. Their daily round is free from the problems of life in the office. They express their gratitude for having a place for their passions – archery, gardening and the like. These photos give me a feeling of light, home and tranquillity. Time stops, a time to savour, a time in which it is natural not to look at your mobile phone but be fully present in these places. My pictures talk about a generation that choses to feel good.
Is the project part of the Covisioni collective?
Yes, it is. The Covisioni collective contacted 40 photographers from all over Italy to realise a photographic project that analyses post-pandemic human relations – a year-long project and I feel really honoured to be be part of it. It has also a great stimulus.
Which camera did you use for this job?
I used the Canon Mark III, my companion for the last eight years.
Thank you, Costanza!