Vincenzo Pagliuca – Interview

We are delighted to be interviewing Italian photographer Vincenzo Pagliuca on his project Napoli Nord / Case Rom. 

Vincenzo photographed two Roma settlements on the outskirts of Naples, where he shows us dream-like topographic images of houses, their interiors and his inhabitants. 

Instead of showing us precarious housing and decay,  Vincenzo images negate our presetted image of such a place without trivializing the problems. 

1. I’d like to start by asking you what led to your starting your project ‘Case Rom / Napoli Nord? Did you had a personal reason for this work?

I first visited the camp to deliver some pictures I had taken of the children during a Carnival Parade in the Scampia neighbourhood. I already knew about that place but it was my first contact with the people living there.

I became deeply fascinated with the houses I saw, many of which were located under a highway overpass, hidden from view below street level. Despite the difficulties of the context, each house showed great care when it came to the details, abundance of colors and decorations. The houses were built with recovered materials and the interiors usually consisted of one or two spaces divided by embroidered curtains. They had sheet roofs and were heated by metal stoves. In my opinion, the houses, even if such isolated conditions, evoke a very strong sense of refuge and protection.

So I kept going back there, always with the strange feeling of being somewhere far away, as opposed to actually being in my hometown. At that time, around one thousand people were living between the two settlements and within one year I was generously welcomed in almost every house.

2. What was your practical approach to working on this project?

I used to visit the camps approximately once a week. My approach was slow and contemplative and, while waiting for the ideal light conditions, I used to spend time speaking with the people there and sharing my photographs with them. Over the months I got more and more familiar with that world and I began to better understand the causes of such difficult and precarious living conditions.

Each picture was taken with the collaboration of the people portrayed, who chose when and where to stand in front of the camera. The women usually set up the house before the shooting and wore something nice. If necessary, we took the picture many times until they were completely satisfied with the result. Of course, most of the places portrayed were much more chaotic than they appear in the pictures and I often had children playing around me.    

3. The houses look like there were originally built for temporary purposes, but transformed into more permanent homes with elaborate constructions. Since when are the Roma living in this camp and what is the current situation in anno 2019?

The two camps I photographed are just a few kilometers apart. One was established in 2000 by municipal decree, the other dates back to the same period, but is unauthorized. They house people from Serbia and Montenegro who arrived in Italy during the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s. The housing conditions are very precarious, especially in the unauthorized camp, which lacks sanitation, electricity, waste removal services and asphalt roads.

It is as you said, the camps were originally built for temporary purposes and later transformed into permanent settlements, becoming actual ghettos where people are trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty and social exclusion. Although those people have been living in Italy for almost two decades the number of residence permits is relatively low, they have never been recognized as refugees and they suffer discrimination in their access to the labour and housing market.

The situation in one of the two camps is currently unchanged. The other was seriously affected by a fire in August 2017 and was partially cleared. The families living there have been moved to another temporary area offered by the municipality.

4. Those portrayed in the images are mainly children and women. In turn, men are notably missing. What is the reason behind this?

Many of the young women I met in the camps were alone. Sometimes their husbands were travelling, other times they were in jail. Those women had early marriages and, due to the patriarchal tradition, they had limited freedom of movement and a subordinate role in their families. So in their lives they were devoting themselves to the care of children and to the wellbeing of the settlement. With my photos, amongst other things, I wanted to draw attention to their segregated condition.

5.  Your work has a strong visual approach, do you have any plans to continue this way? Your following work “μόνος • (mónos)” has a more topographic character. What can we expect from you in the future?

The main difference between “Case Rom” and “mónos” is in the use of the environmental portraits that characterize the first project but my approach and the feelings that have driven those two projects have been similar. Both projects required strict visual uniformity and they want to investigate humanity through vernacular architecture.

More generally, my intention in recent years has been to express through photography the personal perception of places I find extraordinary, especially bringing the attention to rural and suburban Italian locations. With certain places I establish a connection over time, a long-term dialogue from which a strongly internalized vision may spring. That’s the way I will keep on working in future.

Napoli Nord / Case Rom is available now. More Information