Happy New Year! Our first talk of 2017 is on the subject of Corruption, and features Mimi Mollica and Dimitri D’ippolito. Ahead of the talk, on Weds Jan 4th in Brighton, one of our newest team members, Marta Benavides, spoke to Dimitri about his work, They Are Not….
Your work deals with notions of corruption and social awareness, how did you become interested in these topics?
I’ve always been interested in facts and realities that somehow negatively or positively influence our society and lives. Over the past few years, I found myself reading and researching in the spheres of politics, anthropology, criminology, sociology and psychology. I’m fascinated by the way history has shaped our world: the reasons why, how, who, when, and where things are as they are. As an artist, I feel a responsibility to narrate stories and to bring people’s attention to things that would otherwise be considered ‘burdens’ or ignored. I see my artistic practice as a tool, it is my way of expressing my thoughts. I strongly feel that beauty shouldn’t just be an end in itself, as it has the amazing power of attracting widespread attention (no matter where you come from, in terms of country and social status). I see beauty as force of gravity: once you are within its orbit you are forced to circumnavigate it, and only then can you analyse and interpret the “planet” or object of beauty on many different levels.
They Are Not is titled after a quote by Francesco Forgione (the ex president of the Italian Antimafia Commission): “They are not killing in London yet, they are just investing”. Was this statement the starting point for the project?
Although the quote was not my starting point for this body of work, it has however had a fundamental role for the work. Thanks to a simple sentence the viewer is able to grasp the crux of the problem. In my work the text is important as much as the images. One of my professors once told me: Text can – and in certain situations, must – be used as images.
Deliberate crops in your pictures show the subjects and details of them with almost a surveillance gaze. How do you work when you are in the street? Are the subjects aware of being photographed?
I generally work in a really straightforward way. When my intent is to photograph people, especially if I am not planning on subsequently revealing their identity, I get really close to the subjects. I like approaching people and most of the time not even by speaking to them: you just need a glance of the eyes and everything is said. So, I would say that yes, a lot of the people that I photograph are aware of what I’m doing. I’m a respectful person I don’t like to upset people, my intent is not to steal your image or identity. Also because when you work on such delicate topics you can’t allow yourself to take anything for granted.
The obscurity in the photographs works both conceptually and practically in terms of privacy of the subjects. Can you tell us a bit more about this approach?
This approach is quite fundamental for the body of work. With this project, my intent is not to explain how money gets laundered, but to raise awareness about the fact that this phenomenon exists. I want to induce a specific state of mind in the viewer, a much more inquisitive one. One is hardly ever able to see the identity of the people portrayed in the images because we don’t know who the people that work for criminal organisations effectively are. Most of the people that work for companies and banks which launder money don’t even know what they are actually doing, these companies are all owned by “presta nome”, that is, front men (people who get paid to be the legal owners of the company, as for obvious reasons the actual owner can’t have his name on the contract). The subjects’ privacy is really important as my purpose is not to blame any of the people portrayed and I’m not suggesting that they are part of organized crime. I’m opening a door and I’m leaving it open. I’m not saying that everyone working in the world of finance is corrupt, and / or working for organised crime. I’m suggesting that what we see and what we get told is not always the truth.
You often appropriate images in your projects. In They Are Not you use elements as maps, graphics and text alongside the photographs. How do these add to the whole narrative of the book?
In general, not only images but also other forms of information compose my practice and have an important role in the narration. In the case of They Are Not this is more evident than ever, since because of the complexity and delicacy of the subject matter I use different elements to deliver the message. Maps and other visual elements as money and graphs help the viewer to contextualise the problem. I create different layers of narration to give different perspectives of understanding. The text is fundamental: as aforementioned, through the images I want to induce the viewer in a specific state of mind, but it is only with the text that I’m able to fully deliver the right information which allows you to understand the matter and the body of work. The book is just a dummy and many things will be changed, more texts will be inserted into it. Man Ray once said: “I paint what I can’t photograph. I photograph what I don’t want to paint”. I can say that in my practice the relationship between images (paint) and texts (photograph) is really similar to the relationship in Man Ray’s practice between painting and photography.
Unfortunately, corruption is a current topic as new cases come to light day to day. Will you carry on exploring these issues or do you have other future plans for your practice?
I will certainly carry on working around the themes of corruption; as you have rightly said, every day we are reached by new evidence of the extent to which our system is corrupt. I have many ideas about future works. Firstly, I want to bring They Are Not to a conclusion; I’ve then started to consider shifting my interest for Italian organised crime on other European countries, maybe I’ll make a much wider work, with They Are Not as a first chapter, representing the UK. On the other hand, I’m sure that I’ll start working on something other than corruption, as I mentioned at the beginning I want to shed light on negative but also positive aspects of our society with my practice. I feel that is really important to support and spread the word about the positive aspects of our world as well.