Theater of Cruelty

"I do not see beauty in war, but there is beauty in everything"

THE PHOTOGRAPHER / Beauty, suffering, wealth, poverty, superficiality and raped children are different sides of the same coin, says photographer Marco Di Lauro, who spent a week with the Red Cross in Bergamo during the covid-19 outbreak.


- You started shooting analogously with an Olympus OM10 camera, then with one from Canon, and developed the images yourself. Which camera are you using now? And how did you experience the transition to digital photography? Does the quality get worse, or does it give you more options?

- I started with Olympus OM10 because it was my mother camera, and she taught me how to take pictures with it. When I started photographing professionally in 1998, I used Nikon cameras until the end of the Iraq war in 2005. When I returned home from Iraq, my equipment was broken and I had to buy a new one. I chose Canon because it was so economical. To me, one camera is as good as another. Camera and photographic techniques do not interest me, and have never done so. To me, a camera is a utility item in line with a refrigerator or a mixer, and technology bores me to death. Anyway, I'm a digital photographer, I only did analog photography for the first two years Kosovo.


- Your first professional photos dealt with social issues: children who were raped and abandoned in India, poverty among the inhabitants of the Andes Mountains in Peru, but at the same time you worked with fashion photography. How do you manage the transition between such difficult topics and the superficial fashion world with its richness?

- To be precise, my first job was in Kosovo in 1998. Fashion, India and the Andes were unpaid experiments before I worked professionally. The first picture I got in print, and got paid for, was of a man from the Kosovo Liberation Army. It was published in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, and was taken for the Associated Press (AP).

The photographs documenting covid-19 in Bergamo have been some of the most painful and traumatic works I have done, mainly because they were my countrymen
as led.

In the fashion industry, I mainly photographed fashion shows and spent more time as an assistant photo editor than I photographed myself. But I also took many portraits for the models' portfolio.


Beauty, suffering, wealth, poverty, superficiality and raped children are different aspects of the same cause, life and the world around us. I am concerned with telling the world that superficiality exists only as an attitude to life; I do not consider wealth or fashion to be more – or less – superficial than raped children or war. They are obviously completely different, but if the wealth of a philanthropist can be used to save raped children, the wealth is not superficial.

Risk is part of the job

- You are attracted to beauty as a «real expression», but you quickly became a war correspondent. Is there beauty in war too? Or is it your sensitivity to human suffering that drove you to this form of journalism?

- I do not think beauty is the most real, I am attracted to aesthetics and beauty, but not in a superficial way. I do not see beauty in war, but there is beauty in everything, so even in a war there can be beautiful moments: a sunset, a landscape, a place of worship, a face and a feeling.


- You have covered many conflicts: Kosovo, Afghanistan, the Middle East (Iraq, Gaza) in the late 1990s and at the beginning of this century, and were wounded in Afghanistan. Why? Was it a challenge, unconsciously, an absolute need å witness the events?

- I do not feel unconscious, as neither is anyone else who performs such assignments, it was a conscious choice. Some assignments involve greater risk, and as I said earlier, they give a voice to those who cannot tell for themselves. It was my choice, and if it involves risk, it must be seen as part of the job description.

When I think of the Catholic Church, but its scandals, abuses, the priests responsible for criminal acts, I see no difference between it and other sects
which defends its interests and its members.

- Some of your photos have been used in a different context, such as by former Secretary of State John Kerry. I am thinking of the photo you took in Iraq in 2003, in which a child skips a row of hundreds of bodies found in a mass grave in Baghdad and sent to a school for identification. (see previous page). The photograph was used as an example of the war in Syria. What do you think of such representations? Is it so easy to fool people, and what can be done to prevent it?


- Unfortunately, you can not have control over content and use. False news and propaganda have always existed and will always exist, and with social media it has become a growing threat – for example, false news is used to influence political choices and to shift the balance of power. To understand the situation, it is enough to remember back to the propaganda machinery Matteo Salvini when he was Minister of the Interior, a machinery that was not without reason called the "beast".

Attracted by religion

- Religious issues are frequently represented in your work, and even if you have given yourself as a war photographer, you still have to document such matters. What is it about them that attracts you? Is it the spirituality, the spirituality, the sacred faith or the beauty of the religious images?

- I'm not religious, but an atheist. I am attracted to the mysticism, the sacred, the power, the beauty of what is ultimately an instrument of control and persuasion of people, serving tyrants and despots who want to control the masses. Maybe it's the control aspect that fascinates me. When I think of the Catholic Church, but its scandals, abuses, and the priests responsible for criminal acts, I see no difference between it and other sects defending their interests and those of its members. Think of the breakthrough of Nazism in Germany, and the controversial role of the then Pope, Pius XII. Whether he supported the Nazis' flight to Latin America is still under discussion. All this has a certain charm, if we can call it that.

Italy, Rome

- During the corona pandemic's quarantine period, you spent a week with a Red Cross team in Bergamo, while the crisis was at its worst. How did you live in this dramatic period? Are there any similarities with the experiences as a war correspondent?

- The photographs that document Covid-19 i Bergamo, has been some of the most painful and traumatic work I have done, mainly because it was my countrymen who suffered, my own people who spoke to me in my language and not through an interpreter. Regardless, the pain is always the same.

- Even your roughest pictures have a strong aesthetic dimension. You talk about ending up in the right place at the right time, but how do you find the right angle to take a difficult picture in a very difficult situation?

Instinct, experience, sensitivity, expectations, patience, determination, humility and knowledge – is what comes to mind.

Translated by Iril Kolle

Mark of Laura

Di Laura studied Italian literature and art history at the University of Milan before studying journalism at the University of Boston. He later trained as a photographer at the European Institute of Design in Milan. During his studies, he photographed current events in India and Peru, but also fashion shows in Milan and Paris, where he worked as an assistant photo editor for Magnum. He went to Kosovo in 1998 at his own expense, documented the ongoing war and ethnic cleansing, and became one of the photographers of the Associated Press.
Back in Italy, he documented the anniversary of the Catholic Church in Rome. He followed the G8 summit in Genoa, but after the 11/2001 attacks in 13, he decided to go to Afghanistan, which he reached on foot by crossing the mountains in the north. Di Laura arrived in Kabul before the city fell, and was wounded by a Taliban shooter during an attack on November 2001, 2002. He was awarded an exclusive contract with Getty Images in XNUMX, covering the conflicts in the Middle East, first in Palestine and then in Iraq, where he stayed for three years.
He travels the world: Gaza, Latin America, the Balkans, Africa – always looking for a human dimension in events and conflicts. He continues his work with European society, from Palio Siena to religious topics in Sicily, Spain or the Vatican. He has had clients such as the UN, Unicef, Save the Children and CNN. His photographs have been published in major American and European newspapers and magazines: Newsweek, Time, Washington Post, Vanity Fair, The Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, Stern, Die Zeit, Paris Match, le Monde, Libération, La Repubblica, El Mundo , El País and so on. Di Laura has been awarded several international prizes, including World Press Photo in 2002 and 2011.

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