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A conversation with... Aida Silvestri


Kidan: Eritrea to London on foot, by car, lorry, boat, train and aeroplane. © Aida Silvestri

Amongst the vast amount of talented recent graduate photographers and artists exhibiting at the Free Range exhibitions between May and July this year, there were a few in particular that caught my eye and left me wanting more. Aida Silvestri’s striking and thought provoking imagery immediately got my attention and ingrained enough curiosity in the work and artist herself for her to become the first in a series of interviews I will be conducting.  

How did you first get into photography?
Being born in Eritrea during the cold war with Ethiopia, I was exposed to war at an early age. I wished that I could document what I was experiencing by blinking my eye so as not to be noticed.

I didn't do anything about it at the time but documenting the highs and lows of life always remained in the back of my mind as something I wanted to do. This thought prompted me to pursue photography in my adult age.

Who or what inspires you and your work?
Sebastião Salgado, Dorothea Lange and Gordon Parks are my main inspirations. What inspires my work is the desire to expose sensitive issues and find new ways in documenting them; hoping to catch people’s attention and ultimately to raise awareness.

What visual styles do you find most influential?
Personally, photography but most visual styles could be influential if it can grab the audience's attention positively or negatively.

What photographic format do you favour? Digital/analogue?
I don’t have a preference so far, as I tend to choose the format according to the project that I am working on.

Do you approach your work with a final outcome in mind, or is it purely progressive?
I always start my projects with a final outcome in mind but this approach surly doesn’t mean that it works for every project. It all depends on the subject or theme on which I am working. Some are straightforward while others take an organic progression. I have to find something within the body of work that is going to drive the project to its final outcome. 

Your project, ‘Even this will pass’, is a very delicate subject. Did you approach it (and your sitters) in a specific way?
Even though I have taken an artistic and conceptual approach for this body of work, I would like to think my work as documentary. I have taken a conceptual approach in order to engage the audience without showing gruesome or pitiful imagery often associated with this subject matter, as well as to preserve the dignity of the sitters. It aims to provoke an audience to action as opposed to a more traditional response of inaction due to the overwhelming enormity of the subject matter.

The name itself comes from a message written on a wall on Mount Sinai that I came across when researching my project. People had written messages of hope during their journeys and I thought this one was quite special.

Do you think that photographic subjects, such as this, should be given more publicity?
Yes, if it could save lives and help raise awareness.

Was the Free Range show your first exhibition?
Yes.

Did you feel it was successful and what feedback did you receive?
I had positive feedback and my work was chosen by British Journal of Photography as Free Range 2013 graduate exhibition: Best of Show.

What is your aim as a photographer?
I aspire to become a documentary photographer with a distinctive and conceptual approach to sensitive issues in order to raise awareness.

 

Aida Silvestri studied photography at Kensington & Chelsea College and studied BA (Hons) Photography at the University of Westminster in London. Her main interest is to explore a new approach to sensitive issues, such us identity, ethnicity, culture, politics and the landscape, through documentary photography.

 


Dawit: Eritrea to London on foot, by car, lorry, boat and train. © Aida Silvestri