Dust storm in the country. The family of a 20-year-old man shot dead by unknown gunmen prepare to take his body home from the mortuary for a funeral. A lonely Grave yard aside the road to Mingora city during
the military operation that fled out the Militant regime. Express News TV channel troup illuminate the scene of a prolonged powercut in the town. Salman Khan, 20 years old student from Hisoori village, North Waziristan Agency. On 20/3/2011 he lost his father in a drone Attack. signs of battle inside police station previously occupied by taliban. Army shot the building mortar and consequently fire started. The ash on the walls hae been then washed by moisture appeared with the turning of the seasons. Thatta relief Camp, placed inside Makly graveyard, one of the most ancient and historical graveyards in the whole Pakistan. Refugees from Thatta town discussing about an incident accurred between residents of the camp. Many people even inside the vamps has not found available a proper shelter after more then a month since the beginning of the monsoon season. Three children face a dust storm in the suburbs of Kabul. The funeral of an old man died while getting food in a Bazar near by the house he lived. Child seated nearby the psychiatric hospital wall. PTDC Hotel exterior wall damaged from the interior. The explosion was due from inside when Pakistani Air Force war planes hit this hotel with missiles to kill and flush out Taliban that were hiding inside of it. A man laying on the ground after police targeted randomly people with plastic bullets on Istiklal street during a peaceful protest. A Fox News Anchor reporting from the city about a supposed corruption scandal within the municipality administration. One of the thousand of vacant properties left in a state of abandonement in the town. Lashkars members having a night patrol around the streets of their village. The operation is repeated till 5:00am, and can involve even the youngest members. Kurdish people in Gezi join the fight against government, suporting the Occupy-Gezi movement. Ijaz Ahmed, a 20 years old College student. The 23/1/2009 his uncle (34 years old) was in Muhammed Faheem house when the house was targeted by a Drone. A son of Saiflullah Khan playing with a ball outside the hujra.
Islamabad, October 2008 © Massimo Berruti
Pakistan, Karachi, July 2010 © Massimo Berruti
Pakistan, NWFP, June 2009 © Massimo Berruti
akistan, Abbotabad, June 2010 © Massimo Berruti
Islamabad, Pakistan, Nov. 2013 © Massimo Berruti
"Lashkars" - Pakistan, Kabal, Swat Valley, Nov 2010 © Massimo Berruti
Thatta, Pakistan, 6-9-2010 © Massimo Berruti
"Lost in Kabul" - Afghanistan, Kabul June 2008 © Massimo Berruti
"Daily lives in Terror" - Pakistan, Peshawar, June 2009 © Massimo Berruti
"Lost in Kabul" - Afghanistan, Kabul. June 2008 © Massimo Berruti
Pakistan, Malam Jabba, Swat Valley, Jan 2011 © Massimo Berruti
Istanbul, July 2013 © Massimo Berruti
Detroit, USA, 15/11/2012 © Massimo Berruti
"The Desert Belt" - Youngstown, USA, Dec. 2012 © Massimo Berruti
Pakistan, Swat, Barabandai, 2010 © Massimo Berruti
Istanbul, Turkey, June 2013 © Massimo Berruti
Pakistan, Islamabad, June 2011 © Massimo Berruti
Pakistan, Swat Valley, Totani Bandai , Jan. 2011 © Massimo Berruti
Dust storm in the country.
The family of a 20-year-old man shot dead by unknown gunmen prepare to take his body home from the mortuary for a funeral.
A lonely Grave yard aside the road to Mingora city during the military operation that fled out the Militant regime.
Express News TV channel troup illuminate the scene of a prolonged powercut in the town.
Salman Khan, 20 years old student from Hisoori village, North Waziristan Agency. On 20/3/2011 he lost his father in a drone Attack.
signs of battle inside police station previously occupied by taliban. Army shot the building mortar and consequently fire started. The ash on the walls hae been then washed by moisture appeared with the turning of the seasons.
Thatta relief Camp, placed inside Makly graveyard, one of the most ancient and historical graveyards in the whole Pakistan. Refugees from Thatta town discussing about an incident accurred between residents of the camp. Many people even inside the vamps has not found available a proper shelter after more then a month since the beginning of the monsoon season.
Three children face a dust storm in the suburbs of Kabul.
