We are here

A photographic series about Riace and its many identities

Portraits from We are here, a photographic project by Caroline Gavazzi

Text and photos by Caroline Gavazzi. [Testo in italiano qui]

My latest photographic project is about immigrants.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about the plight of immigrants worldwide. The prejudice that they face is something that is deeply distressing to me. I want to transcend the preconceptions and clichés about migrants by going to the heart of the matter; that these are first and foremost human beings. People with hearts and souls who have endured unimaginable journeys filled with sorrow, pain and loss. And that they are still viable human beings who have much to offer society given the chance.

In my quest I discovered the most extraordinary place that embodied my beliefs, Riace.


Riace is a small village at the bottom “toe” of the Italian boot directly facing Africa. Best known for the discovery of two famous bronze statues dating from the Ancient Greek era, Riace is also a place of exceptional natural beauty as well as being the first port of entry into Europe for migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

For decades the old village itself, perched on the top of the Apennine mountain range, was largely abandoned as people migrated to large cities and abroad. But in 1999 something extraordinary happened. The mayor of Riace, Mr. Domenico Lucano, greeted the first boat of immigrants, Kurdish refugees escaping from Turkey. From this initial encounter a unique humanitarian project of acceptance and assimilation was born.

Portraits from We are here

Mr. Lucano had a simple idea, to reclaim and restore Riace’s abandoned buildings and dwellings, and to offer accommodation and training to the incoming migrants. Thanks to his plan to integrate the immigrants into village life, the village gradually came back to life. The failing local economy was resuscitated and locals and migrants started living together in harmony.

In 1999 at the time of the very first disembarkation there were only 300 inhabitants in Riace. The community has now grown to 1,800 people where the immigrants outnumber the locals! This has and continues to be a fairy tale; a success story with only winners. It’s an example of a natural integration process where everyone is welcome.

Portraits from We are here

I travelled to Riace without any scheduled meetings; without knowing anybody (other than my invaluable assistant Elisabetta who came with me), but with the intention of capturing the spirit of the place through my lens. From the moment I set foot in the village carrying all my photographic equipment, I realized it was meant to be. Within a matter of minutes I met a succession of extraordinary people.

My first encounter was with a friendly and helpful blonde lady called Maria. She introduced me to a lovely Nigerian boy who works for the Town Hall called Monday. He introduced us to the Mayor, who introduced us to the locals and immigrants working at the various Workshops….in one week I managed to meet more than 40 people!

A portrait from We are here

Among them were Mohammed from Egypt, Zoya and her daughter from Pakistan, Berhanu from Ethiopia, Zahra from Afghanistan, Gaynell and her children Jamar and Kendis from Cameroun, Mombo from Nigeria, Fatima from Gambia, to list only few of the people who shared their stories with me. They carry a burden of suffering and insecurity, but their words are words of peace, tolerance and fraternity.

It is in this “unique” context that I chose to realise a number of “symbolic” pictures, where the fingerprint represents the uniqueness of each immigrant who landed in our country, having lost everything except their identity, which is the only thing remaining as a person. The depth of the artworks, fruit of the juxtaposition of the fingerprint (printed on Plexiglass) on the B&W portrait of the immigrant (printed on Hahnemulhe archive paper), invites us to think about several issues.

The fingerprint, which initially evokes a strongly negative feeling in light of its more frequent association with criminal activities and screening of people (including immigrants), is instead interpreted as a symbol of the identity and distinctiveness of the individual, combined with the portrait concealed beneath it. The spectator is thus invited to go beyond prejudice, and to discover the person hiding behind the image. The portrait reminds us that each immigrant is first and foremost a human being, with individual personality, history, afflictions, affection and feelings, and not a “number”. An individual who — like all of us — needs to be treated with dignity, compassion and respect.

Meeting all the people in Riace / Making-of We are here

Caroline Gavazzi

Italian/french photographer. Studied photography at Spéos (Paris) and LCC (London). After a successful carrier in commercial photography specializing in interiors and lifestyle with regular features for international magazines such as Vogue, House & Garden, Country Living, Caroline shifted to creative photography in the early 2000s as a natural evolution towards pursuing her intellectual interests and seeking new forms of expression. Currently, Caroline focuses on a genre of photography she refers to as ‘plastic’. Overcoming a realistic vision, she tackles different subjects with a symbolic take, often concentrating on the act of revealing what is concealed beneath appearance. She ‘designs’ photographic installations that lever on three-dimensional effects and on the visual displacement created by layers of material, thus inducing spectators to critically share the questions that her research produces on being. Caroline exhibits her work in fairs, Institutions and galleries and just won an Award at Mia Fair.

Making-of We are here

Link

Caroline shared with us some interesting links about Riace

Articles
#40 Domenico Lucano — World’s 50 greatest leaders 2016
Fortune Magazine

Refugees revive fading Italian villages
Thomas Bruckner, Aljazeera ,02.05.2016

Riace mayor on Fortune’s leader list
Ansa.en, 30.03.16

Fortune magazine names Riace Mayor Mimmo Lucano
among top 50 world leaders

Judith Harris, iItaly.org, 30.03.2016

The tiny Italian village that opened its doors to migrants who braved the sea
Tom Kington, The Guardian, 12.10.2013

Migrants bring new life to a village in southern Italy
Salvatore Aloise, The Guardian, 03.05.2011

Documentaries
Il volo, Wim Wenders, shortfilm
Here the pictures from the making-of

Un paese di Calabria
Trailer of the film by Shu Aiello & Catherine Catella (English Subtitles)

Making-of We are here

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