Q&A: Antonio Gibotta

Art Bahrain / 2018 Sony World Photography Awards

Authors: Irene Butera, Emma Double, Valentina De Vincenti

The Sony World Photography Awards is the world’s most diverse photography competition. Free to enter and open to all, the 2018 Awards attracted more than 320,000 entries from over 200 countries and territories.

Produced by the World Photography Organisation, the Awards are now in its 11th year.  The shortlisted and winning photographers selected by the Awards’ expert jury showcase some of the world’s finest contemporary photography captured over the past year.

Photographer Antonio Gibotta is shortlisted for Discover Professional competition.

Antonio Gibotta is an Italian documentary photographer whose passion for photography has seen him travel the world.  The artist has received multiple awards and his work been exhibited widely in the US, France, China and Italy.

What does photography mean to you?

For me photography is a language, and it is my voice, it is my way to express a concept, to testify.

When my father, a professional photographer, allowed me to make my first shots with his camera, I immediately realized that in life I did not want to do anything but shoot, I often think it was the photo to choose me and not vice versa .

James Nachtwey, one of the photojournalists I admire the most, asks: “Is it possible to end, with photography, a form of human behavior – the war – that has always existed throughout history? The proportions of this ambition seem ridiculously out of balance. Yet it is the only idea that has always motivated me “.

Statements like these are for me a great source of inspiration and in my small way I deceive myself to do the same, and showing the world the horror that surrounds me I would like to make sure that certain errors made in the history of humanity no longer come committed.

Your shortlisted series “Enfarinat” follows the Els Enfarinats festival in Spain. Tell me about this festival and what attracted you to photograph it.

Taking part in an event like this is very addictive and a lot of fun too due to the unpredictable interaction with citizens and tourists. Having photographed several festivals around the world, I began researching on the lesser-known ones. I remember that when I found out that there was a sort of ‘war of love’ in Spain ending in hugs and smiles, I had no doubts to take part of it!

The annual festival of Els Enfarinats is typically characterized by flour and egg fights. Els Enfarinats takes place yearly in the town of Ibi in Alicante (Spain) on December 28th as part of celebrations related to the Day of the Innocents. In the day long festival, participants dressed in mock military dress stage a coup pretending to take over the town.

According to the tradition dated back more than 200 years, the annual fight involves a group of married men called Els Enfarinats, who stage a coup, faking to takeover the town, declaring and enforcing ridiculous new laws—and La Oposicio, another group who try to restore order. At the end of the day, any money as fines collected by Els Enfarinats is donated to charity.

Dressed in a slovenly manner, they enter shops and banks in a good-humoured way, imposing fines on shopkeepers and bankers, mocking local dignitaries and reading humorous lines. Those who oppose are assaulted with flour cakes and eggs.

I never heard about that festival, I found out the event through a google research, as for any travel I start. I was looking for something spectacular and somehow still untold. When I went there, I did not know in detail what it consisted of but that’s the essence and magic of my work as a photojournalist. Usually before leaving, I’m used to read a lot about the place, the culture, even to understand potential risk I can find, for the El Enfarinats, I did not read so much, I wanted to live it by my personal experience and to tell it through my eyes and sensitivity.

Without reading the description, the series may easily be mistaken for an actual warzone. What narrative were you trying to convey throughout the series?

In recent months we have been told by the media a lot of wars all over the world, citizens lose their lives because of political issues and personal interests. I have also traveled a lot, telling stories of the poor who find a new life opportunity, looking for an unreal ‘European dream’. With the “Enfarinats” I wanted to try to tell a different war, a war aimed at helping people, where ‘the flour bombs’ were guided by the heart and the spirit of cooperation, a war that ended in hugs and colored smiles.  Here’s how this project was born in my mind.

Did you use any particular techniques or precautions in order not to be caught in between the flour battle?

It was quite demanding making the shots from a technical point of view.   To protect the lenses from the ‘bombing’ of water, eggs, flour, and especially firecrackers and smoke, I applied three layers of protection on them, the ones usually used for rain and sand. Unfortunately, the overlapping layers of film blocked completely my vision through the viewfinder, so I had to frame and compose the picture completely blind, I could only see the shots once I downloaded them on my computer. In those moments I had to imagine the view and how to manage focus and light relying upon my experience only. All this was done in an unstable balance due to the fact that the soil was particularly viscous because of the mixture of eggs and flour…

The subject was random, unpredictable and unmanageable from all points of view, I was completely covered of flour and eggs.

Usually during my travels I try to be ‘neutral’ and invisible, respecting my subjects and their rules. With “Enfarinats” it was not so easy to be ‘neutral’, in such moments I was considered as an ‘enemy’ to fight. At the end a lots of people pleased me to have been there and to have told their event, asking me to do my best in order to focus the real essence of the ‘war.’