As a partner of Isola Madre, Salgemma awarded its prize to photographer Cosimo Calabrese for his photographic project HYBRIS, which investigates the relationship between man and colonialism in the Basilicata region. In this short interview, the photographer talks about the genesis of the project and how contemporary photography can create new visual imagery about places in the South.
How did the HYBRIS project you presented for Artlab Eyeland, Taranto come about?

HYBRIS was born in 2017, after my experience as a photojournalist in the Balkans that led me to follow the migratory events taking place there. In this experience I felt disappointed and bored with the visual narratives I was producing. So I decided to attend the master course "Divergent Visions" on contemporary languages of documentary photography at the Door Academy in Rome.

During the months of the master's course I experimented a lot, trying however to maintain a documentary approach linked to socially relevant or topical issues. HYBRIS is my first project where I experimented with visual approaches and narrative forms other than those of photojournalism.

Basilicata was the place where I chose to work and which I feel close not only from a geographical but also from a spiritual point of view. The area immediately offered me many stimuli and I tried to put them together to channel them into a coherent vision.

Basilicata and Apulia are two regions that have often been investigated through external views that have also constructed visual stereotypes. Today, it seems that many photographers want to rediscover these places by creating their own visual worlds. What do you think about this?

I believe that already between the 1970s and 1980s the narrative of the South changed radically. I am reminded of Mario Cresci's work and also Luigi Ghirri's 'Puglia. Between sunrises and sunsets', which was recently rediscovered and published by MACK.

They were distant experiences, for example, from the visual idea of De Martino's group of photographers who were distant from the stereotypes of these areas. So I think a detachment has been there for some time and today we see many interesting investigations of these places, perhaps only a certain type of photojournalism remains to reiterate certain stereotypes.

Driving and walking around the area I was attracted by the signs, ruins and emptiness left by humans over the centuries: Greek temples, old villages, oil pipelines, abandoned gas stations, factories and farms, bizarre theme parks. The mountains, the rocky terrain and the emptiness of space make everything seem alien and alienated.

CosimoCalabrese - HYBRIS, 2017 - Courtesy the artist
How do you see the role of contemporary photography today in unhinging or creating new imagery towards the South? Especially when used by photographers from the South?

Every photographer who lives in or investigates the South brings to his or her photography his or her idea not only of the photographic medium but also of his or her personal history, of his or her approach to reality; unveiling his or her ever-changing imagery.

From my own personal point of view, I believe that photographic projects that highlight social issues and manage to go beyond the everyday narrative, going on to powerfully construct these imaginaries, are interesting.

Is there still something you would like to photograph but have not yet had the chance to do so? If so, what?

I am interested in investigating an obsession of mine, how through photography it is possible to bring out and make visible forms of violence by stripping them of a veneer of everyday hypocrisy. In the near future, I would like to work on this concept in a broader and more organic manner.

CosimoCalabrese - HYBRIS, 2017 - Courtesy the artist
CosimoCalabrese - HYBRIS, 2017 - Courtesy the artist
CosimoCalabrese - HYBRIS, 2017 - Courtesy the artist
Which photographers (Southern Italy and beyond) do you look to for inspiration in your work?

Perhaps it may sound paradoxical or not, but I admire, observe and study above all photographers who I feel are very distant from me both in terms of practice, identity and photographic language and who somehow manage to attract my attention and move something inside me on an irrational level. They attract me because of their ability to expand my perception of the world. Definitely out of all of them I would say, as photographers who inspire me are Takashi Homma, Britain's Paul Graham and Germany's Michael Schmidt.

CosimoCalabrese - HYBRIS, 2017 - Courtesy the artist
Going back in time, how did your career as a photographer start?

It was 2009 and I had no idea what to do with my life. I have always been fascinated by technological objects and carried around a compact digital camera that I used without any technical, theoretical or artistic knowledge or ambition to photograph friends, concerts and trips. Until I started to wonder how that object could work differently until then, and what value and purpose the images it produced had.

What has changed in your life from the beginning of your photographic journey to today?

Photography has served me as a tool for interpreting the world, not only as a practice but also and above all as a fruition. I believe it is one of those things, like literature, theatre or music, that allows you to live without going crazy.

CosimoCalabrese - HYBRIS, 2017 - Courtesy the artist
CosimoCalabrese - HYBRIS, 2017 - Courtesy l'artista
CosimoCalabrese - HYBRIS, 2017 - Courtesy the artist

Cosimo Calabrese ( Taranto, 1985) is a photographer who lives and works in Taranto. After studying modern literature, he attended the D.O.R. Academy in Rome and worked as a photojournalist, publishing some of his work in magazines and newspapers in Italy and abroad. The main focus of my work is migration and ecological problems. In recent years he has been investigating photography as a personal means of expression. His latest works are "Hybris" (2018) on the relationship between man and colonialism and "Metastasis" (2018-ongoing), a research on the conse- quences of the large steel industry on the fabric of the city of Taranto".

Scheduled from 2 June to 31 July 2023 in Taranto, Artlab Eyeland is launching ISOLA MADRE, an open call open to all female artists in the Taranto area from 6 to 15 May, with the aim of enhancing the productions of the local and neighbourhood artistic fabric. Aimed at female artists resident or domiciled in the province of Taranto, the open call wants to trigger a reflection on the cultural and creative context of the territory and open opportunities to professionals working in this context. ISOLA MADRE is dedicated to the promotion of talents developing visual expressions of contemporary art and is open to different artistic languages: from painting to sculpture, from photography to video, from installation to illustration.
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