By Anya Baglioni
Rome shows its hidden side in the book Vangelo MMXVIII by Paolo Cenciarelli. The photographer’s aim is to reveal the few remaining veils of a city that is reluctant to present its rebellious children.
The perspective of the Roman photographer, class of 1984, shows the hidden Rome that is populated by nocturnal creatures, shy, tattooed, moving on skates or fast bikes.
The subjects within Vangelo MMXVIII are proudly immortalized in their morally ambiguous acts; brutal in the way they handle themselves, sometimes in unpleasant ways, but they evoke a freedom that no punishment can contain: they – despite the ups and downs – are still free.
Vangelo MMXVIII is a diary from 1998 to 2015 that tells the story of the uncivilised, who reject a society that does not represent them, who revel in levity, and flee from the ostentatious respectability that disgusts them. There is nothing explicit: only images that make clear an urban movement, opposed to the values of an imposed culture in which they don’t recognise themselves.
Paolo Cenciarelli discovers in that reality a visual voice that enables him to pass on the everyday Roman life so familiar to him.
The photographs of Vangelo MMXVIII open a black and white window on the birth of the Roman underground; the words of Paolo Cenciarelli contextualize them deepening the understanding behind the lens.
How did you approach the Roman underground scene?
I was born into a family of intellectuals, a family of “firsts”. From my early teens I had already felt the strong and almost natural and reverse need to satisfy my attraction to the world of the ‘lasts’, the ‘left behinds’. The first cigarettes, the walls, the scooters, the nights at thirteen in the darkest parks just for the sake of being there. I grew up as a real outsider, attracted by trouble and by trouble-makers. In the last years of high school I put my feet on a skateboard and you could say “skating changed my life”.
Do you remember that first impulse which made you take your first shot?
No, I don’t remember exactly, but I remember how I got there. My grandfather had cameras at home, for me they were toys, I learned to hold them in my hands as objects. Towards the end of high school I started using those objects for their actual function and I realized it was cool. I was “the newbie with the camera”: I took pictures and this created curiosity. From that moment I began to understand that photography was my key to open doors to places, people and situations. I have opened many, I always go ahead and knock.
Most of the immortalized images are particularly raw. How did you find it, witnessing such raw moments and how do you think audiences will react to such raw images?
For me they are not raw images, I was there. I breathe the air of those moments when I edit the images, I hear the noises and I know how many of those stories end up: not well. I was and am part of the reality that I photograph. If you are not a part of it and you want to document it you have to approach it in the right way, otherwise you’re just an exploiter; myself and my images are not “exotic”, we are true, we are always here, every day. The public must go along with it; my key (photography) has also opened the door to them: enjoy the show, but do not judge. Walk with me, with us.
Over the years has your approach to photography remained the same or has it changed over time?
Several times I have reflected on how to move forward. My passion is my job and this often triggers contrasting feelings such as joy or frustration. I have often sold myself, I have corrupted myself and my language, like everyone else. I am not ashamed of it, I have never stopped fighting to continue to be independent and in control. I change and change my way of speaking, but my language and my expressions remain the same: I just need to be true to keep going.
How has the underground scene changed since the period photographed in Vangelo MMXVIII?
Some are still here, some are in prison, others are gone, others are in different cities; my/our scene has changed, many people have changed, some have let themselves be bought by customers that they consider fair, others have made great compromises, others dance to a music that no longer exists. Others have made the natural evolutionary path of today’s underground possible. And “today” is a lot of fun, everything works in a new way; the underground continues to receive guests and kick ass: they are just new guests and new ass!
Was there a rap song you were particularly fond of and – if so – why?
More than one. I grew up listening to some stuff, and now going forward I listen to even more.
Have you always thought that you would become a photographer, or was your childhood dream different fro myour ambitions when you were older?
As a child I wanted to be a worker, I was fascinated by big hands and how they talked, as well as by all these machines. Then in my room there were drawings, then bigger ones on the street, then the camera: during the first years of university I realized that I was not just playing, I wanted to be a photographer.
Of your photo collection, is there an image you took that you are particularly attached to?
Before the arrest, a moment of excitement, a bad surprise. Then the prison and house arrest. Years. My best friend, far away; me with him in narrow places made of walls. Finally after some time we went out, in the street, glass in hand, motorcycles, loud laughter and music; it was a beautiful evening and we returned to his house. Sergio opened the elevator door, entered and I entered behind him; he pushed the button, closed doors, rested his head on the wall and closed his eyes; high above his head the initials ACAB were burnished into the ceiling of the elevator with the flame of a lighter. I made mine, a picture.
What is your favorite element of Rome and what do you find most intolerable?
It is the combination of the beautiful and horrible that makes Rome the city it is: beauty is also made of faults. Rome is still beautiful. She knows it and I know it. If she cries, she has beautiful eyes and a shining smile. She embraces everyone, but she bites.
How do you think Rome has evolved and how you think it will continue to evolve?
Rome has never stopped evolving. Rome is always there. Rome is Caput Mundi. Settled in small spaces, but under the eyes of everyone, kids can make things happen. Others make even more stuff happen.