Lior Sperandeo in an Israeli Visual Artist based in Europe. His base is just an address since he feels home everywhere. He is attracted by the marginalized, the “ugly”, the non-aesthetic to our western eyes. He will show us what we avoid of, recalling for mutual responsibility, solidarity and care for the other. He is on a mission to find our most basic human denominator, noting us that simplicity is essential. When I met Lior, he reminded me of the legendary Sebastian Salgado, both sharing the spirit of finding dark places on earth and lit a light through the power of community engagement and photography. He finds light in people’s smiles, eyes, rituals and daily life. Beyond his incredible technical abilities as a filmmaker and photographer, his magic lies in his attitude and emotional intelligence.
Lior arrives to remote areas to document the most outstanding stories; from Albanism in Malawi, refugees in Greece and Kenya, disaster relief in Nepal to heart surgeries for kids in Tanzania. He is not innocent; he knows he might not change the whole world, but he is brave enough to form long standing and brave relationships with local communities. He wants to change their world. In his eyes, they are the heroes from whom we should all learn from. As a leading storyteller, Lior was an Emmy nominee for cinematography and got global recognition for his humanistic and powerful ways to stir emotions and lead social impact.
Who is Lior Sperandeo? How did you start doing what you’re doing?
The first answer that comes to my mind is that Lior is a photographer. Some would say people’s photographer, a documentary photographer, social photographer and more. To be honest, and even though I carry the camera on my shoulder for a decade now, I don’t feel like a photographer. In my early stage, I realized that my satisfaction from photography derived from the influence of the non-verbal language photography offers, and the impact it can stimulate, and not necessarily the fame it can bring. So on my gravestone I prefer that they’ll write that Lior Sperandeo was not a photographer, but a storyteller, or a naïve artist that used the language of photography to create a small change in the world.
Tell me about your journey to become an influencer.
I started 10 years ago. In my first job, I was a news cameraman assistant in an American media-news channel in Jerusalem. It was very random. It hadn’t taken long before I started carrying bulky camera myself, edit and produce. I liked the adrenaline and the importance of the journalistic work to deliver information. But, unfortunately, the kind of journalism I did, was not the “gate keeper” of democracy, and also it didn’t really feel like a heart-breaking scene from the movie “spotlight”. It was more of an expected production line with a clear political orientation. I looked for more; more deep, more time. I wanted to listen more and talk less. My last film as an employee was about international development.
I accompanied five organizations around the world during a year or so, and life had changed completely for me. In a single year I “jumped” between natural and human-made disaster. I documented heart surgeries and was exposed to the global water crisis, which impacts millions of women and children around the world. I cried with the people of Nepal when they lost their dears in the brutal earthquake. I collected Syrian refugees from the shore, after their brutal journey to Europe. I arrived to these areas to document the humanitarian aid, but the western man who came to give a hand, didn’t interested me like the local person who needed to rebuild his life with his own hands. Every time my curiosity has led me to the locals; I met brave people, compassionate and wise, full of love and authenticity. The compassion I had to those people transformed into a will to spend longer periods of time with them. I saw them as heroes, not victims. And this is also how I present them.
I guess this is how PeopleOf was created? Can you tell us please about your personal project PeopleOf?
Yes, indeed. During my journey, PeopleOf was born. It is an independent photography platform that voice the voiceless around the world using photography, video and storytelling. What has started as a side-project, is getting today most of my attention and the focus is always the same- the people. I always liked to observe, to have a snick-pick to other people’s worlds. When I started to photograph, I used to photograph weddings. While other photographers around me were used to complain, I enjoyed the exposure to the family, witnessing their intimate moments, their behavior, harmony. It was a spectacle! For me, a documentary piece is way beyond the genre of photography; it is the establishment of relationships between the subject and the community I document. The main issues that magnetize my lens are migration, water crisis and women’s rights in the global south. I am also interested in Albanism’s human rights, rehabilitation of communities after natural disasters and more.
A story published in the a doesn’t necessarily mean that the lives of the documented subjects have improved. Beyond the story, it is as well as an opportunity to establish ongoing relationships and develop social initiatives around the stories. My most relevant example is a project I shot in Malawi about albinism. In Malawi, albinos are hunted due to an ancient belief that their bones carry a high value. They are a community of people hiding from the sun. They are dazzled by the light and are socially outcast. After the project was published, I felt like I want to do more so I took it a step forward. I called for people on social media to donate sunglasses and sun screens. For us it might be an old pair of sunglasses, but for them it is fresh air. The responses were surprising and thrilling. This week I have started to send packages to Malawi and fund-raise for a national campaign. The purpose is not to create aesthetic photos, but to make a change.
I know what you recently came back from Mozambique. What were your impressions from there?
I have recently arrived to Beira, Mozambique, after the cyclone Idai that happened there. This natural disaster took the lives of nearly 1,000 people and impacted the lives of close to two million humans in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. They will keep talking about this for many years to come, but we, in the western world would surely forget about it soon. I got there three weeks late. Many of the media channels that came to cover the story, have already left when I arrived. The broken trees have filled the streets. The crushed houses appeared in every corner and with it the fallen electricity poles. This sight had turned Beira from a vibrant beach city to a real ruined house.
