Attentive and autonomous observer of reality, Uliano Lucas has investigated authentic and hidden social aspects. Great photojournalist of our time, he talked about the work from the seventies to today exploring the inside of the factories, the gestures of the workers and the expressions of their faces, captured in the places of production. But not only. By making himself accepted, he established a harmony with the workers that allowed him to investigate their life even outside the industrial enclosures, in the suburbs up to their homes. Attracted by changes in the social fabric of industrial cities, initially tells about Milan and then forgotten places and people in the corners of the world. Through a precise and ethical work he has produced information and, contrasting himself with the (sweetened) corporate images and recurring superficial representations, a civilian counter-information.
On 25 May he turned eighty: we met him at the exhibition Inside the work. Ilva di Taranto 1980 and Iseo Serrature 2019, recently inaugurated at the Museum of Hydroelectric Energy-musil in Cedegolo (organized by the Isec Foundation in Sesto San Giovanni and by the Museum of Industry and Labor in Brescia) and open until 25 September. The beautiful exhibition, located in the rough upper rooms of the former power plant, returns a significant part of his research path, recounting the work of yesterday and today.

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How did you approach photography?
I approached the world of photojournalism in the 1960s by attending the Brera district and especially the Jamaica bar. Listening to the speeches of photographers and intellectuals older than me, who lived in the area and frequented the club, I realized that the camera was a tool that allowed me to manage my time and that through photography I could give voice to the reality that I it surrounded and at the same time an important part of myself. I did freelance, which means precarious all my life, but I was fine with it. It was a choice that allowed me to satisfy my curiosities, my interests and live in continuous dialogue with others.

How did your interest in the world of work and social issues arise?
My choice to talk about the world of work, which still continues now, was a political choice that I was able to make while working as a freelance. Not having a client, I was able to freely choose the themes to investigate and how to do it. Certainly the collaboration with important weeklies such as Time, L’Espresso, The European, it allowed me, at a certain point, to enter factories, which is not always easy, but then I also took pictures for myself, for other projects and not just for the reportage for the newspaper. My interest in social issues dates back to the 1960s, when I try to understand what is around me: the Milanese suburbs, the daily routine of life. It was a great adventure. The factories were inaccessible, an unknown world, marked by fatigue, ungrateful, hard. Those who worked there had little desire to talk about it. But the workers sympathized with me. I was there with them, I was one of them.

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How do you prepare for a reportage?
To take pictures you have to be educated, it is not enough to master the technique or have an aesthetic sense and readiness in capturing the image, you have to read, get informed, know a situation to understand and tell it. I trained in books and in film clubs, looking at thousands of photographs. It is essential to master the visual language and then, in fact, prepare for what is about to be documented. Let’s take the case of the neighborhood of an industrial city. It is important first of all to visit those places and at the same time go to the library and urban planning archives and read about sociology, but also to speak with the parish priest and with trade unionists and social service operators, to gather information before starting to operate within the neighborhood and its contradictions. You must create points of support that will help you move around the territory and discover it, in a long process of investigation and research. It is not a question of taking some good photographs, but of walking from morning to evening gradually taking possession of the time of those places, of the life of the neighborhood, it is necessary to read the cycle of hours and times of life.

What has changed?
In the reports of the past decades the times of life in the cities were given by the rhythm of the large factory. Not anymore: time has expanded and it’s up to you to find out how life moves, which today is more difficult to investigate. The big risk is to fall into simplification and clichés. For example, for a suburb of Milan like Quarto Oggiaro, instead of entering the neighborhood and photographing the problems of drug addiction, petty crime and deviances, it is easier to take a photograph of the social housing and write a slogan as a comment: the Bronx in Milan. This is not providing information, it is trivializing by betraying the complexities and specificities of reality.

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What does it mean to photograph?
Writing with light, giving shape to reality, in a constant dialectic between reality and your gaze.

What are the themes and subjects that still attract you?
After some time, I must say: everything. In the sense that I have photographed many worlds, many situations, with in-depth reports and news shots, and they all gave me something important.

