Interview by Scarlett O’Flaherty –
Loupe Magazine recently collaborated in search of new photographic talent with Photograd, an online platform supporting recent graduates. Overwhelmed by the high quality of submissions we decided to highlight the work of three runners up, each having a feature with Photograd and an online interview with Loupe.
I chat to Italian born photographer Lorenza Demata. The visual artist explores the notion of identity in the contemporary migratory context through her series It all started when some of us left the country.
Scarlett O’Flaherty: Firstly, well done Lori on becoming a runner up for the Loupe x Photograd Open Call! Thank you for taking the time to chat with us about your series It all started when some of us left the country, how long have you been working on this particular body of work?
Lorenza Demata: Hello and thanks for this opportunity. I began working on It all started when some of us left the country a year and a half ago, at the beginning of my MA course. This body of work became the final project for my MA exhibition.
SO: Why did you decide to produce a project that concentrates deeply on the notion of identity?
LD: It is an interesting to analyse the concept of identity within the globalised context. It is subject to different inputs from varied sources, territories and subjects. In particular for this body of work, I am specifically investigating the processes that change the concept of cultural identity in the context of migration, because it is also something that I am experiencing in first person by moving from one country to another.
SO: By replacing the subjects faces with a white square, you have hidden their individual identity. Yet at the same time focus our thoughts on how identity is redefined. How did you come to express that concept in this way?
LD: The face usually defines the identity of a person. We could say that it is indexical of the existence of the subject, and this is particularly evident in identity documents. I chose not to show the face to reflect on the concepts of displaced identity and of absence. The size of the white square also recalls the photos that are used for official documents. I think my aim is to underline how it is challenging to define ourselves culturally and individually.
SO: To what extent does being an expat yourself influence your practice?
LD: Finding myself in the condition of an expat has been a key element in the choice of the theme of the body of work. Surely I can understand and experience in first person some of the issues that I am analysing in the project. And I have the opportunity to get in contact with many other expats.
SO: I’m particularly interested in your use of portraiture alongside still life imagery, the work itself is very distinctive. Please tell us about the process of visualising the concept.
LD: By pairing portraits with still life images, I want to reflect on the concept of commodification of the human workforce and of people in general. This analysis is reinforced through the size of the single still life image, that is the same as the white square that covers the subject’s face. I also like to use still life imagery to create staged photographs. For me using objects has always been an important part of my practice, above all when it comes to express complex concepts or issues visually.
SO: How did you decide on your choice of pairings between the portraits and the visual analogy of imported fruit and vegetables?
LD: The fruit and vegetables that I choose are the most imported ones by the UK and they come literally from all over the world. The main criteria to pair people with goods is the choice of the complimentary colours. I did not want to link the food with the subject on the basis of the same nationality. This way I want to enhance the concept of displacement and of distance of commodities and people. Furthermore, I mean to underline how the movement of goods and human migrations is global, by going beyond national borders.
SO: It all started when some of us left the country, as a book, appears to have multiple layers with the added graphics and archival imagery. Could you tell us more about this and how this reflects the role of the human workforce in contemporary society?
LD: The book is the development of one of the diptychs and it specifically tells the personal story of one of the subjects – myself. It is the first part of an ongoing broader selection which will include the story of the other subjects. In the book the concept of commodification of the human workforce is further carried out through the visual analogy of the fruit. Another important issue investigated in the book is the process of cultural adaptation, which takes place both in time – during our lifetime – and in space – by moving from a place to another. The process is constantly influenced by different sets of inputs and, at the same time, we are active influencers. The aim of the book is to bring back a bit of individual story and humanity to subjects that are often considered only workforce and numbers in the contemporary context.
SO: There is a strong political discourse throughout your work, what persuaded you to articulate it at this particular time?
LD: With this body of work, I decided to get a better understanding of what is going on at the moment globally and to create something that would make people think critically. The events that took place in the past years – Brexit in particular – represent a global tendency of closure against multiculturalism and free movement. However, it’s a closure against the free movement of people, whereas a free movement of commodities is always encouraged at a global economic level. In my opinion, this is quite contradictory.
SO: Your first degree was not in an arts related subject, however, International Cooperation and Conflict Management must have been very thought provoking. In what way does this initial study continue to influence your work today?
LD: Thanks to my academic background before photography I have always been interested in social and political issues. What I learned from that BA is really helpful not only for determining the context of my projects, but also the theoretical research process that is at the basis of every project.
SO: I’m excited to see what other projects and photographs you will be producing next; do you have any particular plans?
LD: I am going on with the diptychs series and with the specific stories. In the future, I would like to investigate the social and cultural relationship between expatriates and locals. I also want to analyse some form of local cultural ‘resistance’ in the economic context, either in London or somewhere else.