Annamaria Bruni is a travel photographer. Her love for photography trumps her love for travel and she fused it all to tell the stories of all that she saw, absorbed and remembered. She decided to narrate the tales of places where immense hope and excruciating suffering reside side by side. Her travel stories are poignant, yet eye-opening, gruesome yet heart-warming. Right now as we speak, she is on her next adventure.
Where are you from? Could you tell me about your journey so far in a nutshell?
My name is Annamaria Bruni and I’m a free-lance Photographer working and living in Egypt since 2008. I developed a strong interest in images from an early age, thanks to my father’s passion for photography. I took my first steps in this field in Sardinia, working as a photographer's assistant, then attended a course in fashion photography in Milan. I lived in London between 2000 and 2003, working with various models agencies and during this period I specialized in female portraits, which has remained my great passion to this day. In 2004 I travelled to Egypt and was bewitched by the Middle East. In these years I have been travelling in the West Bank, Gaza , Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Afghanistan and Thailand collaborating with several NGOs : UNHCR- Terre des Hommes - Vento di Terra Cooperazione Italiana , Help without Frontiers. On the edge of the Sinai desert I combine my two passions: the sea and earth, nature and culture, underwater and reportage photography.
Were you born in Egypt?
No I'm Italian. I was born in Cagliari.
Oh! So you must have traveled far and wide across Italy too?
Well, I used to live in Milan and Rome. To be honest, I have not really travelled across the breadth of this country but Middle east.
This is one major part of the world that you have been to Anna! Do you see yourself as a traveler first and photographer second? Which comes first? Which aspect fuels which one?
Well, first of all I'm a photographer I should say. But I love traveling too as I could not do my job without traveling and discovering places, culture, people. There is a phrase that has been with me since I started as a photographer, "Photography is like loving." What I feel for photography is pure, sincere, and true love. Through it I alienate myself from the world. I create, travel, feel, and express my best feelings.
I inherited this great passion, which began at an early age looking through National Geographic magazines, from my father. My entire life has been dedicated to photography. I have sacrificed everything for it, and I continue to do so daily. When I feel lost or useless, or that everything has become so complicated and difficult, I find the strength to continue without giving up in my pictures.
I am reminded of the feelings and emotions of a place and its people, and I am once again certain that as long as I am able to express my own feelings, I am alive.
Since the creation of the U.S. military bases, Olongapo, Subic, and Angeles cities have not been the same: in just a few years, the growing demands of the soldiers have turned them into capitals of prostitution and red light clubs.
_Even after these bases fell into disuse, the phenomenon kept growing, and made them into possible places of recruitment of minors to be launched into the sex trade. _
As Bukowski said, 'Go all the way or don't even start!' you have lived up to these words. I must say, very few do. Best wishes on your journey! So my next question would be...
You have traveled extensively to Afghanistan, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza, West Bank. All these places are connected by one long line of gruesome wars. Also, they are connected by another lineage. That of resistance. Tell me Anna, how has witnessing, documenting and traveling through lands of resistance and freedom struggle residing alongside destruction and oppression changed your worldview?
In 2011 after 8 years working as an underwater photographer in Egypt, I started the project "Occupation Refugee "in the West Bank during a volunteer camp in Bethlehem. The goal of "Occupation: Refugee" was to capture the differences, both psychological and behavioural, between recent and long-term refugees, and to understand the different paths that separate and unite them.
It is an observation and careful study of the concept of hope, which transforms the expectation of an imminent return into an eternal wait. One of my all-time favorites is a video project in Afghanistan made for the Vento di Terra NGO in 2014.
I recorded the production of silk scarves, an industry that has helped to emancipate women. Most recently, I have been describing contrasts in developing countries like the Philippines: the complicated life of transgender people in Manila, the suffering of the child prostitutes in Olongapo, and the peace of those who share space with the dead in Manila cemeteries.
Of course, my vision of all it's been changing after all these years, I feel lucky to be free to move around the world and able to say my opinion, in 2 words I'm free, most of the people don't have this luck.