Despite the destruction, the Mozambique smile drew a vision of hope for some moments, until I arrived to Praia Nova neighborhood. Praia Nova looked like a ruined house even before the cyclone. It was transformed from a place with a bad state to a place in a very bad state. Many houses collapsed, water sources got polluted and there was no electricity. Desperate people were everywhere. This fishing neighborhood or what was left from it appeared to me only from the window of the car. Every time I passed by, I was shocked from the degree of destruction. And there, in particular, I didn’t see the International Aid carnival, that was present in many other areas. When I asked why, I was told that this area is too dangerous. The driver who accompanied me joked and said if you’re out from there alive, it will be only with your underpants. My curiosity was evoked, and the next day I was already there.
I was informed that Praia Nova is an illegal settlement that the government has tried to evacuate many times before. This is the reason why there is no aid there, not from governmental authorities, neither from International Aid agencies. The situation has left the area to be the most vulnerable, keeping the people that are most in need, without any kind of assistance. Despite the warnings, I didn’t feel any danger going there. It was the complete opposite. The residents greeted me and told me their stories open heartedly. I met nice people who were busy to rehabilitate their lives: kids, families and mothers. They were concerned to their health, since their water sources were damaged, and the low hygiene conditions has left them exposed to illness and diseases. Many people have lost their loved ones already. Beyond the stories and compassion, I was sharing with them, I was looking for people to be photographed in the background of their ruined houses-to be a visual reminder that they need our help.
If I want to have a meta perspective on your work, can you tell me what is your message to humanity?
Every project has its own messages and importance, but one message that is ongoing in my work is that eventually, we are all quite the same wants the same things; a place to call home, nutritional security, health and a better future for ourselves and our children. My message to the privileged man is that you can’t change the world, but you can change the world of someone else, and this is something worth living for. It’s about time to narrow the gaps, separating us from one another; economic comparisons, skin colors, this is all ridiculous. We are more similar than different. I can conclude that with an old African saying ”We are all born from the womb of our own mothers, but we are all buried in the womb of the earth”.
And going with that that spirit What and who are your biggest inspirations?
Inspiration is everywhere; in colors, noises and quite. But, no doubt that people are my biggest inspiration. I am busy in observing; I like to examine behaviors and body languages.
I don’t have a specific person who I can call my inspiration, but I can be definitely a cliché and say that my subjects are my main inspiration. The people I document are a significant milestone in this amazing journey I am undertaking. It is uncountable to count the number of locals who saved my life, hosted me, directed me and wanted to share with me their last piece of bread, as if I was their son. In the darkest places in the world, I have found comfort, truth and family. Not everyone has property or a house, but everyone has faces, names and stories. So I sit, document and fuel my motivation to keep going in this crazy journey.
How do you create connections with the subjects of your images and videos? How do you keep the ethics in those places while shooting worst life condition?
Talking about ethics in photography, there is always the familiar conflict between the photojournalist and the rights of the subjects. Every photojournalist or development student know that drill; on one side, the journalist wants to tell a story, and he believes that all measurements are valid. Whatever they will be. On the other hand, there is the humanitarian aid worker who wants to keep the privacy and respect of the individual. Both have meaningful roles and throughout history they clashed, connected and proven their importance.
The thing is that history is history and things looks different today. Journalistic ethics have changed and replaced ideology with money and journals are mostly busy to survive. The humanitarian side itself is all about using photographs that takes us, the readers, out of the comfort zone; to go to our merciful wallets to donate. Ethics became individual and is constantly changing. Decisions are made in splits of seconds. It seems like ethic codes would help us to find a theoretical balance but over there, in the territory, the culture is changing, the rules are different and you are just a guest. Ethics are changing and getting different meanings like; morality, conscience, values and character. Everyone has a different tool box. The question is- what kind of person are you and what are you trying to say with the images?
And to continue with the same line- how do you see the impact of your work?
The first time I saw a clear impact to my photographs was after the release of the video “people of nowhere”. It is a short film that documents the Syrian refugee wave to Europe. It went viral after 24 hours only. It was featured in National Geographic, and won as a “vimeo stuff pick” and got endless compliments. There were two messages I received, that outstood everything. The first was by a Syrian refugee who went through this experience in himself. He was cynical to the fact that so many articles were published on that topic, but it was me, a photographer from Israel, an “enemy” country, who actualized his pain in such a precise manner. Another message was from a Norwegian young woman, who decided after watching my cideo to quit her job and volunteer for six months in Lesbos, Greece. In addition, I was contacted by official governmental bodies in Europe to ask for the permission to screen the video around the decision-making table. Since then, I understand that the impact is not the best result for me, but is the engine of my work. In a dark world full of pain, sometimes it is enough to add a small light, in order to see the big shining light.