South bye South-West
a conversation with Salvatore Santoro about his self-published
“Saluti da Pinetamare”
PINETAMARE, South Italy, during the ’60s big sums of money were invested to transform the area on the Caserta coastal line into an Utopian holiday resort: luxury hotels, boardwalks, beach resorts and bars where spawning everywhere. It was bound to be a new Riviera: picturesque landscapes, dinner by the sea, family reunions, coffee at the bars, the street as a stage, a moment of idleness in the evening breeze. Then, something went wrong: the utopia became dystopia.
The moment when the flow has changed direction is not clear, nevertheless it did.
In his photobook “Saluti da Pinetamare” (Greetings from Pinetamare, as states the postcard on the book cover), photographer Salvatore Santoro guides us through the places where he was born and raised, along the Domitiana, a road stretching through all the Caserta coastal line. The journey starts from the exploration of the heavily “altered” landscape but it soon dives in the deep end to show the consequences of the habitat on its inhabitants, worn by their struggle, trying to live a normal life, spoiled by the lack of opportunity, struck by eviction notices, almost ironical in the mid of the abandoned buildings dotting the town.
Salvatore pulls together some family pictures from his and his friends past to the present of ruins, neglect and trash. The almost idyllic memories are presented as small inserts scattered through the book, becoming as sort of flashback: the present is different. The road is now filled with the smoke from an illegal dump, the holiday resorts are left to rot, the hotels and shopping malls are crumbling and empty, idleness become forced, immigrants workers sleep rough. The trajectory is clear and disclosed in his afterword: “No owner, no liable person, no heir […] The reality is that the direction taken by mankind is far from reaching a better future which would leave our children better off their parents”.
The escape velocity has been reached, there’s no return, “Saluti da Pinetamare” is beyond redemption, the angst behind the pictures can be felt at every page turn, alongside with the will to break through a wall of silence and silent acceptance. Salvatore doesn’t have the detached eye of the photojournalist on assignment: the territory he depicts is part of him.
It’s an open wound, he doesn’t refuse to strike back.
Saluti da Pinetamare is a diary, a document, a smoking gun, a love letter and a personal journey, all of them.
It is one of the few photobooks that have taken advantage from the “self-publishing freedom” of not being strictly edited: it has a wide breath, it works as an accumulation, unravelling in multiple directions: more of a personal journey than a controlled study of a place, it is a chaotic performance with multiple sub-stories. It shifts in register and it works.
Pinetamare’s ruins are not conceptual ones, even on the printed page they feel real.
Salvatore subtly digs the reason behind them: he doesn’t only care about showing the effects, he also examines the causes: the ruins are signs, evidence of a cold crime, they tiles up in his subtle investigation on corruption, exploitation and organized crime.
He catches the reader guilty of looking at them with an aesthetic eye. We are accustomed to picturesque ruins, a certain kind of ghetto poetry.
In “Saluti’s case there’s no such artistic redemption, although, if they were in a different context it’s safe to say they’d be beautiful.
I have to admit it: I’m guilty, I thought. I must contact Salvatore now.
Here’s some highlights of our conversations.
A :When do you first had the idea to start this project? You made a bold statement with this book, what is your target?
S: I have not lived in the area for about fifteen years. In 2009, after many years of absence, I took a tour of Castel Volturno, Pinetamare and Mondragone, I already knew I had to expect a decline of these places, however the reality was far harsher than my expectations.
I started taking pictures, I felt I needed to. I didn’t have a clear goal when I started the project. I moved there with the family for several months. I started taking pictures, but still I had no idea about what it was going to be.
The idea of making a book came in the course of time, I had the help and encouragement of Alex Majoli and Daria Birang who first saw the photos and edited the first part of the work. They advised me to think with the perspective of a wider and deeper work, so I started imagining the work as a book. Since then I have continued to take photographs for another two and a half years.
The personal goal of this work was already attained when I completed the prototype of the definitive book, in collaboration with Capodici Chiara and Fiorenza Pinna, of 3/3.