The funeral of an old man died while getting food in a Bazar near by the house he lived.
Child seated nearby the psychiatric hospital wall.
PTDC Hotel exterior wall damaged from the interior. The explosion was due from inside when Pakistani Air Force war planes hit this hotel with missiles to kill and flush out Taliban that were hiding inside of it.
A man laying on the ground after police targeted randomly people with plastic bullets on Istiklal street during a peaceful protest.
A Fox News Anchor reporting from the city about a supposed corruption scandal within the municipality administration.
One of the thousand of vacant properties left in a state of abandonement in the town.
Lashkars members having a night patrol around the streets of their village. The operation is repeated till 5:00am, and can involve even the youngest members.
Kurdish people in Gezi join the fight against government, suporting the Occupy-Gezi movement.
Ijaz Ahmed, a 20 years old College student. The 23/1/2009 his uncle (34 years old) was in Muhammed Faheem house when the house was targeted by a Drone.
A son of Saiflullah Khan playing with a ball outside the hujra.
Massimo Berruti was born in Rome in 1979. He quits studying Biology to dedicate himself to photography full-time. Working freelance since 2004, in
in 2005 he enters the Grazia Nery Agency. His photos tell stories from Italy, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and the US. Over the years he’s built a special bond with Pakistan and the Pashtun culture, documenting the beginning and the outcomes of the “war on terrorism”. A number of these pictures later ended up in “The Dusty Path”.
Thanks to his reportage, Berruti has been awarded numerous awards and acknowledgements - the latest being the Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund.
He has been part of Agence VU since 2008.
A great deal of your time and work is focused on Pakistan: why did you choose that? Is Pakistan a way of talking of something else or is there something that connects you to this country and its people?
There’s a strong affection for this country, but it came later. At first, Pakistan was mainly the ideal land where to tell one of the principal plagues of the third millennium, that is the infinite and grotesque epic of the global war on terrorism.
On manifold occasions and in different ways you’ve stated that your work in Pakistan, Lashkars, tends to give back an idea of the Pashtuns that’s different from what we usually get in the West. It seems to us that this choice could be deemed political. If that is the case, what’s the relationship between a political choice and photography?
I didn’t want to give back so much of a “different” idea [of Pashtuns], but a “more just” one. I believe that almost everything we do is more or less directly connected to our vision of life - from the way we set our daily routine to our system of values. Obviously my choices as a photographer are no less than that. I don’t know whether this natural tendency could be deemed “political”. Plenty of representatives of this “art” are interested in photography as en end, not as a means. As for me… Photography is most and foremost a means. In this sense, I believe photography and politics can build a dialogue and perhaps even a privileged relationship.
In dealing with Pakistani chronicles, you touch particularly sensitive topics. They’re the core of international plots that intercept ongoing wars in those areas of the world - the wars of our times. It seems like you want to get close to their deep logic (this is what we felt as we deepened your work) by using the stories of individuals who are often on the margins of our representations (see Lashkars) - or even put on the margins by the war itself (see Hidden Wounds, or the work you made with the families of the disappeared ones). There’s a “revealing” dimension within your work that doesn’t seem merely photographic to us. It that so?
Honestly, I don’t think so. I genuinely don’t think I’m unveiling anything in particular. However, the thing that escapes our sight (and our comprehension, too) the most is often the thing that stays hidden right before our nose. In a way, I’ve claimed to tear down this veil of obviousness, [and] dismantle what everyone knows or what they believe they know. I first ventured to Pakistan in 2008, [a country that was] already 7 years into this war. Everyone claimed to know how things went just perfectly, who did what, how and why. Me… I had none of those certainties, and I still don’t have any. But at least I have an idea now.
What I’d really wish for is that when it comes to fundamental and important affairs people posed just a few more questions. I confide in an awakening of the critic sense, or self-observation at least. Giving a small contribution this way would be an honor.
And how does photography manage to keep up with this complexity?
Good question. One tries and tries again, but I wouldn’t know whether my work is really capable of raising even just a small part of the doubts it’d want to.
Some 10 years ago you won a Word Press Photo award with your work Residence Roma: do you believe photography can leave a mark in social processes? If so, how?
