Take Ten: A Conversation with Claudia Cuomo
By Lars - 14 min read
“My dearest ritual is coming home tired, soaked by rain, soiled by dust and happy like a world champion”
Claudia Cuomo (@claudia_cuo) is a photographer from Italy. Her work is full of variety – both in terms of subjects and methods. Here she tells us how social activism made her pick up photography and why she likes either side of the camera.
1. What made you start taking pictures?
It was street demonstrations and politics. I’ve been active in this field since high school and covered demonstrations (or clashes) whenever I could – mostly in Italy and Spain.
I would have loved to join a photojournalism agency and cover sensitive topics, but I wanted to finish my Master’s Degree in Naples. During that time, I did a few internships abroad – in interesting countries like Tunisia, Spain, or Turkey. There, I worked for NGOs and took street photos.
I achieved some good results and I had one reportage published in La Repubblica, showing the Indignados riot and clashes in Barcelona during what was called the Catalan Spring. Two pictures of that series were also chosen for the French exhibition “Les Indignés” in Paris. From this moment on, the activity became something I loved, and something I considered somehow necessary.
Eventually, I completed a Master’s Degree in European Modern Languages with a Thesis in Colonial and Postcolonialist studies about the ethics of war photography and photojournalism. I focused on Gerda Taro, the first female photojournalist to cover the front lines of a war and to die in the act.
At the same time, I started approaching portrait and lifestyle photography as well, taking part in collective exhibitions and working as a set photographer for documentaries. Also, reportage photography has always had a great influence on me and I admire personalities like Tina Modotti and Ferdinando Scianna.
2. These are our three favorite photos out of the ones you have uploaded. Is there a story behind them you could share?
This picture is part of my Rooftop Series at “Je so’ Pazz”, a former OPG (psychiatric judicial hospital) located in the center of Naples. OPGs were a dark chapter in the history of our country: Criminal asylums where unbelievable human rights violations were committed. In 2008, this one was closed following public action campaigns. The penitentiary police in charge abandoned the site and this huge building that was once meant to be reused for social purposes was left for neglect and robbery.
In March 2015, a group of young people, students, and workers decided to reopen it. The idea was to return the place to the neighborhood and to the city as a whole. Thanks to the voluntary work of hundreds of people, many rooms were restored and about forty social activities and laboratories were set up. The ancient cells remained on other floors to show visitors what detention meant and still means. Many people involved in the project are really good friends of mine, mostly from common political paths at the University of Naples. I was allowed to all areas of this place, and once I reached the rooftop, I was totally astonished by the beauty and danger of the place – so brutal yet so true. Nobody had officially taken pictures from that rooftop before, which made me feel privileged. That’s the mood I was in when I started shooting.
I spent more than two hours on the rooftop but got my favorite take in a matter of seconds, as the sky went dark. I wanted to capture the essence of this place, the madness, the insolence, the anger, the satisfaction of uprising, the sunset adding something warm, powerful, something revolutionary. That’s how this picture happened.
This is a self portrait in Tanger, a funny one. I loved the kitsch texture and color of the couch in the hotel, so I definitively needed to get a portrait with a threatening face on that couch before leaving. It’s one of those random things that turned out brilliantly.
One from “The Morocco Roadtrip” series. I wasn’t satisfied with the pictures I had been taking. Moroccan main cities are bustling and crammed with tourists. I needed more silence. After one night of traveling by bus – no sleep at all – several hours driving through the rock desert, and one last huge stretch of sand road, we climbed up the Erg Chegaga Dune. It is one of the highest and wildest in the Moroccan desert, towards the Algerian border.
It was totally worth it. Every guide of the desert tells you to go up and relax and enjoy the sunset from the dune. I looked down instead.
There was nothing but silence and this walking boy. He was a Tuareg, one of the desert nomads known as the “blue men” because the indigo pigment in the cloth of their traditional robes and turbans stains their skin dark blue. All around him there was a sea of sand, it was incredible. And the backlight from the setting sun began overlapping with the sky’s color, making it clear and white.
This was the first picture that made me say: “Ok, you came here for photography. Now you’re starting to do it right.”
