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PHotoEspaña 2009: Interview with Italian Photographer Simona Ghizzoni
Recently, Ghizzoni was selected as one of twelve photographers to participate in the 16th World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass.

MADRID.- Simona Ghizzoni (Reggio Emilia, 1977) graduated in 2002 from the Superior Institute of Visual Arts and Photography at Padua, Italy, and received a fellowship to study the History of Photography at the University of Bologna in 2007, where she defended her thesis on psychiatric photography.

Since 2005, she has dedicated her work to individual research projects. In 2006, she was selected to direct a photography seminar at Giorgia Fiorio. Her photography career revolves around reportage on social themes, with special attention granted to women. Her portfolio on eating disorders, titled Odd Days, may be found here.

Recently, Ghizzoni was selected as one of twelve photographers to participate in the 16th World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass. Simona Ghizzoni currently lives in Rome and is a member of Contrasto Agency.

PHE- How did you start out in the world of visual arts?

Simona Ghizzoni-
I guess I’ve always been interested in visual arts, at first mainly on a theoric point of view: I’ve been studying at the Art Department at the University of Bologna, graduating with a thesis on the History of Psychiatric Photography.

But my first approach with photography was a few years before, through the books I found at the central library in my hometown, Reggio Emilia: Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, Josef Koudelka. I remember I used to make photocopies of the pictures I liked and hang them in my room. Then I enrolled at Isfav, a biennal photography school in the northeast of Italy. I was thinking that photography would have been a very practical job, something I would have done with my hands and therefore I really loved the darkroom lessons.

Now I know that I was quite wrong, but in the meantime I felt in love with it.
In 2006 I finally decided to commit myself to photography, working both on social reportage and on some personal research projects.

PHE- Your pictures reflect a great interest in the illness of anorexia. Where does this interest come from?

Not only anorexia, but eating disorders in all their forms are a very special issue for me, for both personal and social reasons. On the personal side, I had in my adolescence a few friends suffering of eating disorders, and one in particular, Chiara, a 25 years old actress that died in Bologna on the summer 1998. She escaped from home and died of dehidration, because her wieght was 27 kilos and it was very hot outside.

I kept asking myself how it is possible, nowadays, in our wellness, in our very civilizated country, to allow such a death to happen. On a social point of view, eating disorders, and anorexia particularly, as it is the first cause of death for desease between 12 and 25 years old girls, are becoming a major health problem in Italy and in the so called western countries. During my two years work, I discovered that although eating disorders have always roots in some personal trauma, nontheless the models of beauty imposed by our society are reinforcing and spreading these kind of ailments.

PHE- How has your relationship with the patients been?

Could be hard to believe, but my relationship with the patients has been, the most of the time, very natural: an intense and human meeting. Of course it is always very difficult for them to accept an external presence inside the very protected environment of the clinic. Moreover, eating disorders are also a sickness of the eye, a mistake in the self representation. If they accept to be photographed, they give me the responsibility and the priviledge to tell their story through my eyes. For this magic to happen, we both need a long time for getting to know and trust each other. Like in the normal everyday life, some of them didn’t like me, some I didn’t feel confortable with, some of them are now good friends of mine, others I’ve lost traces through the years.

PHE- What objectives do you hope to achieve with this work?

A few days ago, in Madrid, I had the opportunity to see Dorothea Lange’s exhibition in Photo Espana. In a video dedicated to her, she said something that sounded like: Photography is not the object of our work, but the consequences of photography are the object.

So, if the consequencies of this work could be to give a key of understanding of this desease and through comprehension avoid the isolation these people are left into, that would be a great success.

PHE- How has your work evolved since you began until today?

Well, maybe it’s too early to talk about a real evolution. Hopefully my work is still evolving, since it’s only a few years I begun my journey. The real change was three years ago, when I quit my job as a bartender to commit myself to photography, but changes are always very slow and grow somewhere between your head and your stomach through experience.

PHE- You have won the PHotoEspaña Ojodepez Award. How do you feel about this?

Very honoured and very surprised! And of course this award is giving me new strenght to go on with the project besides all the practical and psycological difficulties.

PHE- Which of your projects was the most difficult to face?

I guess exactely this one. Odd days project has been my first and my longer reportage so far. Moreover, it was my first work involving an intimate relationship with my subjects and the facing of “the pain of the others”, as Susan Sontag would call it. I keep questioning myself how can I stand in front of such pain, as a photographer and as a person. The edge is very subtle and often I have to drop my camera down, and let life take over. I ask myself how my work can be useful in a time where people are overexposed to any kind of tragedy, and nothing really remains. I’m still working on finding my answers.

PHE- What projects are you currently working on?

At the moment I’m taking some time more to work on Eating Disorders, trying to “close the circle” and going back to visit some of the first people I met in 2007.

I’ve also started to record some video interviews, because lately I felt the lack of words. I’m not a great videomaker, but the stories of these people are a really striking document and need to be preserved.

At the same time, I’m working on my personal research project, called “Aftermath”, a sort of dark fairytale on childhood, which always goes along with all my reportage work.

PHE- What are your plans for the future?

I tend not to plan too much, and rather “hit on" a new theme. I just keep an eye on the red thread of my work, that is woman condition and violence, in all the forms it appears.

PHotoEspaña 2009 | Simona Ghizzoni | Reggio Emilia | Bologna | Superior Institute of Visual Arts and Photography at Padua | Italy |

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