Mamo Delpero Torino, Italy
Mamo Delpero was chosen by photographer Crina Prida
Laatikkomo’s interview with Mamo Delpero June 12th, 2015
L: Where are you from? Or what cities, and/or countries have you lived in – what places have influenced you?
MD: I was born in Torino and have lived here for most of my life. Having had the gloomy industrial culture of Northern Italy embedded in me, has surely had some influence on me but frankly I don’t know exactly how. I can see clearer the role played by the privilege I had in meeting wonderful people in remote corners of the world. Diversity has a magnetic attraction to me and I found plenty of it especially in India. I travelled across Asia for about 20 years and I consider places like Kashmir or Kham (in Eastern Tibet) as a second home.
L: What is your first memory of photography/film?
MD: It certainly goes back to my early childhood and it’s family related. My dad was a proud owner of a Zeiss Ikon (which I still have somewhere) and every time that precious, magical thing appeared in his hands I immediately knew something important was going on. Since the very beginning I have been fascinated by photographs for their powerful properties as physical visual memories. Growing older this fascination has turned into some sort of necessity, an obsession for remembering to remember, paraphrasing Henry Miller. I guess this attitude has to do with an innate sense of nostalgia, the desire to discover the present through the past, identity issued, origins, etc. In my experience, the heuristic power of photography has frequently proven to be quite effective.
L: Could you make similar photographs in a less harsh environment, or is the contrast between living conditions and life itself necessary in your work?
MD: Seeing is the creative process I’m mainly interested. The camera is just a mechanical/electronic device that helps me to stay focused, looking deeper for a more meaningful understanding. Photographs are just a secondary output, the residual of events and emotions lost in time. When a person allows me access for the intimacy of a portrait, when I feel I have gained the trust of that person, then some magic happens. It’s a bundle of emotions, compassion and empathy. It’s the here and now. Eyes, mind and heart on one straight line.
To photograph strangers, with different cultures, languages, traditions, and value systems is a fascinating challenge and is highly rewarding, especially from a human point of view. But it is not a necessary condition for me to grab the camera. When I am able to build the same kind of relationship with people from my neighbourhood I’m equally excited and motivated. On a different note (pun intended), in the last years I have been working on a project about jazz and the extraordinarily intimate connection musicians have with their instruments.
L: Is there a sole instance that stands out in your memory that impacted what, or the way, you photograph?
MD: When I was in my early twenties and my interest for photography was starting to get serious, I stumbled upon the work of Peter Magubane, a South African photojournalist who for decades documented apartheid from the perspective of a man from the townships. His social photography had a huge emotional impact on me. There was this portrait of an old woman, framed by a little window of her crumbling house in Soweto. She was the grandmother of a kid who had just been sentenced to death. In her face there is the whole story of black South African’s struggle against the hideous oppression they suffered for many decades. The eye contact Magubane captured in that shot still gives me goose bumps. Her pride and dignity, sorrow and humanity create an incredibly strong emotional connection with the viewer. The day I saw that shot I wished that one day I would be able to develop a voice as intense as Magubane’s.
Then I discovered Don McCullin’s work, and later on Sebastião Salgado’s, Steve McCurry’s, Stanley Greene’s and of course Henry Cartier-Bresson’s…
L: The people in your images seem to bring a softness and perhaps a hope to the harsh environment in your photographs. Do you feel more hopeful after your travels (for humans, nature, Earth, the future…) or the contrary?
MD: This is a very difficult question. I’m very pessimistic about the consequences of the anthropic impact on our planet, especially for the future of mankind. We are a species with an incredible potential but we have turned into a maladaptive one. On the other hand, I have realised that compassion, kindness and respect are still the founding values of several remote societies dwelling with harsh environments. Unfortunately, the latter are quickly disappearing, attracted by the corrupting seduction of a lifestyle proving everyday to be unsustainable. I know I may sound apologetic towards some sort of myth of the good old times. Nevertheless, it is quite clear to me that there is a significant difference between being poor but living in harmony with the environment and being underprivileged in a shantytown.
L: How do you personally bridge the gap between your nomadic experiences in the mountains of Asia and your home in Torino?
MD: Here’s my honest, unfiltered answer: I suffer. Living in Italy is not fun anymore. Yes, we have delicious food, gorgeous ancient art around every corner and great places to see, but our social network is seriously damaged. Corruption and greediness have made people angry, fearful, arrogant and selfish, as they never were before. Racism and xenophobia are growing ferociously which always happens when an economical crisis triggers the battle of the have-nots. More and more often I feel the need for that genuine kindness I was talking about before.
L: What main questions would you like your work to inspire in the viewer?
MD: Any thought challenging prejudices or obviousness, or simply eliciting the curiosity of the viewer to know more about the people and the places I shot would be a huge success and reward.
L: Could you list 5 (or more) words that you were thinking about when you made this work (shown in Laatikkomo)?
MD: Ancient, kindness, gratitude, respect, and of course, resilience.
Thank you so much Mamo!