Photography has been part of social processes ever since it came into existence - and as long as it exists, it will keep being so, for better of for worse. Simply consider how and how much is being invested on photos these days. Communicating via images is the basis of social engineering. What better way to convey simple concepts without the need of translations? Images enter a direct relationship with the instinctive, “limbo-esque” sphere of the individual, and that’s why they produce more stable and durable effects. Considering the multitude of images that bombard us as much as the futility of their reasons, I hope there will still be room to spread less particular and more captivating intents.
Your work Çapulcu seems to be focusing not only on the demonstrations against the Erdogan government, but also on the value that protesters managed to give to their action thanks to a new use of the word Çapulcu. This work seems to confirm a “political siding”, too. Is that so?
The works I feel like they're truly mine are the works where I used photography as a means.
I think politics is a matter of choices. So, if you will, the "political" phase of a work begins with the choice to face a certain topic instead of another. But having a political vision doesn’t mean “doing politics”. I think it’s quite normal to think that [a political] vision and social photography can reason together. It seems just human to me.
If we were to remove the long-standing objection to the fact that journalism should be aseptic and impartial, perhaps I’d say this is the finger behind which true bias hides.
Sticking to Çapulcu, the relationship between text and image is particularly interesting. In the presentation of your work you diffusely talk about the use of the word Çapulcu - which is something we don’t find in your photos. How do you conceive this word/photography relationship?
Photos should speak by themselves as much as possible. Texts are there to complete what you couldn’t or didn’t manage to express through photos. I always give a title to a story, but I usually don’t include the title in its representation. Photographing writings for a communicative purpose rarely reinforces the photo’s effort to convey its content. Çapulcu are all the civilians I took photos of, all the people who decided to protest against the reactionary and authoritarian politics of president Tayyip Erdogan, who held them up as such. Çapulcu means vandals.
How do you proceed in building your reportages? Could you give us a concrete example?
I don’t really have a true method. Situations are different. Sometimes you’ll mostly have to build a long network of contacts; other times you just have to through yourself right into the story, be accepted and respect its conditions.
Why did you choose to shoot in black & white? In an interview you stated that black & white allows you to “elevate the narration to a more metaphorical vision”. What does this urge answer to?
I must have felt inspired by high above to say such a thing. What black & white mainly does is liberating myself from heavy aesthetic superstructures that I feel connected to colors - and that I don’t feel sufficiently able to manage. As for the metaphor and the symbolic iconography, it’s more of a research where black & white helps me with no doubts, by teaching me a thing or two. Men’s history is made of repetitions, of stories that chase one another over time - stories that are different and identical in themselves. Iconography, as well as metaphor, allow to go beyond the factual and temporal limits of singularity. It’s those simple, direct and clear images that endure and form our cultural basis.
You maintain that using one or two lenses at the most allows for visual coherence. What is visual coherence for you, and what is it capable of producing? That is, why look for it?
From an optical level, visual coherence is that part of our way of perceiving the world through images, through our eyes. Our angle and perspective are what they are, and they remain what they are.
If I want to tell a story with images, especially photographs, I feel the need to respect the optical limits of the viewers. Therefore visual coherence becomes an essential part of the narrative. Otherwise I’ll expose the viewer to a series of visual approaches/languages that will disorient him, and will eventually prevent him to live the story as if it were [told] “through his eyes”.
With Lost in Kabul you lead us into the desperation. These photos put ourselves before something we have no experience of, dealing with the annihilation of the individual. As you know, the debate around “the photography of pain” (using a vastly recurrent term in the debate between Sontag and Linfield) puts these photographs in discussion severely. What do you think about it?
I think this answer can be deduced from my previous ones: I don’t like dichotomies, but to put things simply you could argue that it’s a question of choosing between narrative and pornography. So it’s a moral, even political choice, if you will. Photography is a “representation” of reality, it’s not reality itself. There’s no point in aiming at that. On the one hand, it’s the means that prevents it; on the other, it’s the photographer as a human being.
Just like a journalist who has to describe pain with words uses punctuation or the appropriate lexical and literary forms, giving a rhythm to his narration according to his will, similarly photographers use the subject, the framing, the lighting and the instant. Every single photo is the outcome of a selection that operates [both] at the root cause and at the bottom. It’s also the fruit of the combination of all these factors combined together. Can this really match the definition of what’s real? Clearly it’s highly unlikely.
