Focus On: Vittoria Mentasti for 2016 – On New Italian Photography

She tells real stories unfolding in hot locations, but Vittoria Mentasti is neither a journalist nor a reporter; she acts more as a wandering minstrel. Her stories illustrate facts and data through the lens of a visionary. Her series Lifta, the title of which comes from the name of a little village nearby Jerusalem, describes the encounter and the collision between the Arab-Palestinian and Israeli cultures through the documentation of signs left in the territory and everyday gestures. Atmosphere is the main protagonist of a story in which nothing sensational happens, but the tension is always high, tamed by a gaze constantly searching for symbols and clues of civilization.

Waterfall, Jordan 2014 © Vittoria Mentasti, courtesy Viasaterna

Waterfall, Jordan 2014 © Vittoria Mentasti, courtesy Viasaterna

F: What was your first approach to photography?
VM: I’ve always been close to the visual world and it felt natural to create images when I left home to go to university. I was taking pictures of my friends and surroundings, experimenting with film and setting up a darkroom in my bedroom. It was just some years later that I ventured into the outer world and found myself involved in documentary practices.

F: Who or what had an influence on what you do?
VM: Initially the raw intimacy in Nan Goldin’s work and Wolfgang Tillmans’ apparent simplicity made me fall in love with photography and its possibilities. But besides the work of many artists I admire, what changed me the most are the people I met during the stories I’ve worked on. The action of photographing becomes the practice of creating a space of relation, of unpredictability with the subject. Sometimes the performative aspect of it creates a new awareness. Being granted the trust of entering in peoples’ lives is a very intimate and humbling experience which deepened my love for humanity. In order to listen to others I had to silence my inner dialogues and getting out of my head was a very healthy experience. Overall what photography taught me is to stay in the Present, in the Now, to overcome my own fears and look people in the eyes.

F: What stories do you like to tell?
VM: The unique relationship that photography has with time is what fascinates me, its being out of time and still having this physical/light connection. I am interested in creative approaches to documentary practices, works that connect to social and cultural issues promoting awareness for overlooked topics. It may be sound naïve but I always felt that suffering is sacred and once it is acknowledged we are one step closer to be healed?!

F: What is the best photobook you have seen so far?
VM: RASEN KAIGAN by Lieko Shiga, it works on so many levels. I like how the photographs integrate sculpture, land art and social performance in a lyrical personal language.

Boys, Lifta, Israel 2014 © Vittoria Mentasti, courtesy Viasaterna

Boys, Lifta, Israel 2014 © Vittoria Mentasti, courtesy Viasaterna

F: What is the best exhibition you have seen recently?
VM: Public, Private, Secret at the ICP Museum in New York.

F: And the record you like the most?
VM: I’m fond of all Flaming Lips albums.

F: What are your future projects?
VM: I am currently working on a project about the drone industry in Israel and the effects of unmanned aerial vehicles has on the civilian population living in the Gaza Strip. Contrary to what the manufacturers of these systems profess, the automatization of warfare has made it easier to prosecute violence against others and thus increases collateral damage against civilian populations.

Clothes, Lifta, Israel 2014 © Vittoria Mentasti, courtesy Viasaterna

Clothes, Lifta, Israel 2014 © Vittoria Mentasti, courtesy Viasaterna

Vittoria Mentasti, born in Turin in 1986, lives and works in Italy and in the Middle East. After having attended the New Media Course at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts in Milan, in 2011 she moved to New York where she studied photojournalism and documentary photography at the International Center of Photography (ICP). She currently works as a freelance photographer in the Middle East, collaborating with a number of major journals such as The New Yorker, Time Magazine, Newsweek, Huck Magazine, Vice Magazine, CNN, CBC News, Vogue, IoDonna. In 2013 she received special mention from the Magenta Foundation, and was selected among the finest emerging photographers. In 2014 she was included by Magnum among the 30 best photographers under 30. Among the main exhibitions and festivals in which she has taken part, we might mention the Royal Photographic Society International Print Exhibition at the Royal Albert Hall (London 2015), the Delhi Photo Festival (India, 2015), Fotofilmic’15 at the Sous Les Etoiles Gallery (New York, 2015), Top 30 Under 30, The Photography Show with Magnum at the NEC.