It was at the beginning of 2014 that I started to seriously think to make photography more than a hobby. I had followed a photography class in Venice that introduced me to photography projects and documentaries. It was spring, I was excited and feeling inspired.
Something clicked in my mind.
That year was also the first one of my PhD, for which I was studying natural disasters. Just few weeks after the photography class, I decided to go to the Philippines, to Tacloban, the city that only some months back was hit and devastated by the super typhoon Haiyan. I wanted to see with my eyes what a natural disaster looked like. I felt like I couldn’t do research on something that I had never seen for real.
In Tacloban, I joined a small association of volunteers that was helping on the reconstruction of some schools. It was hard work in the sun and humidity of the tropic. However, it was rewarding and fun, with hundreds of kids curious to know us and play with us.
In the free time, when I was taking a break from work or during the weekends, I walked around the city, talked to people, took photos. I didn’t have a clear goal. I was just curious to know. To know their stories, understand the gravity of what had happened. I was dragged by an invisible force. For example, I was afraid to go in certain parts of the slum, where people told me it was dangerous. Somehow, I couldn’t stop. I was feeling connected to those people; I was sorry, with respect, for them. I wanted to listen to them.
I thought at many things during those days. The firsts I can recall now are that my complaints of a PhD student sounded like privileges. I thought at how I could turn my research interests in something helpful for society, how photography could have been a voice to share my experiences and tell stories.
Once I was back home, I went through the material I collected and realized that that could have been my first photographic project. I had also written a blog in those days, which I filled with many thoughts and experiences lived in that month.
For some weeks I worked on the photos and the text. When I realized I had something meaningful in my hands, I spent three days and nights straight writing and when I saw the sun again, “A typhoon in my backpack”* was ready. It is just a short story with a series of photos. A naïve attempt to be a documentarist.
Of that attempt, I like that I had found a different voice and a new goal: connect my scientific work with photography, try to express myself in a different language. I realized that my motivation to become a scientist was strong enough, and that at the same time I wanted to become also a photographer.
That’s what I consider my very first step in documentary photography.
*If you are curious you can see something about “A typhoon in my backpack” here.
If you can read Italian, you can find “Un tifone nello zaino” in the Apple App Store looking for “Climate Chance”, the official app of the creativity contest “Climate Change: the grand challenge” on the communication of climate change, where my work was selected as winner.