So putting aside the “tilting at windmills” of photography as a reproduction of “reality”, I believe that what you should demand from documentary photography is a narration that is fair and honest, as well as properly documented. I believe viewers have the tools to be able to discern.
Narrative is a fundamental part of the process. Without it we could never understand the chaos of what happens around us.
As for that work in Kabul, I feel quite distant from it. Back then I was still a rookie at photography and much more impressionable than I am now. It was one of the very first times that I faced such misery.
These factors unquestionably influenced my perception. It took a lot of thinking on whether it was just to show a certain image of that work. I still wonder about that when I see it. And I do wonder because it’s a raw image - it’s violent to the eyes and to the stomach, but not exactly immediate. Perhaps it’s because of its lack of immediacy that it’s still there. Perhaps, somehow, you make a “metaphor” and I hope it doesn’t cross the fine line of bad taste.
That’s the only photo I’m still doubtful about on this regard.
I think that an “excess of reality” in representing pain risks to turn into pornography - that sort of pornography that shocks and anesthetizes. And this is exactly what I try to avoid at all costs.
You are among the founding photographers of Zona, and you play an active role in it. What led you to create this platform?
Zona is a work in progress, an experiment of editorial emancipation. As we’re all aware of the current state of the editorial world, we’re looking for sustainable ways. We have a few open projects aiming at that independence - a [level] of independence we deem fundamental.
You also work on assignment. What’s your position towards this photographic activity, taking into consideration that your work as a reporter is highly characterized in style, in choosing themes and the preparatory work? Is there something of this experience that you bring to assignments?
When you work on assignment it’s necessary to start from scratch. What you might take with you is curiosity, perhaps - and trying to always feel passionate about what you’re doing. I never happen to shoot in the studio. I’m usually chosen for my improvising skills, and this really puts me at ease.
What’s your relationship with narration? Do you construct your works bearing in mind a narrative level, too?
I never throw myself headfirst: the narrative approach starts once the story has already started. After studying a story, I try to picture it out, to be its protagonist, and go through it starting from the fragments I learnt during a first, purely journalistic, approach. I try and imagine the unresolved aspects, or the least represented ones. You except them to better the comprehension of a certain situation or event. It’s a constant trying where casualty and the unexpected keep playing a major role - which is often a conclusive type of role.
Do you follow the editing process yourself or are you assisted by somebody else?
It’s absolutely all on me - otherwise it’d be a nightmare. Then when I get to the point of choosing a selected series of images for specific intents, e.g. an exhibit and the like, I sometimes turn to trusted and respected colleagues and friends for advice.
The history of black & white photography is also a history of dark room work. How do approach the post-production phase today?
It’s a bit like at photography school: I do everything myself. However necessary, considering that digital camera files are flat and standardized, I try to intervene as little as possible. The analog nature of the film would provide plastic possibilities that have disappeared now.
As for the debates that often spring up around this topic, I believe an excellent post-production can help a photo, but it cannot reinvent it. So it’s a lot of noise for nothing, really.
On the other hand, manipulations are an entirely different thing.
What’s the form that you think best reflects your work, e.g. exhibitions, books, multimedia?
I enjoy all of the above. They complement each other when interacting together. Photography has a number of limits, so I think that using different media can really help complement it in order to better document complex topics.
As a photographer, do you feel close to other photographers - say in terms of choices, style or approach? What’s your education?
I approached photography at the age of 23 while attending a course sponsored by Regione Lazio. I’d never really felt drawn to it, but my ideas were quite clear. Living in Rome, it was very easy to browse through works online, on the websites of such great agencies as Magnum or VU - as they comprised big authors. I developed a passion towards that black & white tradition that I still hold on to now. Don McCullin, Philip Jones Griffiths, Salgado, James Nachtwey and Paolo Pellegrin… These are some of the authors I love the most. I also love some photographers who shoot in color, and I admire them for their effortlessness. However, I think that what shapes the photographer the most is practice, that’s making photography. There are many things you have to learn and manage before taking a single shot.
What direction is your photography taking?
I don’t know and I don’t ask myself, even though I realize I’m facing a change. I seldom wonder about this. I’d rather stimulate intuition.
Who do you pass the baton to and why?
To many and to no-one, I have no favorites.