My goal was simple: I wanted a book to map the changes of these places, to show what they were and what they became. In my intention it was bound to be a private project.
The idea of sharing this book with the public came later, when “Saluti da Pinetamare” was shortlisted at Kassel in the top ten of the Dummy Award 2012: since then many people have shown interest in this work and this alone gave me the idea of producing a thousand copies.
A: “Saluti da Pinetamare” seems to be shot from a personal point of view, you are very close to your subjects and to the land, how did you deal with it? Is it easier or more difficult to work from an insider point of view?
S: Even if I carried out the work areas familiar to me, having moved away some fifteen years ago had made me a stranger in my own places. Getting back was not easy, I almost had to start from scratch: make acquaintance again with the town and adapt myself to the changes, make new friends, know the “right” kind of people.
The language and the codes of the area are part of me, it’s something you can’t forget: this has made the whole process easier.
I was independent from fixer, I worked in solitude and autonomy, collaborating with many people, but I always knew when, how and with who I had to work.
A: How was the reaction of the people living there to your book?
S: The reaction has been very positive from those who struggle for the renaissance of the area. They liked the durability and the deep interest in the area that is often only attended for a few hours or a few days by photographers and journalists covering news stories.
Paradoxically the response was positive even from the ones which do not share the expose’ part of it.
Anyway, especially in these areas, many people like the Media exposure and the idea of appearing on a a book’s pages.
A: Do you have any stories to share about the making of Saluti?
S: You’re giving me an idea: write a small book on the making of the book! Ok, just kidding…The stories are as many as the situations encountered: drug smugglers running with kilos of cocaine in their stomach, the illegal horses street racing, residence permits for the Kingdom of God, the daily struggles of those who want the same rights and services of other Italians, the burning of illegal waste or coils of stolen copper. They shot at the closed shutters of a bar just because he had chosen the wrong coffee brand.
They seized a water treatment plants for mismanagement…something that belongs to the realm of absurd!
A: In your after word you point out that many problems of the area are related with corruption and organized crime, how are journalist and photographers treated? Was it safe to take pictures in the area?
S: Individual security is very relative, it is different from the perception of social security. It is important to know the right people and be accepted. For me it was important to have many and “very diversified” local friends. After then it’s just a matter of limit, you have to understand when you have to stop without someone have to ‘say’ you something more than once. Understand the codes of language, idiomatic expressions make the difference between being a spectator and being deep inside the situation.
The part of the African immigrates was more difficult, it’s a complete different world with another set of rules.
A: The book is selfpublished, how did you realize it? How much guts does it take to start a project like this by yourself?
S: The transition from single dummy to a thousand copies was an act of craziness. It is not courage. I had no alternative. I wanted to do things my way: the paper, cover, dust jacket, inserts and the handmade binding raised the cost of production beyond any publisher good will. Nobody would have accepted such expensive production costs.
This is one of the reason which led me to self-publish it. I’m a photographer and I pay the bills with commercial works and now with these commercial works I also pay the printing and other production costs.
So I took the reins and started asking around, choosing the right people to work with, finding the printer, contacting booksellers…
I’m meeting new people through the direct selling of the book from the website, I received mails of congratulations…this keeps me going. I like the 1:1 conversation and I think it is rewarding for those who buy the book: they do not take at home a kilo of paper and ink, but also a piece of the author and a personal and direct contact.
Alex Bocchetto – Salvatore Santoro
Thanks to Salvatore Santoro for working with us on a weekend, you can find more information about Saluti da Pinetamare on http://www.salvatoresantoro.net
You can support Salvatore’s work buying his book from his website digital shop: www.salvatoresantoro.net/index.php?/book/saluti-da-pinetamare/
Here’s the link to a review of Saluti da Pinetamare by Rémi Coignet on Le Monde’s blog “Des Livres et des photos”
Salvatore interviewed on Fotografia Italiana – Young talent
In 2013 AkinaBooks published a new version of the sold out Verbrannte Erde by Salvatore Santoro.