By Santosh Digal
Rome, October 19, 2019: Luca Catalano Gonzaga from Rome is a unique storyteller through images. In 2009, he founded an NGO “Witness Image” to collect and narrate the great transformations of our time he witnesses as a photo reporter.
His work takes him to remotest areas and borders of the world, including India, to carry out a series of photographic projects that recount the rights and self-determination of people. His projects have received several international awards and his photographs have been published by the major international media.
Matters India talked to him to find more about his passion and work.
Please tell us about yourself and work.
I come from a “classical” school education (with a study of Latin and ancient Greek). After earning a degree in Economics I spent 15 years working in the communication and advertising sector.
Why do you do what you do?
At the age of 42, I decided to pursue a career more in line with my principles and values and for these reasons I decided to dedicate myself to social and documentary photography.
During these past 12 years, I have had the opportunity to travel to over 30 countries and to realize over 50 photographic reportages on the world disorder of our day through images and their stories such as: the causes and consequences of the war, child abuse, hunger, poverty, injustices, natural and environmental disasters.
The ambitious objective is to continue fighting for the preservation of the “spirit” of any place, namely the traditions, habits and customs that contribute and render unique to the identity of a human community.
Moreover, I have always focused my attention on the environment, climate change and environmental sustainability, migratory phenomenon and the subsequent violations of human rights.
Who or what influenced your traveling and photography?
I firmly believe in the social effect and impact of photography and the role that each one of us has in life to be responsible for our precious planet, which belongs to us and future generations.
For this reason, I created “Witness Image” (www.witnessimage.com) in 2009. Its purpose is to narrate the great transformations of our time through several photographic projects. Witness Image wants to build a reflection on the right of people to remain themselves in this era of great political and socio-cultural changes.
What have you found in a Third World country like India?
Among the various countries I visited, India is particularly dear to me, a country rich in culture and contradictions.
Contemporary India, even more than in the past, presents itself, paraphrasing Winston Churchill’s famous description of Russia, as “a rebus wrapped in a mystery that finds itself in a contradiction”.
Contradiction exists between an increasingly important international positioning and a delicate internal fragility; contradiction between a national identity shown by the country vis-à-vis the rest of the world and a varied ethnic-cultural heterogeneity that is often the bearer of tensions and disorders.
The charm of an ancient civilization, the cradle of the world’s oldest religions, contradicts the poverty and discrimination of its people.
I made several photographic reports in India, in particular on the difficult working conditions of the weaker classes, such as the Dalits.
Varanasi, the city that lies on the banks of the Ganges, has furnaces where these new slaves, guilty of belonging to the “caste of the impure,” produce and transport bricks on the back or the head for that fetches money barely for survival.
Women and young, often children, work ceaselessly for hours, surrounded by highly harmful dust, and under the sun. People working under such hazardous conditions lack health protection system, hygiene and safety measures. You can see the images here: http://www.witnessimage.com/stories/the-dark-side-of-india/
What are the other regions you have visited?
I have been in Jharkhand where I did photographic reportage on the extraction of mica — an extremely versatile mineral essential for the cosmetics industry, which gives shine to eye shadows, skin foundation and lipsticks.
The lucrative business of the mica conceals a shameful secret: the massive use of child labor and women to extract the mineral from dangerous mines.
The World Labor Organization has classified mining as one of the worst forms of child labor. And the conditions in the wells where mica is extracted are no exception.
Mines are dangerous places. During mica extraction, women and children breathe large amounts of silicon dust that get deposited in their lungs, exposing them to the risk of developing silicosis—a potentially lethal lung disease.
Indian law forbids children below 18 to work in mines and other hazardous industries, but many families living in poverty depend on children to boost household incomes. You can view some images here http://www.witnessimage.com/stories/the-ugly-face-of-beauty/
I have also visited Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum, in Mumbai. It is home to more than a million people.
Dharavi has a large number of thriving small-scale industries that produce embroidered garments, export quality leather goods, pottery and plastic. Most products are made in tiny manufacturing units spread across the slum and are sold in domestic as well as international markets.
Lastly, I have visited the city of Dhule in Maharashtra, 200 miles from Mumbai, where the biggest wind farm in Asia exists. It has an area of 50 square kilometers with 650 rotor blades. Each rotor blade produces 1.25 MW of electricity per hour, enough to supply 400 houses.
This wind farm has created 800 new workplaces playing an important role in the life quality of the local population. It represents a fundamental opportunity to grant an economic future to young people when they are normally obliged to migrate toward big cities offering higher job possibilities. Have a look those pictures here http://www.witnessimage.com/stories/blown-away/
When is your next visit to India?
I truly hope to be able to return soon to India to tell other stories with a focus on the preservation of human rights and fundamental freedom that constitute the basis for justice and world peace.
What are some points in India that you have not found in the West?
In India, I found several positive points, such as the possibility of meditating, taking time to be with family and to reflect on life and pray. In the West, the rhythms are more frenetic and we often forget to slow down to enjoy the beauty of nature that surrounds us and the importance of the household.