How does witnessing the on-ground situations in Afghanistan and Gaza differ from what's shown on mainstream media? Do you think differently about all those people than the world?
I feel this more for Gaza than for Afghanistan. In Gaza every violation of human rights is suffocated by the State of Israel. But thanks to the development of Internet & social media it is increasingly difficult, the local people know how to move and how to denounce at last.
Hamas Parade in the streets of Rafah. In the suburbs of Gaza to become martyrs of the resistance is still an honor.
Yet, people die there everyday!
In Afghanistan, unfortunately, the fight against the Taliban is of little use, the country is still in their hands.
Herat - Afghanistan
Noroz Ali returned to Afghanistan after 32 years.
How do you feel when you visit a place of genocide? I mean the unmarked ones, which are borne in the local people’s memories only and not a solid memorial. For instance, Palestine has so many unmarked grave yards, marked by olive trees, also Afghanistan. That place, perhaps, has been bombed the most and death is but commonplace there. Can you word that feeling?
Yes! I feel bad but it helps me to confront myself with the reality of the world, which is full of beauty but full of pain. Everywhere. Poverty, lack of freedom, oppression, dictatorships ... always make me feel very lucky. At the end the man can smile even in the most desperate situations.
Manila - Philippines In the cemetery of Manila the living mingle with the dead in order to survive the misery: about 50,000 poor Filipinos live in Norte, or the North Manila Cemetery, the Philippines’ largest public burial ground. Many tombs are pierced, emptied, and used as shelters at night.
And how do you relate to the people suffering worlds apart? How do you tackle all of this in your head?
Before visiting any country, I am well informed, I find the right contacts and let myself be guided by local people. Having said that, in my heart the people I meet remain alive forever. I try to bring a smile when I can, and I try to take smiles when I am there.
Zaatari Refugee Camp - Jordan Amira brings the sisters to the bathroom in the area reserved for new registrations in Zaatari Refugee Camp.
Nadine's family is originally from Daa'ra, Syria.
Wonderful words! That's all we can do in the end, right?
Yes, we cannot do much. But we can respect and be sensitive when we travel. Knowing a country definitely means to avoid misunderstanding.
But can we be sensitive if we don't know the history of the people? Or have the capacity to listen?
Well, we can read online quickly what to do and what not to. It's not difficult if you look at it that way.
In your website bio you mentioned that the Middle East bewitched you. Could you elaborate on this?
My father had a collection of national geographic magazines, many of which at the time had covers dedicated to the peoples of the Middle East. Going to Egypt for the first time made me feel like I was in those newspapers, a fairy tale!
And did that lead you to explore more of the country?
For sure! My father loved to travel, and I have just done what he used to love. But still I have to visit lots, lots and lots of places. Well, I will try until it's too late!
You surely will! I envy your life!
Now we have a big project. It's called Rome_Teheran on the road. After winning the first prize at the Nikon Photo Contest in 2018, I developed a video photo project jointly with Nikon Europe, Thule, Case Logic Company, Shure Microphone. The project is a crossing in a campervan from Rome to Teheran, with various stages that involve different states. The goal is Iran, but without losing sight of the slow journey concept. Ideally we would like to start our trip at the end of April/beginning of May leaving from Rome and crossing Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey and Iran. The round trip should take two to two and a half months. We are waiting for all the documents, for the van, then the visa , then finally we start to travel.
So you are cutting across Europe and reaching Iran! Spectacular! This inspires imagery from Kiarostami's films. Especially Taste of Cherry. Would you be traveling alone? When will the project start?
I hope they will grant me the visa. Otherwise, I would have to stop in Turkey. In another month. No, I'm traveling with a friend. Well, I'm a photographer and Iran doesn't like them at all. So, let's hope!
Do you think the world shares a different opinion about the middle east? As a traveler, how do you feel about it?
People are afraid because not moving much (traveling) brings you fears in your mind. Crazy extremists are everywhere. But good people are everywhere too! It’s important to remember that!
