Interview with Jean-Marc Caimi & Valentina Piccinni

Italy showed its continued love of food and art this past November with the very first Slideluck in Bologna. Our show at Spazio Labo’ was part of a new photo festival in the city called Transizioni, Photography In Movement. The guest curator, Renata Ferri – Director of Photography at IO Donna and Amica – selected slideshows that adhered to the theme “Close to me.” Amidst 22 different projects detailing moments of personal intimacy and contemplative landscapes and cityscapes, one series in particular caught our attention: a collaborative piece by documentary photographers Jean-Marc Caimi and Valentina Piccinni entitled “Forcella.” Curious to know more about these striking images, we asked Jean-Marc some questions about the pair’s work. Be sure to watch “Forcella” above before reading the interview:

Slideluck: First off, were you able to attend Slideluck Bologna? What did you think?
Jean-Marc Caimi: We’ve been featured at Slidelucks a few times over the years with different works we did. This was the first time we had the chance to attend the show and it was great. We loved the atmosphere, the people, the food, the flawless organization, looked after in all the small details. The selection of works presented was also good and interesting. We really had a very good time. Ah, did we mention the food?

SL: What do you think about the art scene in Bologna?
JMC: We are both living in Rome now, so we are not very familiar with Bologna. But we do know that there’s a very interesting scene for comics and cartoons, one of the best in Italy.

SL: How do you and your colleague, Valentina Piccinni, work together? Do you work together often?
JMC: We have been working closely for the last two years. It is quite uncommon for documentary photographers to team up for stories, but we find that the formula fits well for us. We became a binomial production team that works before and after shooting to edit, produce, keep contacts with agencies, etc. And it might help on the field. It is not uncommon to have motivation breakdowns during long assignments and mutual comfort can be crucial. And we signed no contract – we’re free to do what we want by ourselves.

SL: Can you tell us a little about your project, “Forcella”? Where did the idea for it come from?
JMC: We wanted to make a story about Naples for a long time. We came to know the neighborhood of Forcella through a friend, the owner of Witty Kiwi books, who was based there for a while. To us Forcella seemed like the archetype of the whole city, a springboard for an amazing story. We decided to make an intimate reportage recounting daily life in the infamous neighbourhoods of Naples: Forcella, the Spanish quarters, Sanità, the home of the most fierce mafia gangs – but also places where a unique way of living and an incredible and peculiar humanity still untouched by modernity and globalization reside. Valentina and I rented a room in a very old flat right in Forcella and started living with the locals. We were photographing every day with small point-and-shoot film cameras and developing film at night in the bathroom of the flat. This project marks our first attempt at a joint effort, right on the ground, for a personal project.

SL: For those of us who haven’t been to Naples, how does the Forcella neighbourhood fit into the city?
JMC: Forcella is one of the old quarters, the heart of the city. Or better, its guts. It is the expression of the highs and lows of the way of life of Naples. There’s poverty, Camorra, corruption, dirt. But also pure old fashioned humanity and instant friendship, derived from a widespread, unconscious awareness of all being in the same boat.

SL: You say Naples is run by Camorra, a mafia syndicate. How is their presence manifested in the city?
JMC: The criminality in Naples is embedded in everyday life in a multilayered and multifaceted manner, from cigarette smuggling done outright in the street to illegal big business. The way the Neapolitans talk, act and relate to each other derives from ages of coexistence with criminality, controlling and often ruling people’s lives.

SL: As photographers, did you ever feel unsafe or welcome there? It seems that some people let you into their homes.
JMC: Our project was to get very intimate with people, to describe the surprising banality of their everyday life. This is the approach we usually take in our photographic works. In Naples it was very easy to get in touch with people and to quickly establish a certain familiarity and intimacy. We were let into dozens of homes and got along with a lot of people who took us into their special places. It must be also said that Neapolitans are born actors; most of the time they love to have their pictures taken and are rarely shy.

SL: What is the significance of the Pasolini quote at the beginning of your project?
JMC: We feel very close to the way Pasolini described Italy in his books, poems, and movies, and are moved by his desperate passion for all the aspects of human being and its vulnerability. Valentina remembered this quote from an interview Pasolini did while directing The Decameron. The movie was shot in Naples and he was quite impressed by the people there. His description, his words, fit perfectly with the idea we had of the reportage we were undertaking, so we decided to put some of his words at the beginning of our slideshow.

SL: Any other projects on your horizon?
JMC: At the moment we are very focused on a series of exhibits composed of pictures taken from a book of my personal work published this year, Daily Bread. Valentina helped in multiple aspects and she had a key role in editing loads of pictures. We also released a book together, Same Tense, for which we’d also like to get an exhibit together. On the reportage side, we have so many things we should be working on that we feel a bit scared to list them.

SL: Anything else you’d like to share?
JMC: We would like to see “Forcella” published as a book. We shot a lot of pictures and we made a book dummy, a draft, with a selection of material that we honestly feel proud of. You can see a short trailer for it here.

Valentina Piccinni’s website

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