Federica Araco - 11/01/2014
With the 55 black and white photos that make up his book, Luca Nizzoli Toetti tells the reality of the countries along the eastern borders of Europe, from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad to the Bosphorus.
With a poetic and delicate look, the author (winner of the 2010 Chatwin Prize) constructs a personal "emotional journey" through the territories from the blurred borders, that in a not too distant future may become part of the Union. The neat images reveal a great deal of technical maturity and are put together deliberately in a non-chronological or non-sequential manner from a geographical point of view. This slow circumnavigation on the edge of the borders that were born after the collapse of the USSR, gives us visual impressions and atmospheres made of looks, small gestures, moments of everyday life captured with an incredible sensitivity and a veil of irony.
"With my job I satisfy a wandering desire for freedom, for escaping from the constraints territorial, ideological and professional development. Away from the fast and the superficial meccanisms of the media and I follow this desire in the simplest of ways: walking and shooting", we read in the afterword .
Beyond the old curtain there are still far away and inaccessible places. The impressive and remotest Russian stations, the Ukrainian coast, the teeming cities of the Baltic republics, the bars of Istanbul, the squares of Chisinau. Without maps or pre-appointments, the author - “free user of the possibilities" - gets lost in these unexplored worlds as a traveler from the late nineteenth century, plunging "into the hasty mass slowly, doing nothing but chasing everything."
The interview of Babelmed
What took you to those territories?
I wanted to look for Europe where it still doesn’t exist and find something that would speak to me of our recent past, thirty, forty years ago. I was interested in talking about little-known places, that perhaps soon will be part of the European Union, although I doubt that some of the countries that I went will succeed in that. The basic question that prompted me to start was : “What is Europe? What are the Europeans?”. I looked for answers by looking at the daily lives of people who live on the eastern borders of this political and geographical entity but I only found a lot of photos and a lot of people that are asking themselves the same questions...
What was your approach from a photographic point of view?
I chose to work capturing the details of what is happening and what I see as I walk. The urban sprawl and the almost total dependence on cars too often force us to follow fixed routes and therefore we rarely cross a territory living it wholly. Therefore, raising your head up and walking becomes a politically subversive act. Leaving the smartphone for a moment, deviating from the known routes, getting lost in unknown places, letting ourselves be amazed by the reality that surrounds us. This is what drives me to take pictures. I never use maps when I travel, I just consult them before I leave and then I try to direct myself on the territory by creating new landmarks for myself.
What is the attitude of young people in these countries compared to that in Europe?
People do not miss Europe, nor a different economy. The people would like to maybe a little more wealth but their discomfort is mostly based on the denial of the freedom of movement. They need a visa to move and many can not get to travel freely and discover the world, which should be a right for all . The strongest element is, therefore, a shared desire for mobility, especially among young people.
Yours is in a way also work about the borders, about the frontier. Would you like to say something about this theme?
The theme of the walls fascinates me , but what interests me is to go beyond the physical walls that we see in the world. Twenty-five years ago, when the Berlin Wall fell, we have witnessed the bringing down of a brick barrier that had long separated the two worlds that finally could get closer. Today there are other dynamics, other walls, that are more invisible and sophisticated. Our bodies are more and more isolated. It’s the smartphones that we use all the time, that filter external reality and the media bombardment that fills us with the illusion of informing ourselves adequately.
"Almost Europe" has been realized thanks to a system of online pre-sales. Can you tell us about it?
It is a system that was very fashionable at the beginning of the last century and which is now spreading again to cope with the crisis in the publishing sector. Before each new stage of the journey, I launched a fundraising campaign to finance the transfers in program by specifying from time to time itineraries and offering to the donors signed pictures that were realized thanks to their contribution. Thus, before the work was printed, we had already sold 120 copies.
What will be your next steps?
I'm already working on a second trip through Europe, from Scandinavia to Sicily by train, thanks to the same funding method from the base. And in the future I'd like to imagine a route from Cascais to the Baltic republics .
Luca Nizzoli Toetti, Almost Europe,
Postcard, Roma, October 2013
122 pages, 25 euro.
Translation from Italian by Ovgu Pinar