Pierluigi Ciambra
Pierluigi Ciambra

Pierluigi Ciambra

TIFA 2022 Interview with Pierluigi Ciambra
1st Place winner in Peoeple, Non-Professional, “Lullaby and Last Goodbye”

Q: Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you develop a passion for photography?

I was born in Palermo in 1978 and currently live in Cosenza, southern Italy. Graduated in 2002 in Photography at the European Institute of Design in Rome, I later graduated in Theories and Practices of Anthropology with a thesis on Visual Anthropology entitled Ethno-photography – Research with images and on images”, at the University of Rome La Sapienza (2006). 

Since 2013, I have started a long-term project, a family diary in which I describe, through photography, the process of my daughters’ growth, reporting on family and relationship dynamics, the creation of identities and their different personalities.

Photography has always fascinated me because it allows me to express my point of view on the world. Over time, I have learned to use it as a tool to get to know and come into contact with otherness, with all that I do not know and that I feel the need to explore.

Q: Could you provide more details about how you captured this award-winning photograph? What was the main idea behind it, and how did you go about constructing it?

Lullaby and Last Goodbye are a long-term project I started in 2013, the year Giulia, my first daughter, was born.

I owe my passion for photography to my father. He loved to capture our family’s happy and carefree moments with a camera.

When my daughters were born, I turned my lens towards my family and understood my father’s desire, indeed his need, to preserve the memory of those moments. So I started to photograph them daily, rediscovering with them the magical purity of childhood. I wanted to preserve those moments, to make them live forever. Little girls grow up, they discover a world uncontaminated in their eyes, and they do it with the freedom of those who unveil enormous mysteries without schemes and conjectures, with the instinctive ingenuity of childish curiosity, involving you in their fairy-tale reality. 

Telling their view of the world and, at the same time, laying bare my inner quest and the process of reconciliation with my past are the motivations behind this photographic project of mine.

Embarking on this process has allowed me to retrace my history and emotions and has led me to reprocess the trauma of my father’s untimely death, finally seeing it through different eyes.

Q: What does it mean to you to get this award?

It gives me immense joy to know that my project can be awarded by an international jury of experts. It makes me realise that even an intimate project describing a personal story can be appreciated and perhaps become the inspiration for universal sentiments.

Q: Photography is a great medium for communicating various messages to people. What are your thoughts on this tool and how do you use it?

For me, photography is the best way to tell a story. If you master the medium of photography well, it is definitely the most immediate and easily understandable way to get a story across to a diverse audience. 

I have always believed in slow photography that allows me to develop long-term projects and photography that makes me feel empathy for the subjects I photograph. 

However, my ultimate goal is always to create something physical with my photography, an exhibition, a book, or even a simple photo fanzine.

Q: What would you say best describes your photography and your style?

I am of the opinion that to tell a good story through photography you have to start at the ‘kitchen table’. In order to survive the bulimia of images and projects that characterises our age and to navigate a world that gives us an excess of knowledge, you have to create authentic contact with the people whose stories you want to tell and you have to spend a lot of time with them.

Q: What one thing do you wish you had known before you started taking pictures?

All my projects start with inner motivations and the pleasure of knowledge. 

I believe that an important point in bringing a project to life is personal curiosity. Before embarking on a new photographic project, I document myself, I try to get information of various kinds, not only textual but also photographic. 

I am not the kind of photographer who shoots first and then thinks. I always try to know before I take photographs. Once you understand the story you want to tell and create a narrative structure, the photographs come automatically.

Q: Could you tell us what photography gear you personally like to use? 

I usually use a digital SLR, although I have always admired a large format. For Lullaby and Last Goodbye, a project, I have been doing for more than 10 years, I have used the most diverse photographic media, from mobile phones to digital SLRs to Polaroids.

Q: What would you say are some essential tools for new photographers?

I believe that the essential tool for photographers is not classical photographic equipment but books, photographic or otherwise. 

I for one call myself a ‘Photobook Nerd’. I love reading photography essays and monographs, not only of great photographers, but also of lesser-known photographers.

Reading books and getting to know the projects of photographers who may have dealt with topics similar to the one you have in mind to develop, especially in photography, not only avoids proposing things you have already seen, but also allows you to broaden your point of view.

Q: Whose work has had the greatest impact on you?

Many photographic works have left their mark on me from Picture from Home by Larry Sultan to Sleeping by the Mississippi by Alec Soth, from Immediate Family by Sally Mann to The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and the enigmatic meaning of their dreams by Alessandra Sanguinetti. 

Currently, I have fallen in love with the works of Gregory Halpern and Bryan Schutmaat.

Q: What are your future plans? Do you have any exciting projects going on right now that you could tell us about?

I am currently heavily focused on finding a publisher who is passionate about Lullaby and Last Goodbye and willing to publish them.

I believe that the project that won the Tifa in the People, Non-Professional section is a very structured long-term project that could best express its potential in book form.

At the same time, I am carrying out a project on Calabria, a region in the far south of Italy. Calabria is a little-known and too often underestimated land with extraordinary potential. The people who inhabit it have always withstood a thousand difficulties and deserve a photographic point of view far removed from stereotypes.

Q: If you had limitless funds for a dream project, what would you do?

I believe that good stories can also be found in the backyard. You don’t necessarily need to dream of doing projects in the remotest corners of the world from which you may only get partial and sketchy descriptions.

My dream in the drawer is to have enough funds and especially time to return to my homeland, Sicily, which like many of my peers I abandoned when I was 20 years old. I would like to rediscover, following the life of my mother and father, my land and my origins. 

I would like, inspired by my mother’s memories, to relate the images from the many family albums that my mother and father bequeathed to me, with the places they lived and the people they met.

A story therefore about a return to the origins, a return home, to my land.