Davide Monteleone firmly believes that the photography world needs ‘educated, smart people who know what they are talking about – photographers who dedicate time to research and think what they want to say and how they want to say it.’
Italian Davide became a photographer in 1998 and three years later moved to Russia. His plan was to document the lives of people there for six months, but the country made such a strong impression on him that it became his second home. Russia was the subject of the three books he published, with the last, Red Thistle, bagging him the European Publishers Award for Photography 2011.
‘Photography,’ says Davide, who has been featured by Time, BBC and The New Yorker, ‘is a tool to have access, to open doors, to look at the world to discover and to think.’ What has your most challenging photography project been? Every project I’ve done was challenging in different ways, and probably the next one will be even more so. For me, the most challenging thing is to decide how to visualise the idea I have in mind and find the best way to create a narrative story that respects both the initial concept, topic and subject. The most difficult things come before the act of taking pictures – research, logistics and organisation. Often, taking pictures is pretty organic and simple when I have a clear idea of what I want to do. Nevertheless, surprises on the field are always possible, sometime they are welcome, sometimes not. Is photography a journey of self-discovery? I think it’s both a journey and [a process of ] self-discovery. I travel to discover myself. Photography is a tool to have access, to open doors, to look at the world to discover and to think. Now after over 16 years in the business, I think I use photography in the same way I use my senses – I collect information and emotions and elaborate them in the form of pictures that become books, exhibitions, photo stories. I tend to follow stories I have a personal interest in. What are the common mistakes beginners make in documentary photography? There’s a note I’ve kept in my notebook since I decided to be a photographer. It’s Italian but it can be translated more or less like this: ‘Photographers go to a place to take pictures and as soon as they understand something, they go off somewhere else.’
This is the biggest mistake you can do when you attempt documentary photography. This is an old stereotype but, fortunately, is changing. Photographers need to dedicate time to research and think what they want to say and how they want to say it.
‘Photographers go to a place to take pictures and as soon as they understand something, they LEAVE. This is the biggest MISTAKE you can make when you attempt DOCUMENTARY PHOTOGRAPHY’
The book Red Thistle, which includes an image of a woman walking in Grozny, Chechnya, as blood from a slaughtered bull flows towards her, won Davide a 2011 European Publishers Award