Italian photographer Alessandro Vincenzi wrote in to dvafoto to let us know about recent work of his work covering the Belarus Free Theatre, an underground theatre group that has survived over the past few years despite repeated harassment by the Belarussian government. The pictures are great, and the piece as a whole convey a sense of real energy and fun amid a backdrop of secrecy and political repression. From the artist’s statement, “Under the current political system the Free Theatre has no official registration, no premises, nor any other facilities. Rehearsals and performances (always free of charge for the public) are normally held secretly in small private apartments, which, due to security and the risk of persecution, must constantly be changed…[In] Belarus are state-owned, the directors and creative directors are appointed by the Ministry of Culture. The performances are censored and the programs are old. The Free Theatre wants to offer a modern alternative that discusses social problems with a degree of creative freedom. The prize that members of the Free Theatre have to pay for what they are trying to do is considerable; almost all the members of the ensemble have served time behind bars.” I sat down with Alessandro (over email, really) and asked him a few questions about the project.
dvafoto: How did you get in contact with the theatre? Were they apprehensive about being photographed and (potentially) having their story presented to a wide audience (perhaps they’re worried about more government harrassment?)? What brought you to Belarus?
Alessandro Vincenzi: I had the idea since long to visit Belarus and I was looking for an original story to talk about the situation in the Country. There is not much information about what is going on in Belarus; it’s the last dictatorship in Europe and a place where the KGB is still exist, a place where the is no right of free expression.
As I did for all my reportages, also in this case there is a long research behind in the Internet, research that brought me to the Free Theatre. I came across to a video made by Swedish crew, a multimedia of performances from the Company and moment of protest and crashes between Government forces and supporter of the opposition party. Digging in the research I found the web site of the Company with contacts.
Paradoxically the international press gives them protection, more people know about their situation and the isolation that exists in Belarus and more difficult is for the Government to persecute their activities.
Have you had any luck getting this story published? I see very little work from Belarus and it’s not considered a hot news location, so I imagine it’s difficult to get editors interested.
Right, very difficult. Many people that saw the reportage were impressed by the way that the subject was approached, by the originality of the story and by some very strong images, but haven’t been published yet. I think it’s pretty sad that we have to wait that something happen in Belarus, or in any other Country of the World, to give voice to people that have to struggle every day to carry on their daily life…the bell will ring when it will be too late.
You used to work for MSF, what led to your decision to become a photographer full time? How has the transition been?
Photography has been inside me since long, but probably I’ve never been brave enough to take the decision. The experience with MSF has been really important for me, for my personality, for the approach with people in general. I learned how to deal in situation of stress and how to mediate during difficult moments. It has been the most amazing experience that I had in my life, but during my last mission in Bangladesh I was looking at the patients and situations like a photographer and not as a humanitarian helper. It was not fair and respectful anymore especially for the beneficiaries but also for me. I couldn’t concentrate anymore on my work as biologist, so I decided was the moment to give a try to photography.
What projects are you working on right now?
The Forgotten Italians is still in progress. I’m looking for a sponsor to follow the route of the deportation up to Kazakhstan, place where the Italian minority was deported from Crimea in 1942, during the Stalin Dictatorship. The Belarus Free Theatre is also in progress as I have the idea to follow them during their tours in Europe.
Check out the rest of Alessandro’s work at his website: http://www.alessandrovincenzi.it/