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Follow the stories that leave something inside you: interview with Valeria Sacchetti / #URBANinsights

Third appointment with #URBANinsights, a series of exclusive interviews and insights dedicated to the winners of URBAN Photo Awards. After Harry Giglio and Beniamino Pisati, we give space to Valeria Sacchetti, winner in 2020 of the URBAN Book Award with the project Journey to the Lowlands, selected by Nick Turpin.


Good morning Valeria and thank you for your time. How would you introduce yourself to someone who does not know you as a photographer yet?
Good morning and thank you. I think I would tell them that I have a wandering spirit but with very deep roots and that the camera is the right way to satisfy this need to move both inside and outside of one’s places. One of the places I love the most is South America because I have traveled and lived in Chile, Argentina and Mexico. I also love the countries of Eastern Europe, especially Bosnia. I lived in two big cities when I was younger: in Paris and then in Rome. That gave me the opportunity to train as a photography student.

I wanted to congratulate you on behalf of dotART for “Journey to the Lowlands”, the URBAN Book Award winning project, chosen by Nick Turpin. Can you tell us about the “behind the scenes” of that project?
Thank you, it has been exciting. The work began a while ago, in 2013. Since a few years I had been living back in Lowlands and started wanting to document life here. At first, I focused only on the families, then I began to widen my gaze towards the surrounding landscape that also reflects its problems as well as its beauty and I found myself involved into something very different from the original idea.

How long have you been photographing? How did your interest in photography begin?
My interest in photography began at home because photographs have always been a vehicle of communication in the life of my family.
In 2000 I left for Chile where I met a group of women who had fought during Pinochet’s dictatorship and once out of prison, they had founded the NGO Anaclara.
Since that meeting my first real photographic story was born.

Has anything strange ever happened to you while you were taking a picture, such an unusual situation or something that surprised you?
It was during an afternoon in Baghdad and I was on the street with another photographer. We recklessly walked across a bridge, at that time Iraq was still under the US embargo and bridges were sensitive targets. They caught us and took us to the barracks, then released us on the condition that we leave the films there. In the following days I convinced an Iraqi guide, who was traveling with us, to go back to the barracks to get them. The police agreed as long as he would come with us to develop it. I remember that one of the policemen kept a photo taken on the street of a shoeshiner.

How would you describe your photographic style? Which photographers have influenced you?
“Revelations” by Diana Arbus, “Carnival stripper” by Susan Meiselas, “The country doctor” by Eugene Smith, “Gitans” by Koudelka, Helene Levitt’s New York seen in a major exhibition at the Palais de la photo in Paris, all the works of Bruce Davidson,” The ninth floor” by Jessica Dimmock, a wonderful book by the Mexican photographer Antonio Turok dedicated to the Zapista movement in Chiapas and many others. These are all the books that I love so much by photographers that blew my mind and that I continue to read over time.

Do you usually work on long-term projects or do you focus on individual shots?
I like to work on stories that have their own path over time and inevitably they are long-term projects.

Could you describe your creative process? How do you choose the subjects of your photos/projects and what do you try to capture? What captures your attention the most? How do you get inspired?
What captures my attention the most are the historical events of a population, I have always loved the history of World War II, of the birth of fascism, of Nazism, of the Resistance, of the hundreds of stories about the dictatorships of South America and of the Balkan War. From all this comes the desire to leave and learn about humanity.

Tell us about the most difficult shot you have ever taken. And which do you consider your best photograph/project?
That one of a child who died of starvation and other illnesses in Iraq, especially because of the circumstances I found myself in. A nurse suddenly grabbed me by the arm and took me to this room where a body was laying on an iron stretcher. The man had called me to document this death, I was shocked for days.
One of the projects I care about and that I have cared about the most is a photographic book on the Resistance that came out in July 2016. The Artestampa publishing house in Modena printed the work that I have been working on for ? years of interviews and photographs, it was definitely one of the most emotional works I have done.

What equipment do you use? Do you spend a lot of time editing and post-producing your images?
I always work with Nikon, I have a D4S and a Nikkor 24-85 zoom now.
I spend a lot of time editing images, even whole days, but not post-producing them.

What are your future plans? What are you working on now?
Since 2019 I have been working on a photographic story of a Chilean/Argentinean family, who survived two dictatorships, and three disappeared son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter. The latter has been searched for twenty years by the grandmother of Plaza de Mayo, Buscarita Roa and who then came back to the legitimate family after a historic process that also challenged Argentine legislation.
The history of the family continues today, many children, daughters-in-law, grandchildren near and far are born and live between North and South America.

What advice would you give to an aspiring photographer who wants to turn his passion into a job, or at least into a professional activity?
I believe in the importance of telling interesting stories, so I would say to follow the ones that inspire you and leave you with something inside. I also work as a teacher in high schools and this allows me to balance my photographic work out, so I am not a photographer who lives only by photography.

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