Less than one year ago our Country was entering lockdown for the first time and we were all about to face something unique and dramatic at the same time, which repercussions we are still living with a great deal of uncertainty. It is still hard to see the finish line, but it has been and it is of crucial importance to find an adequate way to orient ourselves. Without any doubt, this will happen alongside the solutions that doctors and scientists are currently striving to put into practice and the progression and diffusion of vaccination campaigns. However, throughout the long wait, we will have to find the keys to resist the best way we can. Since I am involved with the arts and, in particular, with photography and education, from the very first moments, similarly to other colleagues, I have had to modify completely the conduct of several activities, while managing, thanks to the newly available platforms, to find an alternative solution to the school education that has gradually taken a peculiar shape. Not being able to go out as before, the majority of my work has been dedicated to the archive and, in parallel, to the evaluation of the work from several colleagues, which showed, in some cases, peaks of new originality. We may talk about this topic later, but let us say, in a rather simplified way, that photographers have worked in two different modalities. Some have kept looking in front of them, outside the window or, for those who had the opportunity, they have told about the life on hold, the desolation of the cities or the inside of hospitals. Some others have turned the camera lens of 180 degrees towards themselves, in some cases for the first time, observing the inside of their household and the life of their loved ones. What I would like to focus the attention on is the following: try to imagine what our life would have been in the past year without books, music, tv series, colours and canvas for painting, cameras as well as musical instruments or more simply a cell phone or a social network. What I say may sound absurd, but it almost seems as if a pandemic was necessary to realize how much “todos necesitamos arte” (“We all need art”), as the famous piano player Omar Sosa often says. Why does this simple sentence tell an important truth, have you ever thought of this? Most probably, without all that profoundly expresses our own nature more than anything else, we would not have been able to make it and it would be interesting to reflect upon why the media rarely talk about it or, if they do, why they treat the subject rather superficially. Hence, there is Art. Another topic I would like to touch upon is the one of prevention, an activity I have been practicing for several years through photography addressed to adolescents and specifically in terms of mental health prevention in collaboration and through a dialogue with several psychotherapists.
Fortunately, over the past weeks, discussions have started as to how the current condition of isolation the young generations are living in has led to serious consequences, from school dropout to the onset of various psychiatric diseases. They have also shed light on how crucial it is to practice prevention in this regard, which would allow to spot the signs of any discomfort or malaise in advance, thanks to work of the teachers as well as the psychological support help desks located inside the schools. The latter initiative, in particular, has stopped drastically due to the sudden interruption of face-to-face learning.
Nevertheless, besides this, what else can be done to help the young generation and how can art be of support? It may be that, in order to understand what direction to take, it is key to accept that, as human beings, we are made of something that, from a rational standpoint, is essentially useless. As it is, for example, to take a guitar and play a pitchy sound, while singing at the same time, or to scribble on a piece of paper writing the lyrics of a song that once moved us. Once we have accepted this, which is hardly irrelevant, we may think that, through art, if practiced in a certain way, we could be able to do some form of prevention. I shall conclude by mentioning an amazing project I have recently taken part to which involves high school in the outskirts of Rome. Thanks to the invitation by two brave colleagues, the project focuses on a group of high school students belonging to different classes and takes place outside the regular school schedule. We meet in the afternoon inside the school lecture hall on a weekly basis whilst maintaining social distancing and wearing facemasks. The idea is to keep the project going at least until the end of the school year. The aim is to let the students work on their personal life experience during this difficult year with photography, creative writing, music and video as well. At least one quarter of the participants has lost relatives or friends due to the virus, others have caught the virus and have had to face very dramatic moments, and other have stopped practicing important activities, such as sport-related ones due to the gyms being shut down and think they may never be able to practice them again. We, as teachers, also do not know the precise formula on which to build on the project, for the reason that this situation is completely new for us too and every time we meet, all is to be defined and created. However, what a student said to me two days after our meeting during the break between one class and the other from the colleague coordinating the project makes us hope and tells us we may be in the right direction: “Professor, since the start of the project, I have been feeling lighter and more inspired”.
Thanks to Martina Greco for the translation of this article