Fausto Podavini

Interview by Susann Tischendorf

Fausto Podavini was born in Rome, where he currently lives and works. After graduating from the Technical Institute of Electronics, he received his Master's degree in Reportage at the Photography Academy "John Kaverdash" in Milan. He began his photographic journey first as an assistant and studio photographer, gradually approaching photo-reportage.

Podavini has also been part of MIFAV Tor Vergata University, where he got to know and been in contact with many photographers. After abandoning studio photography to devote himself exclusively to reportage, he embarked a freelance career, working with various non-profit organizations for the realization of reports in Italy, Peru, Kenya and Ethiopia, where he also pursued personal photo projects. In 2009, he began a collaboration with the Collective WSP, where in addition to his work as a photojournalist he teaches photojournalism. His various reports from Africa, South America and India, Podavini has carried out important work in Italy, such as a report on sports for the disabled, a report in a juvenile prison and a project on Alzheimer's disease, with which he won the Daily Life award from World Press Photo in 2013.

His work has won international awards such as finalist of the 2019 FotoEvidence Book Award with World Press Photo, The World Press Photo in 2013 and 2018, PoyI in 2016 and 2018, Sony's and  Yves Rocher Grant. He has been published in 6Mois, La Vie, Le Monde, GEO ES, Stern, Internzionale, Donna Moderna, National Geographic, Days Japan and has been exhibited in major cities such as New York, Madrid, Barcelona, Milan and Rome.

When did you decide to become a photographer and what triggered that decision?

There was no precise moment. It came with time. Photography has always accompanied my life and, slowly, piece by piece has become a profession. If I were to put a date, I could say that my profession started seven years ago with one small assignment.

Over the past years you have been working on the in-depth project ‘Omo Change’ that documents the impact of recent large investments in the Omo Valley, a region with extraordinary biodiversity in Ethiopia. What drew you to start this project?

There are projects that come from you, and others that you are looking for. Omo Change is part of this second case. I was in Ethiopia for another job, when I learned about the construction of the dam on the Omo river. I started to read up and study about it. The more I studied, the more I realized that this was a story that had to be told. No one has ever documented the before, during and after the construction of a dam with the environmental and social consequences that it brings. But what mainly pushed me to realize Omo Change, was the desire to try to make perceptions move on what today is too quickly called ‘development.’


South Ethiopia. Kangata. 2017.Men of theNyangatom ethnic group work by the shore of the Omo River. Behind them, there’s the construction of a bridge that will merge the territory of the Karo with the territory of the Nyangatom. The bridge is built by the Chinese China Communications Construction Company, one of the major building companies in China. The John Hopkins University states that since 2000 Ethiopia hase become the second payee of Chinese loans in Africa, with different fundings for a total of 12.3 billion US dollars.

 In the project you show, among others, how the construction of a big dam is threatening the balance between humans and the environment that has been established over hundreds of years. What are the main impacts of the dam construction on the humans and the environment that live there?

A dam serves to produce electricity, and electricity is a symbol of development. A country without electricity cannot grow. This is the thing to consider. But there are different ways to build dams. A dam should be built trying to maintain a sustainable environmental impact. This is certainly not the case with Gibe III. Once in operation the dam reduced the water flow on the Omo river and into Lake Turkana in Kenya. This means that there is no more natural flooding of the river and there is no longer the release of the Limo river with consequences on the agriculture and grazing of all the ethnic groups that for years have lived thanks to the river.


South Ethiopia. Kangata. 2017.Men of theNyangatom ethnic group work by the shore of the Omo River. Behind them, there’s the construction of a bridge that will merge the territory of the Karo with the territory of the Nyangatom. The bridge is built by the Chinese China Communications Construction Company, one of the major building companies in China. The John Hopkins University states that since 2000 Ethiopia hase become the second payee of Chinese loans in Africa, with different fundings for a total of 12.3 billion US dollars.

What can be done nowadays to ensure the fragile balance between humans and the environment will be kept? Or is it too late already?

This question is not easy to answer. There is a feeling that it's too late. But it is also true that something can be done. First take awareness, and be more respectful of nature. All the major multinationals should think about how an action  today can have repercussions in the near future. Not just the next two or three years but think about the next 40 or 50 years. Many things would be developed in a more sustainable way. In short, man should learn to change his thinking!

Your pictures of the people living in the Omo Valley are very personal. How did you build the trust of the ethnic groups living in the region that you documented over several years?

With time, and trying to make the various tribes understand that the thing that interested me most was them as people and as culture, putting photography in the background. Spending time with the various ethnic groups opened up roads that you could not otherwise travel.
 
South Ethiopia. 2016. Near a village of the Mursi ethnicity. A man from the Mursi ethnic group prepares for the Dunga a typical tribal rite among the Mursi. The Dunga is a stick fighting between people of different villages, and is practiced in order to assert the supremacy of a village on the other. Those were the tribal rituals of the ethnic groups and marked times of the year or special events (weddings, coming of age, propitiatory rites), but today almost all have become shows for tourists, willing to pay just to see fake tribal rituals

What obstacles did you face when documenting the dam construction and who caused these obstacles?
Numerous. The main thing has always been to keep a low profile. I received moral blackmail but also great logistical difficulties. Being able to enter the construction area of the Dam was one of the most complicated things I had to face in this work.
 
Will you continue working on the Omo Change Project? And if so, what aspects of it will you focus on?
 
No, Omo Change is a finished work. Maybe in ten years I could go back to documenting what is left of the Omo Valley! It has already been very difficult to accept and experience the changes that I experienced in six years. I can't imagine how I could feel myself coming back in ten years. Actually, Omo Change is not yet finished. Until the book is produced, I will consider Omo Change terminated but not concluded. In any case, it doesn't lack much! With FotoEvidence we are going to carry out a crowdfunding campaign for the realization of the book.
 
You decided on being a reportage photographer after several years as a studio photographer. What advice would you give to young photographers wanting to make the same move?
 
Mine was a need. I felt the photographic studio was tight. I can say that my profession became such when I decided to take photojournalism. Advice is difficult to give. To make photography today you have to be moved by an oversized passion and you must be willing to give up many things.
 
Are there people who inspire you as a photographer? 
 
I keep getting influenced all the time. Not only from photography but from anything I see, hear or read. It is one of the most beautiful things in photography: if you are not set on your photography, this will change over time with you! Every person we meet is able to give us something. There are people who have an energy that somehow manages to influence your life. To receive this, however, you need to be willing to be opening.


South Ethiopia. 2013. Omorate zone. Omo Valley.Child of the Dassanech ethnicity in front of the Omo River. The scarification on the
shoulder are typical of the ethnicities in the south of Ethiopia and indicate the transition from childhood to adulthood and the number of preys
killed while hunting.