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Ecological question

Valentino Bellini | Akwatia: bodies at work

When the body and life becomes the raw material,
can the raw material be recognized as a worker?
Cristina Morini (To work life: actuality of social reproduction, UniNomade, 29/06/2012)

[G]hana is a country rich in natural resources, especially of gold, which is extracted with bare hands by a lowcost labor force, to be sold at competitive prices on the international market. Since the sixteenth century, during the British colonial era, Ghana was one of the main areas of gold exportation: the breadth of the annual production of Ghanaian mines place today the country in second place worldwide after South Africa. In Akwatia outdated equipment and techniques are used and the situation is compounded by the complicity of the government. The first factor of the environmental impact of gold mining is in the artificial diversion of rivers: after the completion of mining activities, the river is not redirected to its original course, causing water pollution and destruction of flora and fauna – the commons at the base of social reproduction – and impoverishing living conditions of the workers themselves, already exhausted by industrial fordist work/life patterns. Pollution, in extreme cases, leads to desertification and permanent inability to use the land for subsistence economy.

This series of photographs was shot in April 2012. They highlight the working conditions faced by miners, where the value of gold (white, rich, western) is the value of capitalist exploitation of black bodies. The complicity between the governmental elite and the economic systems of developed countries satisfy the greed of the lobbies themselves, not only preventing human development of the Ghanaian population, but causing irreversible damage to the territory. This trend actualizes and increases a colonialist slavery condition. The imperial capitalist domination and governmental powers related to post-colonial powers are the advocates of an unlimited exploitation of life and work. In this sense, immaterial/post-fordist (western) labor and material/fordist (outsourced) labor are necessary to each other. Physical effort – labor marks on the skin – of workers is the focus of this documentary work, that explores the physical traces of an old but effective vision of the current functioning of the world economy, in the era of the domain of knowledge-based and immaterial economy.

The bodies at work are bodies whose life is all set to work: feature, this, which is generalized to all forms of life, to all the new forms of contemporary work. The raw material (gold) that is extracted is life itself.

Interview with Valentino Bellini

(by Anna Mola)

Anna Mola: You studied at the CFP R. Bauer, one of the most important school of photography in Italy. As every recognized school, it has developed an own style, a way of thinking of photography. Did that style influence your works? How much in your opinion?

Valentino Bellini: My decision to study at the CFP R. Bauer was motivated by as simple as practical reasons: this is a public photography school, and therefore able to offer much lower prices than many other private schools in Italy.
There, i found highly professional and competent teachers, and especially great people from a human point of view.
The type of course i attended there has not influenced too much my way of working. It was a course mainly based on studio-photography, and when i arrived in Milan to attend the school, i knew very well which were my interests and which kind of photography i needed to develop them. This is the documentary photography genre, which unfortunately hasn’t so much space in the course i attended.
I think in Italy, talking about photography, the educational offer is pretty poor, and today, a school, in my country is more useful to create a network of contacts and acquaintances, rather than to actually learn a skill practically, beyond the basics of technique and theory.

A. M.: Observing the images, I can notice an attention to the chromaticism, brown is a dominant colour. Is it a question of style or maybe is it a choice in order to represent better those situations?

V. B.: I pay a lot of attention to the chromaticism and to the way in which images are represented, they reach their final form.
I’ve worked in a fine-art print lab for two years, so this is for me a fundamental step in the whole workflow, from the shoot to the final print of the image.
I try to give to the eyes of the observer an image always as close as possible to the real situation that i see, or close to the more truthful memory i have in my mind.
In a mine, brown is a very present colour.

A. M.: These photos are very simple and dramatic in the same time. How much do you think it’s true, in 2012, the sentence “One image is better than 100 words”?

V. B.:  I don’t think that “one image is better than 1000 words”, either in 2012, or in the past or in the future, i believe that there are two tools which can complement and enrich each other.
There are situations that are well explained through a single image, but can be deepened with a text, and vice versa.
I believe that the text is very important for photography, because if it’s true that a good photograph should give us the chance to imagine and not to take it all for granted, the text can help define an environment in which try to find explanations not given by the images. In documentary photography, moreover, i think that the  text is an essential part of the research work.

A.M.: Maybe it’s just an impression, but I appreciate a kind of connection between you and these persons, like an empathy with their terrible conditions of life. Does it exist? Would you talk about it?

V.B.: There’s not a real connection between the living conditions of the workers i photographed in Akwatia and my real life conditions.
Surely there is a personal empathy that has been created knowing and speaking each other, and discovering people with ideas much more similar to mine than i could imagine.
I appreciated the fact that the workers themselves, for the biggest part of them, were perfectly conscious of the very bad working and life conditions they are forced to, as conscious as disenchanted for a possible change, disheartened by the system to which they belong and by who controls it, and has the duty to make it work.
Their life is all set to work, they are in these conditions and they will hardly change.
I want to be very realistic.
I always try to have a relationship, a dialogue with people i want to photograph or with whom i want to work, i think it is necessary not to stop at a first level of things that would be too superficial.
I see the photography, a little selfishly maybe, as a way to help me understand reality, and only later to document it and to show it to others: so it’s necessary to have an exchange, an interaction between me and the subjects, actors of their own lives even before subjects of my photographs.

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Anna Mola

Anna Mola (www.annamola.wordpress.com/), independent critic and curator. More »

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