Guido Gazzilli is a Roman-born photojournalist covering stories as vast in theme as music and geopolitical events around the world.
I was moved to interview him about his photomontage on Tunisians arriving at the island of Lampedusa, which originally appeared in vice.com. You can view here.
Guido, I was thrilled to find your photomontage on the Tunisians at Lampedusa. I was really moved by the project, in part because of your sensitivity and knowledge of the issue. You definitely, as we say in the states “get it.” Talk about what you encountered there and how that experience of what you’d been reading in the press about the situation there—was it better or worse?
As soon as I arrived I realized that the situation was much more dramatic than the media talking about it, there was no real organization, nobody knew what to do, there was only a big chaos. The immigrants were sleeping in fishing boats. Some locals were hosted by families, others by churches in the country, but most of them in tent cities called the “hill of shame“. Lampedusa was not ready to handle a situation like an emergency. I believe that politicians have deliberately waited that would create a situation of emergency and general collapse then get publicity, in this case that landed in Lampedusa Berlusconi saying to buy houses and properties on the island then is magically returned calm and quiet.
Many Tunisians who fled from their homeland to find themselves once again trapped on an island without knowing their fate.
How do the native Lamdedusan’s attitudes toward the immigrants differ from the rest of Italy’s attitude and treatment toward them?
The Lampedusans have welcomed immigrants in their homes, and that’s how I met Ahmed. He was hosted for 6 months and was treated as a child. This shows the solidarity of Lampedusans. I think that there are not so many differences with the rest of ‘Italy—we are a united people, and even if we are, economically in crisis, we try to help others.
The photo of Ahmed, alone, could launch a thousand stories. The way he is sitting on the bed, the darkness of his clothes against the stark brightness of the room—complete with the framed Madonna and Child hanging over the bed. He seems to be truly loved by the people who help to care for him. Did this surprise you?
I always try to create a strong intimacy with my subjects; in this case we were in the house of the family that hosted Ahmed. They are very religious and believed that this meeting was a sign of the lord, amazed me most was the fact that Ahmed stayed a long time there and they did everything they could to help him even after some time.
That you were a witness to charity there, gives me hope. Please speak a bit about that.
I would call it more solidarity with the people who are not so different from us, if we consider that Lampedusa is closer to Tunisia than to Italy. I would say that I was a witness of brotherhood, solidarity and respect for others.
How do you feel about the Italian press and media who you feel is distorting and deliberately representing the situation there? What do they gain from this?
The media, in general, (not only Italian the Italian media, either) try to make more news, and get a bigger audience and tell a more truthful or less serious events happening in the world. For myself I always try to decode the information that I read and, when I can, I prefer to go to the area to see what really happens.
The details never cease to move me. One was the so-called “Hill of Shame” where the med would wait to be transported. The other was the fact that, as you say, the Church was “everywhere.” Yet another that many of those stranded on Lampedusa did not realize that it was not mainland Italy. Did these details surprise you, as well?
I was very touched to see the expressions on their faces before they were deported to the identification centers, exhausted from the long and dangerous boat trip to Italy, fleeing their country and not knowing where they would end.
They wandered all day up and down the island, trapped again and no possibility of escape. No sooner had they reached some destinations in Italy, many of them fled towards France.
As the men began to trust you and tell you their stories, which account moved you the most, the one that you will, perhaps, never forget?
I think the memory is the only thing that remains in the future and thanks to photography, you can create a record of human experience. Not everyone is willing to tell their stories, it is very difficult to find people available, but if you approach it with grace and respect, you get more confidence.
What did you aim to capture with your photos?
I wanted to tell a story of a boy as young as me, and his hopes for the future. I also tried to convey in my photographs the link that Ahmed had created over time with the island.
Has this project deepened your interest in the plight of immigration and migration?
I’m more interested in young people living in the territories through conflicts, wars, and revolutions.
Thanks so much, Guido.