We had the chance to virtually sit down with Vincenzo Noletto. We stumbled on his project a while ago when one of our editors decided to write a story on Naples: the result was a miscellaneous and colourful collaboration among different people; the story of a city with a beating and lively heart, populated by beautiful souls who do not accept their home to be thrown under the dark light of the malavita. This desire to fight prejudice is the lifeblood of Vincenzo’s Humans of Naples: a beautiful, yet real, kaleidoscope of faces and stories.
Positive: Tell us something about you…
Vincenzo: My name is Vincenzo Noletto, I am 31 years old, I decided to spend my life taking photographs.
P: How did you enter the world of photography?
Vincenzo: I arrived to it quite late, compared to the “I have been shooting since I was born” type of photographers, I was 22 years old and I approached it after a never ending series of wrong choices and job changes. I stumbled on it thanks to a friend, to Instagram and the photographer Robert Herman. I went crazy looking at his pictures: they were taken with my same iPhone, I did not understand how he managed to achieve such beauty with my same phone!
So I started to study photography in a giant library, eventually I looked at all the photography books available there and I understood that the means you use to shoot is not as important as I thought. I started to take pictures with my iPhone. After a couple of months, I bought my first professional camera 7 years ago, but first I shoot with a film camera borrowed from a Neapolitan photographer (who used to hang out often at the local Apple store, where I worked).
One day I realised I did not enjoy what I was doing, I quitted my job and started my adventure in photography, I began as a photo-reporter for a local gazette.
Nowadays I juggle street-photography, portraiture, advertising, brand-communication, scene-photography, ceremonies. In other words: photography.
P: What do you use to take your photographs? How did you develop your style? There is someone – a photographer maybe – who has inspired you?
Vincenzo: Now I use everything. It took me a while to find my style, meaning how I like to put together my images and how I like to work. I had to understand who I was and who I am. I started with Nikon, now I use Fujifilm and Canon, but I worked with quite a few brands. Of course the equipment changes along with what I need to do, but in my work I like to use a 35mm (or an equivalent). When I do street photography I like to use a 28mm, which is what I used when I started with my iPhone.
My style is influenced by my identity search, by my interest in people and by my desire to tell and explain: you do not take a picture far from you, what you see is always the mirror of what the photographer sees.
I always found it hard to explain myself, to phrase what I was thinking, to add words to what I was watching, I was scared of the obvious. Through photography I found a way to be understood and to understand myself. Street-photography helped me learn how to walk on the streets, which along with portraiture and photo-reporting, are the main ingredients of my images.
If I have to tell you some photographers who inspired me, I would name Alex Webb, Joel Meyerovitz, Martin Parr, Garry Winogrand, Elliott Erwitt, William Klein, but there are so many more talents who nourished my interest in street photography. Steve McCurry comes to mind, he is beloved and hated at the same time, when I approached this world I devoured his books, even though he has nothing to do with street-photography. Yet, maybe my pictures have nothing to do with theirs in a strict sense.
P: For how long have you been working on Human of Naples and how did it start?
Vincenzo: I started it in November 2013, I got the idea washing a pot. I was struck by the idea. At that time I had the chance to work with some Erasmus students studying in Italy, I was impressed that some of the prejudices and cliches related to Neapolitan people arrived to Japan. Furthermore, every time I dealt with people from other Italian cities they would always be like “you do not look like somebody from Naples” or “people from Naples are all alike”, which is absurd coming from people who have never been here.
With Humans of New York in mind I thought “I will have the rest of world meet the Neapolitans, the real ones, who you meet in the street, no filters”.
I had four questions in mind – the same ones for everybody – that could recap the person’s life, while creating empathy between the subject and the one who is looking at it.
It is starting to look like a giant family album, but it was not something I had in mind.
P: How does it feel to approach these strangers and, with four straightforward questions, to dig in their intimate memories?
Vincenzo: It is the best part, even though it is quite personal and hard to grasp.
While I walk on the street, camera hanging from my neck, I look for that something in people’s eyes. It’s not aesthetic or my personal taste: I look for it and I am never disappointed.
This makes me think that: a. either I am good at it, or b. maybe we do not always have in mind how complicated other people’s lives can be and how many shared experience there are.
P: Did you have the chance to meet with people you already photographed? Maybe taking again their picture? Did you notice some changes in their answers?
Vincenzo: Of course! Naples is big and yet small, it is always nice to meet again people from the project. Often they remember the answers they gave me, sometimes they tell me their friends’ reactions reading their reply, it feels like they take that moment as a before-after one. Many decide to tell me something more, yet nobody gets another picture:
images are the portrait of a moment that will not come back, Humans of Naples is the mirror of an evolution, a moment of change.
P: Are there any pictures you are particularly fond of? Some answers, maybe?
Vincenzo: Hard one, it is like asking to a parent which one of his children he prefers. I can tell you that all my pictures are important. Without the first one I would have not taken the 700th, surely I will not stop now. Some of these pictures have a special place in my heart, for that particular moment: the memory of it will always stay in my mind.
I was impressed by a lot of the answers I got, but it always leaves me speechless when I get to know something that these people have not told their significant others. Some of these stories do not appear on this project, so I feel like I am safe-keeping them, I will never tell them to a soul.
P: What about the reception of the project?
Vincenzo: It is funny of you to ask. You are in Venice and you know it… this makes me think that the project travelled quite a lot.
In Naples it is well-known, which has its ups and downs, what I want is for it to travel outside this city, that is the point of it.
A month ago I spoke about it at an Italian Radio (Radio Deejay). I am really happy about it, if they called me to talk about it in front of such a big crowd it means I am walking the right path… and I will not stop.
To read the stories of Humans of Naples, click here
To look at some old articles, click here.