Interview: Eugenio Grosso

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Eugenio Grosso is interviewed by Billie Jenkins All images courtesy of Eugenio Grosso

Eugenio Grosso’s photography is a fascinating mix of storytelling and harder realism. We found him as one of the exciting names listed in LensCulture’s Emerging Talent 2014 shortlist, for his incredible series Vietnam Top to Bottom, which documents a journey along the iconic route from the Chinese border to Ho Chi Minh City. What we find most exciting about Grosso is his studies of people, which are intimate and revealing, without feeling as if they were an interruption. Here we speak to Grosso about his grand trip, what he searches for in a subject, and what comes next.

Vietnam Top to Bottom documents a journey across the country, in most part by train. Tell us a bit about your trip?
Vietnam Top to Bottom is a train ride from North Vietnam to South I did in Spring last year (2013). I was traveling through South East Asia and decided to walk Vietnam from its Northern border (with China) to Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon. Recently the railway that connects North and South has been reopened after it was damaged during the American Vietnamese war. It is called the Reunification Line, it is the symbol of a country that set itself free after long struggles. Vietnamese people had to fight the French colonists first, and then the Americans. However their faith and strong will in the end brought them to victory. Their sense of community is what I liked the most, and this journey represents it in some way, it means unity.

Which encounters particularly stood out for you?
I met a lot of beautiful people during that journey and it seems unfair say that someone was more important than another. I clearly remember those I shared the journey with: a lady going back to his young son and an old man going to his daughter’s house. The old man did not speak English at all so the lady used to translate in English for him. Even when the lady got off the train he kept trying to communicate to me through little things like offering food and pointing out to the beautiful landscape.

Once you had returned home, did any of the images mark themselves out as most significant?
Yes, there are some I am most attached to. It is something personal, they remind me about situation and people, or it is just about taste. Usually those are the pictures I spend most time on. I mean those that force my to think about their value and if it is worth or not to select in an editing process.

Your photography features many portraits of people you observe on your travels, what do you look for in your subjects?
That’s a really good question. Actually, while I shoot I try to do not think too much. If I am in the mood I only try to follow the flow and when I take a portrait it is because of the situation and the atmosphere of the moment. Maybe those people reminds me of something I have seen before, or i’m inspired by the light and their expression. If I think about the portrait of the smoking man on the train platform or the train attendant in the corridor those were just moments. I liked the man closing his eyes for the smoke because it transmitted to me a sense of tiredness, which is typical of the long journeys, while the woman watching out of the window was a kind of icon of traveling, looking out for something we cannot see from our position. Other times I am only interested in the person i’m in front of, therefore I try to take as many picture as I can of him or her.

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How do approach potential subjects?
It depends. Sometimes I start talking to them, asking for information about the place or their life or whatever, and then ask if I can take a picture.
Other times I just pop in front of them and shot, and maybe after that I start talking to them and ask for permission to take other pictures.

What did it feel like to be listed as one of Lens Cultures Emerging artists of 2014?
It was great. I was so excited when I received that email. It is like someone saying to you “ok, well done, keep going”. But after that I think the most important thing is that it makes you consider why that certain project worked better than others, and you start reflecting on how to make simple ideas visually interesting. I personally believe that there are a lot of interesting possibilities for stories around us, what is difficult is to find an original way to tell those stories.

What keeps your excitement and motivation for photography going?
There are many forces that push me every day to go on. Today the award is one of those, but it is something recent and it won’t last that much. The truth is that I wouldn’t know what to do if I wouldn’t take pictures, as a job or as a personal goal, I would feel empty. Of course there are blue days and you need to keep repeating yourself that you can do it and keep going. I am very lucky in this sense, around me I have very good friends that don’t let me discourage.

You are just graduating from a MA at Westminster University, what can we expect to see in your final show?
The show will be in London at Ambika PX3 gallery NW1 5LS from the 25th to the 30th of August, and I’ll be exhibiting the project awarded by LensCulture in its full length. It is a project in three chapters about the relationships between cultures living on the shores of the mediterranean sea. It is something related to immigration, but the story I developed is tangent and less factual than a traditional reportage. We’ll be there for the private view on the 26th from 6:30pm,
hope to meet you there.

Do you have any plans, or projects lined up for when your MA is done and dusted?
Well, I would say yes but at the moment there are just ideas. I would like to start two projects in London.
One is about the religions coexisting in the city, which is a topic I have already started during the MA,
and another one about the history of London; but it something I have to think about. Moreover, I would like to leave again and visit some friends in Eastern Europe and look for something interesting there.

Eugenio Grosso’s work can be found here, and see Vietnam Top to Bottom in full at the Ambika PX3 Gallery, NW1 5LS from the 25th – 30th of August.

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