What relationship did you establish with the people photographed?
A relationship of respect. I always had the awareness that I was photographing people who “gave themselves”, who trusted my gaze, my representation, whether it was a worker in a factory, a child in India or someone in his home … Here is the social role of the I photograph; give voice to the stories of many individuals. As in the case of the users of psychiatric hospitals, I looked at their gaze, which was constantly questioning: what do you want to do with my person?

Uliano Lucas

Can photography still have a social role today?
It is a question that we must all ask ourselves: what function do we give to reportage photographs today, how do we react to them? Can they still be the engine of collective actions to improve society? For his part, the photographer can only carry on his commitment, affirming the strength of photography in telling the life of men. But photography does not end with actuality, it has a life of him. Today my photographs are used by sociologists and urban planners to understand how they were and what the neighborhoods or cities I photographed were, they are in the history books and in those of elementary schools, where they tell facts and situations. Photography is also a great historical memory. And I have always been aware of this, I have always known that I was documenting as a good craftsman for the historians of the future.

Does photography have a political role?
Taking pictures is doing politics, you can’t escape it.

Are there situations or places that you loved most in your photographic work?
Each situation has given me something. Of course, there are places where good encounters have taken place, which have enriched my personal history in a particular way and the set of knowledge and information that allowed me to do other things. I recently talked about a district of Bari of 50,000 inhabitants without a library or a cinema, living with its inhabitants and having them carry me around, trying to understand how they lived (and lived it with love) their neighborhood which, however, was a jungle asphalt.

Uliano Lucas

It is therefore crucial to operate ‘in residence’ to correctly grasp emotional and social temperatures.
That’s right, it takes a long time, especially to understand.

Can photography help restore justice?
Photography cannot change the world, it can make the person who is looking at it think. But to do this it must be read with awareness without stopping at the point of emotion. In a war context, for example, to correctly read a photograph you need to know who it was taken by, you need to know the forces in the field, whether it is a democratic country or a dictatorship, otherwise it becomes a generic photo like thousands of others. of displaced or desperate people, but does not return the context. When you take a photograph you must be able to give your mark, provided only by your gaze and your political choice, to put it in the context and reveal it.

What relationship exists between photography and truth?
Photography is not the truth, it is a part of your story and your truth. You can also cheat, don’t forget that.

Uliano Lucas

Who is a photographer?
I can talk about my generation, about my idea of ​​the profession: for many of us the photographer was a freelance who had decided to make photography his choice of life: a camera, a film and freedom. The freedom to look around and tell about a society full of contradictions for the liberal-progressive bourgeoisie newspapers, who had understood the disruptive power of the photographer’s gaze and of photography, a look at the world that entered directly into the reader’s homes. Although, as always, it is decisive which gaze the photographer has. This makes the real difference.

What value can a reportage still have today?
A reportage can show you and explain what is happening in a country forgotten by the world: it is a look at the world of the invisible, in the past as today. In the sixties and seventies of the twentieth century, a period animated by a strong movement of conscience on social inequalities and discrimination, the photographic image contributed to the construction of civil liberties and, in my opinion, this continues to be its role. Bringing to collective attention the world of the factory, the issues of child labor, disabilities, single mothers, mental illness, all topics that a conservative society kept in the drawer, meant contributing to the knowledge and discussion of these realities. For example, photography was fundamental in helping Franco Basaglia to close the asylums. The full-page photographs published on weeklies such as L”Espresso, which showed women without teeth, made swollen by drugs, suffering, even led the reader to say no, we cannot allow this. So photography helps, with writing, to give an explanation of what is around us, and which we cannot directly see.

And how has the factory changed over time?
The factory in which I, with difficulty, entered in the seventies, as a reporter for theExpressed, it was a factory without rights, it was the place of exploitation. Today, thanks to the political and trade union battles of the 1970s, the changes in the production system and society, the situation has changed. Working conditions are more dignified, work has become less tiring, the era of the mass worker is over and skills have increased. The fact remains that I believe we need to ask ourselves about the work space in our society and start thinking, today that new technologies would make it possible, of a society in which work is no longer the center of life.

On the cover and in the article: photographs by Ismaele Bulla

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