3. Film or Digital? And why?
Both. As a child, I started taking pictures with a disposable cameras during the school holidays. Then I wanted to have a digital camera for demonstrations, to take pictures when clashes or quick movements occurred.
Eventually, I fell in love with instant cameras and now I have four of them: A Polaroid SX-70, two Instax wide (one for experimentation), and a Lomo’Instant. If I particularly like a spot, I take one Polaroid photo and one or more digital photos. Polas are old-fashioned, imperfect, and unique. You never know what could appear in the end. Digital means “relax but be fast and cheeky”. So I often use a combination of film and digital.
4. Where’s home (however you understand the notion)?
Home is where your roots are – but also where you feel home. Is where my brother is, or the people I love. I’ve been at home in Naples, in Valencia, in Barcelona, in London, in Paris, in Marseille, in the arms of the right person, no matter where that was geographically. Home is where you feel loved, welcome and accepted. According on my feelings and roots, home will always be Naples, a little more than anywhere else.
4. Got a photo to share?
5. How important is post-production to you?
Let’s start saying how much I love that feeling after taking a picture when you know that you will barely any editing. Sometimes I know immediately that I’m going to take the picture that I want, and it’s fantastic.
Sometimes, you can make impressive improvements in post-production. When I manage that with a raw picture I don’t really like, it makes me feel proud – as though I’ve saved something important, an instant, an expression, a feeling. I like to discover the potential of something invisible. That’s how I use post-production.
Another example: I recently recovered one of my hard drives and found some Berlin pictures from 2011. I had taken them with my old Canon 400D, already edited them, but never really been being satisfied with the result. I decided to give this folder another chance, starting over from zero, since my post-production skills and tastes have changed with time. I finally came up with something new that I like a lot, very different from my previous attempts.
6. Have you sold any of your photos on EyeEm Market yet?
I’ve been on EyeEm for barely two months, so I haven’t sold any pictures yet! But I would be proud to sell something unconventional, or something showing my city.
7. Your dearest photography ritual?
I have no rules. I walk, I see something inspiring, and I shoot, I might call a friend to shoot him/her or ask him/her to shoot me. I have no problems being in a picture: I’ve been modeling since I was 17 years old.
I like the freedom of choice at travel destinations. I enjoy climbing up on things, such as mountains, volcanos, rooftops, panoramic outlooks, rocks and cliffs. I like the ritual of walking.
I also love randomly encountering something great, and I accept getting tired, dirty and wet when taking the pictures I want to. In 2014 that happened as I followed the Algerian football supporters during the World Cup: They were winning against Belgium at half time, a powerful moment of joy under the rain in Marseille. The players ran like never before in their lives and achieved the most important football result in the history of their country. The Algerian team was one of the best in the competition, giving even Germany a hard time. I couldn’t stop shooting the supporters’ joy and their faces full of pride – all before the smoke bombs blew out and police arrived. So in this sense, my dearest ritual is coming home tired, soaked by rain, soiled by dust, and happy like a world champion.
8. Who is your favorite user to follow on EyeEm?
I started last month and I still have to build a good network, I have 300 followers but follow only three! But I am here because a really great photographer and friend suggested I sign up: Ludovica.
If I could aim really high, I would say Steve Mc Curry and Sebastião Salgado. That’s a lot of people for a tête-à-tête, I know, but I can make coffee for everyone.
10. Do you have any unrealized photo dreams? Or projects you are currently working on?
I dream to keep traveling: Vertically through Europe, from the north through Balkans to Istanbul (I need to see and shoot this city again). Or a springtime trip to Mexico, a horizontal tour through Asia from India to Japan… too many ideas.
As I said previously, I like both sides of the camera: I like to take pictures, I like people taking my picture, and I am an agency-signed model working professionally. My dream would be to work with the photographers I love, for projects I like. There’s a bunch of magazines gathering great talents in photography and I would like to take part in it, regardless which side of the camera I would be on.
I’m currently developing a series about the Algerian community in Marseille, with two photoshoots realized so far. My aim is to complete the series with a third reportage and to do it as best as I can. If you want to have a look, you can find them here: Battle of Algiers and Les Héros du Groupe H.
Liked this? Read the rest of our talks from the Take Ten series.