International media have done a great job. It's easy to scare people now. My opinion completely.
Could you narrate one unforgettable experience from your extensive collection of travel stories? One event that you would like to share with the world?
I think the funniest and scariest story is when I was in Herat. One night I saw someone trafficking in the roof of the house opposite. I immediately thought of a Taliban armed to the teeth, I called everyone and in the end he was a poor gentleman who was arranging the antenna of his television set.
‘On the edge of the Sinai desert I combine my two passions: the sea and earth, nature and culture, underwater and reportage photography.’ The lines inspire beautiful imagery in my mind. Could you tell me something about this? What happened in Sinai desert?
I took a thorn! Ahhahahahhahah kidding! Ok, so it's my way to say that I had middle east on my blood since I was looking at my father's National Geo Magazines...and it's always like this: when I come back to the Middle East, I feel I can breathe again. I belong to this place. First of all because I express my best in photography, and second because I feel alive.
What's the best thing you like about the Middle East? Why do you like to keep going back there? Why do you feel you would be able to express your best in photography in that land?
The best thing is that one feels life is pulsating, amidst the ugly and the beautiful. Poverty hits you but there are also the smiles that you find. You feel it inside. I'm going back there because I used to live in Egypt for 10 years, and it's the place where I feel at home, no matter what. Even if i'm italian. It's so fascinating for a photographer. Everywhere and everything you look at, there's something amazing to shoot. The light is strong and gives a lot of atmosphere, if you understand what I mean.
Of course I can. I have heard people talking about strange colours that the sunlight inspires in the middle east! How do you relate to the people when you reach a place? What intrigues you most: the place itself or the people who thrive surrounding the place?
For sure, people. I love watching them talking, moving and acting. My way to relate to people is trying to speak a little of their language if I can. If I can’t, I try through a smile and mimic...I know how to speak with hands since my work was underwater for a long time. It's funny but it's true! I love abandoned places very much as well.
Do the Middle East have a lot of such places?
In Libano, there’s a lot. In Gaza not much. They are using all that’s left to rebuild new houses due to the rule of Israel that doesn't let them buy lots of things, including construction materials.
If you had the power to take people anywhere across the Middle East, where would you take them? Give us 5 such places.
For sure after visiting Iran, it will be on my list. But even Pakistan must be amazing. And I have so much left to visit and explore.
Perhaps, you are the only one to name the places you did! You mentioned Gaza. Do you think people should visit such war-torn places more? But, for what?
I said Gaza and Afghanistan because through knowledge we can understand a lot of things and develop empathy. With such realizations of what the people actually feel in those situations, we become more understanding and sensitive to others. And we need that, we need to understand and realize what it means to be occupied and being under siege.
This may be a bit out of context, but what does it require to become a traveler from a tourist?
I can answer with a song's phrase :
_Il viaggiatore viaggia solo e non lo fa per tornare contento lui viaggia perchè di mestiere ha scelto il mestiere di vento. _
The traveler travels alone
And he does not do it to return happily he travels because by trade he has chosen the wind trade.
Yes, that's the traveler. I haven't written it but I always remember this phrase.
That's me! Yes, this is the song:
Mercanti Di Liquore - Il Viaggiatore
This is beautiful, Anna! This is an important point of note for female travelers: How do you manage adversities while traveling solo? Could you give some tips for our budding female solo travelers?
I have always traveled alone, but before starting the journey I always documented where to go and who to contact, to avoid unpleasant surprises. I met wonderful people and sometimes dangerous people. my advice is: find out first, if you want to know, through the internet, forums, where to go, what were the travel experiences of others. But without fear. Fear kills the journey. Be cautious, try to go unnoticed, respect the place with appropriate clothes, and show yourself curious to know: there will be infinite doors. This is to say: don't trust people so easily, always try to be in public places.
This will do. I won’t keep you any longer, Anna! It was great chatting with you. And best wishes on your Europe trip! Heal your leg soon!
Grazie! :) :)
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