A photographic book about the iconography of the Madonna around the world by a war-correspondent photojournalist… Swide’s Elisa della Barba talks about it with Sergio Ramazzotti, who gives us a preview of the work yet to be released.
Sergio Ramazzotti is a photojournalist who has travelled around the world documenting war zones and conflicts of all sorts (Swide previously encountered him). Founder of one of the most important photographic agencies in Italy, Parallelo Zero, on November 6th he will present the photo-book “I Love Mary”, 240 colour photos that frame the Madonna iconography around the globe, published by Mondadori.
Pondicherry, India. The sign of a video production studio, which uses the image of the Virgin as a testimonial in this predominantly Catholic city
From Kabul to Cairo, from Cape Horn to Ho Chi Minh City, passing through Baghdad, Ramazzotti demonstrates that the Madonna is really everywhere, even where you would never expect. Sergio Ramazzotti recounts the history of the book and how everything begun, giving Swide a gallery preview before the book’s release.
Santa Maria di Leuca (Italy), an automatic dispenser of holy cards with the image of the Virgin inside a sanctuary.
In the preface of “I Love Mary” Monsignor Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Vatican Council for Family, says this book has not quite been your initiative, but much more an imposition, due to all the times that the Madonna “revealed” herself to you in the form of iconography during your trips. Is that true? Why would a apostate decide to publish a book on the Madonna?
It’s all true. Being an apostate – which is the perfect term as I grew up in a very strict Catholic family and I can’t call myself atheist - I would have never thought to dedicate a project to the Madonna. It just happened, that’s it. I became fully aware of the amount of material only when I counted the slides (back then you worked with slides) that I placed in my archive, just for cataloguing sake, under the “Virgin Mary” folder. The same happened for the digital images, archived with the same criterion. Once I understood the potentiality of these images – shot in a span of 20 years – it has been a physiological epilogue for me to give them an organic order. The fact that I'm an apostate doesn’t imply blindness, which is, to blindly refuse the indisputable popularity of the Virgin Mary, which is cross-nation, cross-religious and basically global. Even an apostate has the duty to respect the different religions and their icons, always and everywhere. For a journalist, also, the least you can do is to treat that as news and therefore recount it.
Buenos Aires, Argentina. Tierra Santa religious theme park. The scene of deposition of Christ. The park is directly below the descent path of the city's domestic airport.
Is there a special episode that you want to recount linked to one photo in the book?
I would like to recount the episode that in some way gave life to this project: the encounter with the young Pakistani woman who looked like a Madonna in the flesh (the book starts with the author declaring “Some time ago the Madonna revealed herself to me in Kabul”).
The Pakistani woman who inspired the book
In your life, during your trips, have you ever doubted your being an apostate?
No, I never did. As I said, I grew up in a very religious family, so the loss of faith – or anyway the disillusion towards the Christian Catholic promise (or of any other religious doctrines’ promises) it wasn't a “tantrum”. It has been the consequence of external, strong and perpetuated signs linked to experiences I witnessed as a photojournalist. I don’t think I’d easily go back to faith, although I wish it could be so, as many times I would seek shelter to ease the sorrow.
Colombo, Sri Lanka. A plastic bottle in the shape of the Virgin decorates the handlebar of a ciclorickshaw.
In your opinion the religious iconography you have reported worldwide - and that is the protagonist of the book – is mostly an act of real faith or of superstition?
It is absolutely undeniable that the religious iconography – of whatever religion – always carries a superstitious connotation: human beings give a face (possibly one that looks like them) to the object of their prayers in order to feed a need of tangibility. Regarding this, I found extremely sophisticated (just to talk about one example) the religion of Islam that forbids any kind of representation of the prophets, or of Allah, whose essence is expressed with a monogram of four letters only. Islam imposes on its followers a true act of faith, which is believing unconditionally in something, or someone, that is too ineffable to be represented and to pray not to someone with a reassuring, sweet face like the one of Virgin Mary or the eternally-young Christ, but a calligraphic abstraction. Still, despite these principles, even Islam, mostly Shiah, has felt the need to give to prophets and Imams a human face, represented on the tombs where faithful people pray.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. A shop selling wooden carvings exhibits different versions of the Virgin
The book features many photos, a total of 240. How many did you collect during years and how did you pick those?
I collected a total of 5,000 images, between slides and digital images. The choice has been driven by the willingness of underscoring the cultural and religious universality of the Madonna’s representation that I was talking about earlier: I picked the photos that represented the Virgin Mary in the most unexpected and incongruous environments. I want people who look at them and say for 240 times “Unbelievable!”
Milano, Italy. A Virgin painted by a graffiti artist on the facade of a mechanic's shop.
Interview by: Elisa della Barba